Studying Abroad

A half-dozen collegians are representing their countries in the FIBA World Championships

Sept. 1, 2006

By Bryan Armen Graham


Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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Not until the World Cup in June did my roommates and I decide to supplement our cable package with the digital video recorder option.


In the three months since, DVR has enabled my idiot-box addiction with commercial-free runnings of junk-food staples The Real World and Beverly Hills, 90210. But another positive by-product of the godsend has been the opportunity to take in this month's FIBA World Championship on my own terms, a tournament I never could have justified watching during its scheduled broadcast hours.


With Turkey suffering an 83-58 ouster at the hands of Argentina in the quarterfinals Tuesday, the last of the six active collegiate players participating in what's billed as the world's most prestigious basketball event is headed back to the states, where Division I teams open official practices six weeks from Sunday. Here's a quick glance at how each of the collegians fared:


Engin Atsur, Turkey/North Carolina State


The surprise team of the event has been Turkey, which failed to earn a spot in the FIBA World Championship field during qualifying at EuroBasket 2005 -- but secured an eleventh-hour berth through one of four wild card invitations issued by the FIBA in November. Ranked No. 18 in the world and playing without NBA stars Mehmet Okur and Hedo Turkoglu, the Turks won five of seven games, before bowing out in the quarterfinals to an Argentina side that has made it all the way to the semis.


After finishing second place in Group C with a 4-1 record, the Turks advanced into the knockout round and a Round-of-16 match with Slovenia. Atsur, a three-year veteran with the Wolfpack, drained consecutive 3-pointers during the last four minutes of regulation to propel Turkey to a come-from-behind 80-74 victory. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound native of Istanbul averaged 7.0 points in seven contests.


Atsur will be the leading returning scorer for a Wolfpack team that finished 22-10 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.


They Said It: "He doesn't have big experience on the international level, but he's got a big heart and you (saw) that on the court today." --Turkey teammate Sergan Erdogan on Atsur.


Ekene Ibekwe, Nigeria/Maryland


Ibekwe, who withdrew from the NBA draft in June to return to College Park for his senior season, came this close to helping his country to one of the most memorable upsets of the tournament.


After advancing through pool play with a 2-3 record, Nigeria drew the Germans in the Round of 16. Going head to head with Dirk Nowitzki for most of the evening, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound product of California, recorded 22 points and 10 rebounds -- but his country found itself on the wrong end of a 78-77 result that came down to the final possession.


Ibekwe averaged 11.1 points and a team-best 6.6 rebounds last season, and looks to help return the Terps to the NCAA tournament as a senior after a two-year absence.


They Said It: "I just wanted to play well for my country. For me personally as a college player, this was a great experience, one that I couldn't pass up. To get the chance to come out here and go up against the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Boris Diaw -- that's the reason why I came. It's tough to play against those guys but I enjoyed the challenge." --Ibekwe following the loss to Germany.


Josh Akognon, Nigeria/Cal State Fullerton


The American-born Akongon played his first two seasons at Washington State, leading the Cougars in scoring as a sophomore, before announcing his intent to transfer to Fullerton in March.


The 5-foot-10 guard made headlines on the first day of the tournament, hitting a crucial 3-pointer that lifted his team to an 82-75 upset of Serbia & Montenegro, the defending world champions. The California native averaged 2.1 points as a deep reserve for Coach Sam Vincent.


Akognon will sit out the 2006-07 season in accordance with transfer rules before joining the Titans full-time in 2007-08.


They Said It: "We stuck to our game plan. ... We knew we were the quicker team. They were bigger but we got the job done." --Nigeria swingman Ime Udoka on the upset.


Aaron Bruce, Australia/Baylor


Bruce, an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection as a junior, made the Australian national side as a reserve guard and saw time off the bench.


The Australian native recorded his tournament-high with an eight-point effort in a 72-69 loss to Greece and helped his country to a 2-3 record and a knockout-stage battle against the United States. The Americans pounded the Boomers, 113-73, but Bruce put down six points on 3-for-3 shooting.


The former Big 12 Freshman of the Year, averaged 18.2 points during his first season in Waco, the highest scoring average for a first-year player in Big 12 history. Bruce ranked second on the Bears in scoring with 13.5 points per game this past season.


