Foreign Student-Athletes Spotlight: Charlon Kloof & Matthias Runs
Welcome to Foreign Student-Athletes, a
special project developed by senior journalism and mass
communication major Ryan Cooke. It gives students and fans of St.
Bonaventure Athletics a look at student-athletes from different
countries around the world who have chosen to attend Bonaventure. A
new feature story will be posted each month during the academic
year, highlighting student-athletes from each of the 10 foreign
countries represented by the SBU student-athlete population.
May: Charlon Kloof & Matthias Runs, Men's
This month's foreign student-athlete feature outlines how a player from South America and a player from the Netherlands both ended up playing for a team in Spain's Canary Islands before both ending up at St. Bonaventure.
The Canarias Basketball Academy Opened Doors For Kloof And Runs
Charlon Kloof and Matthias Runs were born and raised in small
countries in northern South America and northwestern Europe,
respectively. Kloof grew up in Paramaribo, Suriname, a country
where he says “everyone knows everybody” and the
weather is always 55 to 60 degrees year-round. Runs, who hails from
Hilversum, Netherlands, says everything is very close and people
don’t need cars to get around in his native city.
In both of their countries, soccer is the most popular sport, followed by basketball. Additionally, Kloof, a junior finance major, and Runs, a freshman majoring in psychology, faced obstacles out of their own control which limited their basketball opportunities.
“You can’t really achieve something through sports in Suriname,” said Kloof. “They aren’t that popular and people think you are wasting your time.”
“People like basketball, but there is no money for it,” said Runs. “When there is no money for something, there is no chance.”
Despite limited resources and opportunities, Kloof and Runs both started playing basketball at the age of 7 for different reasons.
“My cousins were playing and I liked it,” said Kloof. “Then a friend asked me to join a club team and I did because I wasn’t doing anything else. That’s when I really started to like the sport.”
“I just wanted to do it and I was always tall for my age,” said Runs. “Plus, I didn’t really like to play soccer when it was cold outside.”
High school sports don’t exist in Suriname and the Netherlands like they do in the United States. Therefore, Kloof and Runs played club basketball and traveled to seek more serious and competitive options on the court. Kloof played club basketball in Suriname most of his life and also played a year of club ball while living in the Netherlands. In 2004, Kloof moved there to attend school and play for its national team.
As for Runs, he began traveling 40 minutes a day as a 16-year-old to practice and play for the club team Uball, in the city of Utrecht. His local club teams only practiced once or twice a week, so he made the switch.
“My local club team wasn’t real serious,” said Runs. “And I was always serious with basketball, so I had to get out.”
Kloof and Runs’ travels led to a greater opportunity for competitive basketball when they learned of Spain’s Canarias Basketball Academy (CBA). Kloof learned of CBA from a teammate on the Netherlands national team who was going to school there. When Kloof found out Division-I coaches recruited from CBA, he was sold.
“That really interested me,” said Kloof. “My main goal was to get a Division-I scholarship.”
So, Kloof got in touch with CBA’s director, Rob Orellana, who watched him play and eventually offered him a spot on his team.
On the other hand, Runs heard about CBA from other Dutch athletes who went to school there, and after his positive experience with Uball he knew he wanted to go to college. Therefore, he went to CBA – after Orellana asked him to play there – to try and get recruited to the States.
The Canarias Basketball Academy, through Oakley College, is an accredited institution in Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Students at CBA experience a college-preparatory education and have a chance to improve their basketball skills. The goal at CBA is to develop the best basketball players in the world, at all levels. Furthermore, CBA hopes to provide student-athletes the opportunity to maximize their abilities on and off the court.
Kloof, who spent the 2010-2011 school year at CBA, and Runs, who spent the 2011-2012 school year at CBA, followed a very strict daily schedule. A typical day consisted of waking up at 5:30 a.m., practice at 6, lift at 8 or 9, then rest and/or classes, practice from 2 to 4 p.m. and a final practice from 9 to 11. The practices consisted of a lot of individual skill work, shooting and sometimes scrimmages. Their coaches pushed them hard to prepare them both mentally and physically.
“The coaches really pushed you to give 100 percent every practice and every drill,” said Kloof. “Guys weren’t all even talent-wise, but the drills were mentally challenging too. You did the drills to your best capabilities.”
“It was tough. There was a big mental aspect with the coaches yelling at you,” added Runs. “But the coaches did it on purpose; they wanted to prepare you.”
