What in blazes is going on with the UC Irvine basketball team?
They took UCLA–yes, that UCLA, as in Bruins, Pauley Pavilion and John Wooden's Pyramid of Success–to the brink before losing 80-79 in overtime, the three-win team's only loss so far this season. The Anteaters won their next two, including spanking Liberty University Monday at the Progressive Legends Classic in Huntsville, Alabama.
And back home, UCI signed two 7-footers in three days.
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“But they don't make 7-footers here in Orange County,” you're spitting into your monitor right now.
Exactly, but with a “recruiting strategy” that is “definitely outside the box,” as Yahoo Sports' Cameron Smith put it, UCI coach Russell Turner snagged two highly touted foreigners–or as we know such people in Orange County, “convenient political punching bags”–last week.
The boys-to-men of the hour are Mamadou Ndiaye, a 7-foot-5 center who was born in Senegal and plays at Huntington Beach's Brethren Christian Junior & Senior High School, and 7-foot-2 Greek center Giannis Dimakopoulos of Cathedral High in Los Angeles.
Ndiaye dominates his high school games, as the whole sports world has been reporting, while Dimakopoulos, who hasn't been cleared to play prep ball here yet, already has a strong European reputation.
“Three days, two highly regarded, international 7-footers?” Smith asks incredulously. “That's a heck
of a recruiting class for a school that isn't exactly a Gonzaga or St.
Mary's College in the West Coast collegiate basketball scene … at least
By the way, we're going to let the flagrant go for Smith putting Ndiaye's school in Huntington Park. What's an hour on the freeway between friends, eh buddy?
Turner gives all the credit to his international scouting staff, which obviously did not have to travel far, even if they did get re-routed to LA County to check out Ndiaye.
Now it sounds as if UCI better start an international welcoming committee for these student athletes, because fitting 14-foot-7 behind the Orange Curtain may be a challenge. Can you imagine the chow line after the pair passes through the residential commons cafeteria? The horror, the horror . . .
I, for one, can't wait until Ndiaye and Dimakopoulos go at one another at practice, with one yelling at the other in a Wolof-French mix, the other firing back in Greek and a totally confused Turner cursing at both in English. He may have more translators than players taking a knee for the pre-game prayer.
It'll be like going to an International Studies lecture and having a basketball game break out.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.