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Crumpacker: Remarkable Journeys For This Tiger Trio

Dec. 18, 2014

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By John Crumpacker, WCC Columnist | @CrumpackerOnWCC  |  Crumpacker Archives

STOCKTON, Ca. - It sounds like it might be the set-up for a joke: a Dane, a Brazilian and an American walk into a bar and ... Well, instead of a bar, make it a locker room. In fact, make it the locker room of the Pacific men's basketball team.

As it turns out, it's no joke. The Dane is Sami Eleraky, the Brazilian is Gabriel Aguirre and the American is Dulani Robinson. They are all solid contributors for coach Ron Verlin's Tigers, 6-4 with two non-conference games remaining before they open WCC play at the Spanos Center against San Francisco on the 27th.

"All three of them have been great additions to our program,'' Verlin said. "Gabe is in his second year (at Pacific). He's been tremendous. What a great kid, great student, perfect Pacific guy. I love what he's brought to the program.''

Eleraky, Aguirre and Robinson all prepped for Pacific at City College of San Francisco's powerhouse program, although they were not all teammates at the same time. Aguirre, a senior, played one season at CCSF with Robinson while Robinson, in turn, had one season with Eleraky.

Aguirre, the first to arrive at Pacific, encouraged Robinson to follow him to Stockton but there was no plan for a package deal with the three players.

"We didn't all get together and say let's play here,'' Robinson said.

Nevertheless, here they are, enjoying their time at Pacific as teammates for a second time.

"It is fun playing with familiar faces, always,'' said Robinson, who went to McClymonds High School in Oakland. "Sami's more quiet, but he has a personality when you get to know him. Gabe is all personality. He's funny. He cracks jokes. He speaks really well, but with his accent, he's funny. He knows exactly what he's doing.''

Aguirre is a 6-foot-10 senior coming back from a broken thumb earlier in the season. He missed seven games and is just now getting back into playing starter's minutes. He's averaging 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

He's following in the sneaker prints of his father, Gustavo, who in 1974 played for his native Argentina in the FIBA World Championships. Gustavo went on to marry a Brazilian woman and the family settled in that country. Young Gabriel, 15 and growing like a weed, was sent to Spain for two years to develop his basketball ability.

Before coming to San Francisco to play for CCSF, Aguirre was on under-18 and under-19 Brazilian national teams. Now he hopes his national team coaches give him a chance to represent home-team Brazil in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, although with several Brazilian big men in the NBA, it won't be easy for Aguirre.

"They'll probably give me a chance,'' he said. "They start with 40 (players) and make cuts. I'll try. I'd like to do more stuff - work on my shot. I do plan on playing basketball after college.''

So does Eleraky, a 7-footer who was born in Denmark to Egyptian parents. For Pacific he's averaging 4.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Like Aguirre, who is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English, Eleraky is also tri-lingual, in his case Danish, Arabic and English.

"My dad was in Europe five, six years before he settled in Denmark,'' Eleraky said. "He went back to Egypt and married my mom and they moved back to Denmark.''

Eleraky's path to Pacific was more convoluted than his former CCSF teammates. He started out at a junior college in Kansas but never played there. He was supposed to go to Cal but did not qualify academically, so City College it was. Verlin, who had been recruiting Eleraky for some time, finally got his man.

"Sami's best days are ahead of him,'' Verlin said. "We're a work-in-progress with him. Offensively, he hasn't arrived. He's learning how to play in the low post, learning how to play against bigger guys. Before all is said and done, he'll be one of the better big men at Pacific.''

Eleraky speaks in a deep but soft-spoken manner. He's a realist when it comes to assessing his ability as a player.

"I'm probably not an NBA player at this point, but if I keep progressing, maybe someday,'' Eleraky said. "I need to work on a lot of stuff - post moves, finishing (around the basket), rebounding.''

Although Robinson is not a starter, the 5-9 dynamo is the first player off the bench and is counted on to make things happen. His 11.9 scoring average is second on the team to guard T.J. Wallace and his 3.4 assists per game leads the Tigers.

"I want him to play more like a pest and get after them,'' Verlin said. "He's doing a great job. I can't be more happy and proud with how he's adjusted to the system. I really worked Dulani. That was the guy I went after (at City College) really, really hard. He can make plays, he can shoot and he plays spirited.''

Robinson is averaging starter-like minutes at 27.8 per game and said he looks to get his teammates involved first before thinking about scoring. His scoring and assists averages indicate he does both pretty well.

"I like to be the point guard,'' he said. "I know how to score the basketball. When you score the basketball, you're someone who can heat up. A scorer is someone who can score in any way, who is creative in the way they score. I have to stay within our offense. I like to think pass-first. It's always nice to get my teammates going.''

Away from the court, Robinson said he enjoys having conversations with Eleraky, who is more worldly-wise than the kid from Oakland.

"Sami's a book-smart guy, well-seasoned in geography,'' Robinson said. "He knows all the continents and when I make a mistake, he'll correct me and we'll have a discussion about what's relatable from Denmark to the U.S. We'll have an intellectual conversation.''

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.