Foreign legion: BYU-Utah rosters loaded with foreigners

first_imgWhen Utah and BYU meet for the 243rd time Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center, close to half of the scholarship players on the floor will be foreign-born.That’s the most in the history of the long rivalry, but not surprising considering the trend in basketball over the past few years where an influx of foreign players have come to the United States.Just look at the NBA, where foreigners have flooded the ranks over the past decade and now comprise 18 percent of its players. The Utah Jazz have four foreign players on their roster.It has spilled over into the college ranks where teams in every conference of the country have foreign players on their rosters.Of Utah’s 12 scholarship players, six are from foreign countries, while BYU has four.For the Utes, Luke Nevill and Stephen Weigh are both from Australia, Luka Drca and Misha Radojevic hail from Serbia, Kim Tillie is from France and Ricky Johns was born in Jamaica, even though he came to Utah from New York.The Cougars’ four players from outside America include two from Brazil, Fernando Malaman and Jonathan Tavernari; one from Serbia, Vuk Ivanovic; and one from from Alberta, Canada, Jimmy Balderson.BYU was actually one of the first universities to make use of foreign players on its basketball teams.It started back in the 1960s when Finland’s Kari Liimo starred for Stan Watts’ Cougars for three years, twice earning all-conference honors and finishing with more than 1,000 points. Timo Lampen, who played for the Cougars just one season, 1960-61, may have been the first foreign player in college basketball.Next up was Kresimir Cosic, the legendary center from Yugoslavia, who played more like a guard with his fancy passing and moves. He made the Basketball Hall of Fame and had his jersey retired at BYU last year. After Cosic came Moni Sarkalahti in the early 1970s and Misho Ostarcevic in the mid-’70s.One of the better players was Timo Saarelainen, the Finn who came on strong in his senior year to earn WAC player of the year honors in 1985. Most recently Brazilian Rafael Araujo made an impact for the Cougars as the MWC MVP in 2003-04.The Utah basketball team has had a handful of foreign players over the years, few of which were significant players.In the mid-1980s, Lynn Archibald recruited a guard from Yugoslavia, Luka Pavicevic, and a forward from Holland named Paul VanMaren, neither of whom made much of an impact.Coach Rick Majerus was enthralled with Ma Jian, who wanted to become the first Chinese player to make the NBA. But after starting for most of the 1993-94 season, Ma hardly played his second year at Utah.Ben Melmeth, who came to Judge Memorial as an exchange student from Australia, played for two years at the U., much of the time as a starter, before heading back Down Under to play professionally.In 1996, Hanno Mottola came to Utah and had a solid four-year career, playing as one of the starters on the 1997-98 Ute Final Four team.Bogut began the latest surge of foreign players for the Utes, and he simply turned into the college player of the year in 2004-05.Ute coach Ray Giacoletti credits assistant Mike Score for scouring the world to find good players and has used his own connections to try to find some “diamonds in the rough.””We’ve just tried to find people — good players and students — wherever they might be in the world,” said Giacoletti. “Utah doesn’t have 20 (collegiate) players it produces every year, so we have to try to find them in a little larger area.”As Giacoletti says, “Everyone can go out and tell you (Ohio State’s) Greg Oden is a great player. We’ve just tried to broaden the search a bit. There’s a little less competition for foreign players.”Giacoletti inherited Bogut, although he had to make a trip to Australia to make sure he came back for his sophomore year. Then he got Luke Nevill through his connections with the Australia Institute of Sport.He asked AIS if there were any other top players and was told about Nevill, who unbeknownst to Giacoletti had been recruited by the previous Ute coaching staff. However, they didn’t even inform Giacoletti they were recruiting Nevill, and Giacoletti had to re-recruit him to come to Utah after Nevill figured the Utes weren’t interested anymore.There’s no blueprint for recruiting foreign players, according to Giacoletti.”Each one’s a little bit different,” he said.He said a European scout for the Toronto Raptors helped the Utes find Drca. A scout for the Atlanta Hawks put the Utes onto Tillie. Score found Radojevic in Serbia as well as 2007-08 signee Nemanja Calasan, and the Utes’ connection with the Australian Institute of Sport helped corral Weigh.Giacoletti said many factors go into getting foreign players. He said they need to know English and be good enough students to pass tests to get into the university.The Utes may never produce another Bogut, but Giacoletti feels he has some foreign players who will make a definite impact on the Ute program. “We have a number of guys who have a chance to be pretty darn good before it’s all said and done.” Top foreign players UTAHAndrew Bogut, 2003-05, AustraliaHanno Mottola, 1996-2000, Finland Luke Nevill, 2005-current, Australia BYUKresimir Cosic, 1970-73, YugoslaviaKari Liimo, 1966-69, FinlandRafael Ararujo, 2002-04, Brazil Timo Saarelainen, 1981-85, Finland E-MAIL: sor@desnews.comlast_img

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