Sometimes before games, Jito Kok will grab a pen and write "Kok, as in block'' on his sneakers to remind himself of his dominant basketball skill. Not that he really needs to remind himself. It's right there atop the weekly West Coast Conference statistics under blocked shots.
San Diego's 6-foot-9 junior center is the premier shot-blocker in the conference at 2.8 per game. With a total of 54, he has 22 more than the next-best shot-blocker, Loyola Marymount's Marin Mornar with 32.
That's "Afwijzen,'' in Kok's native Dutch language, meaning "to reject.''
San Diego coach Bill Grier, asked what makes Kok a proficient shot-blocker said, "You have to have length and athleticism. He's got very good timing. He's had some real timely blocks for us that led to us getting transition baskets. When teams attack, he makes them play. He alters a lot of shots.''
Kok came to San Diego by way of the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain. It's the equivalent of a U.S. prep school on the order of Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nv., or Fork Union in Virginia. Kok is just one of five players at WCC schools to have polished his game at Canarias, the others being Simon Krajovic and Petr Herman of Loyola Marymount and Thomas van der Mars and Gerun Volodymyr of Portland.
"It was a lot of hard work,'' Kok said. "It was a lot of basketball skill work. I just wanted to (develop my game) and hopefully get a scholarship.''
Grier said a couple of other schools were interest in Kok but he credited the persistence of his assistant coach, Kyle Bankhead, in San Diego landing the young Dutchman.
"I went over there,'' Grier said. "Long trip. It went well. There's a lot of good players that have come out of that school. It's a really intense program over there. They practice three times a day and go extremely hard. There's an American school right next to where they live.''
Grier added that Kok's "SAT was extremely high. He's a really, really bright young man.''
That's obvious listening to Kok in an interview or checking him out on Twitter, laced as it is with both witty and motivational comments. Such as his advice on how to wear those popular plastic shoes, Crocs: "Don't."
"I think someone might find a pick-me-up in my tweets,'' he said. "If I read something somewhere, see something somewhere and if it sticks in my mind, I'll tweet it.''
To land this shot-blocking, tweet-sending post player, Grier and Bankhead did not have to use the hard sell, as it turned out.
"I felt I had a real opportunity to play here,'' Kok said. "I had a chance to get minutes as a freshman and I played about 18 minutes a game. On top of that, it's a really good school. It's pretty sweet. It's kind of similar to the Canary Islands, weather-wise. It's pretty chill. I like that.''
Kok's use of American jargon like "chill'' belies the fact he grew up in The Netherlands for the for the first 18 years of his life before spending a year honing his hoops skills on the Canary Islands. Kok's mother is Dutch and his father is from Mozambique; they met in Africa while his mother was studying tropical agriculture.
"No one remembers he's a foreigner,'' cracked teammate Thomas Jacobs.
Said Kok, "I do have an accent. It just doesn't come out easily.''
While blocking shots apparently comes easy for Kok, offense is a different matter. Grier is trying to coax an offensively productive low post player out of Kok. He's averaging 7.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game to go with those 3.1 blocks. Grier would like to see the first two numbers grow.
"Offensively, he's a work-in-progress,'' the USD coach said. "We knew that when we recruited him. Offense is not his strength. A lot of it is a confidence thing. With him, with his athleticism, two things stand out. He needs to ... get easy baskets. He can out-run run. He needs to get things around the offensive glass without having to run anything for him. Right now he's scoring mostly on dump-downs and over-the-top lobs.''
Kok said he hopes to improve his game to the point where he can play professionally somewhere when his eligibility is up following the 2015-16 season. If that means the NBA, great, but if not, well, the world is a big place and basketball is played in many a country.
"That's the plan,'' he said. "I want to reach my potential. I feel that I still have a lot of room to grow. I'm not sure where it will take me, but I want to play on the highest level I can.''
If he realizes his goal, defense likely will be the reason he plays professionally, specifically, the ability to swat away shots. "Afwijzen,'' as they say in The Netherlands. Kok did that with gusto against Loyola Marymount on Jan. 8 as he established a school record with eight rejections.
"A big part of it is knowing what people do,'' Kok said. "Some people like to shoot it off one dribble. If you can study what they do, you can time your blocks better.''
He's doing it better than anyone else in the conference these days. "Kok, as in block'' has a nice ring to it for the Toreros.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.