They Said It: "I think a lot of people doubted who we've got on this team, the players who have missed out or are injured or whatever. It just shows the people back home just what kind of team we have. This was a big step on the journey for us." --Australia forward Mark Worthington


Craig Bradshaw, New Zealand/Winthrop


As one of the more experienced collegians in Japan -- having played for his national side in the Olympics -- Bradshaw helped lead his team to an appearance in the knockout stage that came as a surprise after the Kiwis lost their first three games in Group B.


Bradshaw scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as New Zealand erased an 18-point deficit against Japan to secure a 60-57 victory on Aug. 23, its first of the tournament. The following day, the Winthrop big man finished with a team-high 17 points in an 86-75 victory over Panama that propelled New Zealand into the Round of 16 and a meeting with still-unbeaten Argentina.


A rising senior at Winthrop, Bradshaw averaged 12.8 points and recorded team highs with 6.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots per game as a junior for the Big South champions.


They Said It: "We've spent a lot of this year's campaign talking about Craig and he's deserved every plaudit thrown his way. ... In recent years, there may have been a few concerns about his toughness, but I think he has put those to rest." --New Zealand coach Tab Baldwin, who resigned after his team's 79-62 loss to Argentina


Chamberlain Oguchi, Nigeria/Oregon


Oguchi, a product of George W. Bush High School in Houston, filled a modest reserve role for his national side, averaging 4.7 points in six contests. But the athletic wing put down a pair of crucial free throws down the stretch that gave Nigeria the opportunity for the near-upset over Germany.


A 6-foot-5, 195 pound swingman, Oguchi was one of the most improved players in the Pac-10 last season, averaging 9.6 points and 2.3 rebounds for the Ducks as a junior. Ducks coach Ernie Kent will be counting on the Houston native as the Ducks look to break through in a top-heavy conference this fall.


They Said It: "This is a tough loss but it's a great result for Nigeria basketball. I'm really proud of my teammates. We've been through a lot these past couple of months. We didn't have a lot of time to train together so we were still trying to get to know one another during these games and figure our roles out on the court, but this is all very encouraging." --Ibekwe on his Nigeria teammates


Monty Burned


When the Golden State Warriors and Mike Montgomery parted ways by "mutual agreement" on Tuesday, the former Stanford coach joined a dubious class of accomplished collegiate minds that couldn't duplicate their success in the pro ranks -- a roll that includes greats Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Jerry Tarkanian.   


In 18 seasons at Palo Alto, Montgomery helped catapult the Cardinal into the national elite. Stanford advanced to a school-record 10 consecutive NCAA tournaments through the end of his tenure, including the school's first trip to the Final Four in 56 years. With 393 career victories, Montgomery is the winningest coach in the 92-year history of the program.


But since heading south from The Farm to the Bay Area to assume the reins of a franchise that hadn't made the postseason in a decade, Montgomery led the Warriors to identical 34-48 records in two seasons at the helm. Rumors of his departure had started circulating as early as midseason.


"This was a new challenge that I was eager to embrace and glad that I had the chance to pursue and experience," Montgomery said in a statement.


If Montgomery remains patient (and if he has the desire), the 59-year-old coach would likely have his choice of the college positions that open over the next several years.




·         In the wake of one of the most memorable seasons in program history, the mania surrounding Wichita State hasn't died down. The last of the 8,900 available season tickets for 10,478-seat Koch Arena were sold Monday, more than two months before the first tip-off.


·         Speaking of arenas in the Midwest, it appears that Louisville's days at hallowed Freedom Hall are numbered. Last week, the Board of Trustees and athletic association at the Kentucky school announced an agreement with the Louisville Arena Authority that will move both the men's and women's basketball team to a new 22,000-seat arena in the downtown area in about four years. The estimated price tag for state-of-the-art facility: $450 million.


·         The latest player to take advantage of Rule 2005-54, the NCAA proposition which allows a student-athlete that has earned an undergraduate degree to transfer schools without sitting out a season, is Memphis forward Almamy Thiero. The injury-plagued native of Mali is the latest player to transfer to Duquesne, where newly installed coach Ron Everhart has shaken things up in a hurry -- assembling one of the biggest incoming classes in major college basketball history.

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