Crumpacker: UN Roster Speaks Language of Basketball at Loyola Marymount

Ayodeji Egbeyemi headlines a deep list of LMU international players
Ayodeji Egbeyemi headlines a deep list of LMU international players
Jan. 9, 2015

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With nearly three-quarters of its roster featuring players from countries other than the United States, it's not unreasonable to suggest a name change for Loyola Marymount University, for basketball purposes only.

How about Loyola Marymount United Nations? LMUN?

It requires a map of the world to pinpoint where all the players are from, ranging alphabetically from Australia to Zambia and points in between. All told, LMUN has eight international players on a travel roster of 14 representing six countries: Australia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Nigeria, Slovakia and Zambia.

Languages spoken in the Lions' locker room are many but just one is required on the court:

"Basketball is a language in itself,'' said guard Ayodeji Egbeyemi, who goes by Deji and is from Nigeria. "If you play basketball, you understand the language.''

Added forward/center Patson Siame, who is from Zambia, "It's one language, one culture. It's working for us. We have good bonding on the team.''

Basketball lifer Mike Dunlap, a man with a variety of coaching experiences spanning 34 years, is in his first season coaching his alma mater (Class of '80).

Dunlap, who had a one-year turn as head coach of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats in 2012-13, seems the ideal choice to lead LMU. His level of passion and commitment is higher because he is an alumnus and he has international experience as well, having spent three years in Australia coaching the professional Adelaide 36ers from 1994-97.

"For me, I've been recruiting international guys for 30 years,'' said Dunlap, who is working on his third college head coaching job after previous stops at California Lutheran (1989-94), Metro State of Denver (1997-06) and now LMU. "I love it. They bring a special spice to the meal that you can't get otherwise.

"The great thing about international players is the bridge is there. Getting them to do the right thing, nine times out of 10, it's easy. By and large, they are superior academically. That's empirical, me being around them. They want to know they're being taught well. They want to go on to play somewhere (after college).''

Indeed, there may not be a future NBA player on the LMU roster, although Siame is 6-foot-11 and runs well, but all of Dunlap's international players want to continue in the sport when their college eligibility is up.

"The competition isn't as great in other countries,'' Dunlap said. "Australia is easier than the NBA. Europe, they have high-scale pro ball and low-scale pro ball.''

The Lions are not having an easy time of it in Dunlap's first season. They are still winless in West Coast Conference play at 0-4 and are 4-12 overall.

"Because we're new (to the job), I have to do a little more work in letting them know there's good things coming,'' Dunlap said. "My whole life, other than three years in the NBA, has been spent in higher education. Higher education is as good as it gets. It's as close to Camelot as you'll find, intellectually. It's awesome. It's a good place to grow.''

All of LMU's international players are appreciative of the opportunity they have to earn a college degree in the U.S. and play major college basketball - two things that are incompatible in most other countries.

"Something every single person who comes to play basketball from other countries talks about is the balance of academics and athletics,'' said forward Marin Mornar, who is from Zagreb, Croatia. "In Croatia, you play for a club team or you go to college. You can't do both. That's the primary reason I came (to LMU). The U.S. is the only country that has such a developed system.''

Culture shock is inevitable when international players first come to the U.S. For Petr Herman, a 6-10 forward from the Czech Republic, that moment came when he was taken to a famous L.A. eatery shortly after arriving at LMU.

"The first day I was taken to Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles,'' he said. "Sweet and salty together. I said, `Really?' People are really friendly here. I wasn't used to that from Europe. It's a really nice place to live. LMU is a nice environment. I'm happy to be here.''

LMU often starts a lineup of four international players and one American, 6-1 guard Evan Payne of Akron, Ohio. When the Lions played at Stanford in December, for example, they started four international players - Herman, 6-3 Simon Krajcovic of Slovakia, 6-4 Egbeyemi of Nigeria and Siame of Zambia - along with 6-1 guard Evan Payne of Akron, Ohio. Foreign-born players accounted for 35 of LMU's 58 points.

Despite the vast pool of hoops talent in Los Angeles, there is only one L.A. native on the roster, freshman walk-on Tyler Batiste.

Two of LMU's top reserves are 6-4 guard David Humphries and 6-7 forward Joshua Spiers, both from Australia.

"I'm really enjoying it in Los Angeles,'' Humphries said. "I've done a lot of sightseeing - Staples Center, Venice, the Hollywood sign, Disneyland. It's been good fun to see the city. I really like Venice Beach and the Santa Monica pier.''

Humphries said he's picked up "a few words'' in Croatian from his roommate, Mornar. "Obviously, there's a lot of different languages on the team,'' the Aussie said. "I really like it. We seem to get along really well.''

Humphries said he enjoys learning aspects of his teammates' various cultures and "what they've been through. There is a lot of different languages spoken in the locker room, for sure.''

Consider Siame in that regard. In addition to English and "a little French,'' he also speaks several regional dialects common in Zambia, such as Benba, Ngnji and Lozi. That gives Siane a great opportunity to talk trash on the court to opponents, or direct a few choice but inscrutable words toward the officials, without anyone knowing what the heck he's saying.

Siame has adjusted to eating pizza and bagels but what he really misses is a dish from home made from yams that resembles mashed potatoes, consumed sans utensils. Imagine the feeling of digging into a pile of mashed potatoes with one's fingers in what is considered perfectly acceptable.

This season, Siame has played in all 16 games and started 11f. He's averaging 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and has 18 blocked shots.

"It's a great opportunity,'' he said. "I like the basketball level. I sat out last year injured but I feel I'm getting the touch back, getting better skill-wise.''

That should serve to make the United Nations of college basketball a better team as the season progresses. It may be a Tower of Babel in the locker room but on the court the Lions are united in the common language of basketball.

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.




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