Both Kloof and Runs admitted how challenging their respective year at CBA was. However, they don’t regret their choice to attend CBA and realize how beneficial it was for them.
“Honestly, it was really hard. I don’t think I could do it again,” said Kloof. “But, I wouldn’t change anything in my past. I got better and my coach is like a father to me. He helped me through a lot of things with basketball and personally, like life lessons and how to deal with adversity.”
“It was rough. It was mentally and physically exhausting,” said Runs. “It was just a grind, a nine-month long grind. But, it was worth it in the end. Without CBA, I wouldn’t be here (at Bona’s).”
Kloof and Runs were both recruited by Bonaventure while at CBA. Kloof chose the Bonnies over South Alabama, La Salle and Tulane, while Runs chose the Brown and White over Stetson University and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Kloof liked the improvement the program was showing and the idea of playing with a professional-caliber player.
“I liked the direction the program was going. They got better every year and made progress,” said Kloof. “Getting better every day is big for me. Also, Andrew (Nicholson) sealed the deal. I wanted to bring my game to another level, and what better way to do it than to play with a pro.”
Equally, the 7-foot Runs chose Bona’s because of its improvement and the path that he saw Nicholson emblaze while playing four years on the court Bob Lanier once called home.
“This school is in a great conference and just had a winning season,” said Runs of the 2012 Atlantic 10 Championship. “Also, having a big guy go to the league (NBA) was a big deal. His development was key and it inspires me a lot.”
Aside from Kloof and Runs, CBA sends many student-athletes to Division-I colleges and universities year in and year out. Kloof played alongside Haralds Karlis of Seton Hall, Johan Van Zegeren of Virginia Tech and Kadeem Pantophlet of Duquesne. Additionally, Runs said 11 players on his team signed with Division-I schools.
While at Bonaventure, Kloof and Runs have noticed big differences in American basketball, from the international style of play they were used to.
“The competition is a lot faster and the guys you play with are a lot more athletic,” said Kloof, who averaged 5.3 points and two assists per game last year with SBU. “The athletes are so much better.”
“It’s more physical. Guys are much stronger here and started lifting at an earlier age,” added Runs. “The game speed is much faster here too.”
Both Kloof and Runs have had to adapt to the new style of basketball and work on getting better every day. Kloof, who just completed his second season with the Bonnies, said he hasn’t changed his personal style of play, but tries to improve his skills and has learned from practices and games.
“My coaches and teammates were really patient with me last year, which made my transition easier,” said Kloof. “I’ve gotten better through practices and games. I’ve adapted to the speed and learned to still be able to think and know plays as a point guard. Last year around tournament time, I was fully adjusted and at the top of my game.”
On the other hand, Runs is sitting out his first season at Bona’s due to the NCAA’s “delayed enrollment” ruling. Because more than a year passed between Runs’ high school graduation date and him enrolling at Bonaventure, and the year of competition at CBA, both collectively triggered the NCAA mandate that he sit a year in residency before becoming eligible for the 2013-14 season. However, he knows getting stronger is the most important thing for him to adjust to the American game.
“I have to gain weight and get stronger,” said Runs. “I’m in the weight room every day in the morning. The main thing for me is weight and strength.”
Furthermore, Runs is trying to learn as much as possible and continue to improve.
“I learn a lot from the coaches and Youssou (Ndoye) and Marquise (Simmons). They help me a lot,” said Runs. “The practices were my games. That’s where I improved. I learned a lot and there is still a lot more for me to learn.”
Although Kloof and Runs are at different points in their careers at Bona’s, they both have enjoyed their experience thus far. They like the school, the people and the fans.
“People treat me well and the fans are a lot of fun,” said Kloof. “It’s an experience I wouldn’t replace. I really enjoy it and wouldn’t take it for granted.”
“I like it here; it’s great. And everyone is nice,” added Runs. “I love the fans. Everyone is basketball crazy here, and I like that a lot.”
For Kloof, one moment especially highlights his journey from Suriname, to the Netherlands, to CBA and finally here at Bonaventure.
“When I hear my name and my country called during starting lineup introductions, it’s the best moment for me,” said Kloof. “It brings everything full circle.”
April: Kathryn Kvas, Women's
This month's foreign student-athlete feature tells of the many sacrifices Canada's Kvas made to earn a Division I tennis scholarship at St. Bonaventure.
St. Bonaventure's Kvas Made Sacrifices For Tennis
At a certain point in her life, Kathryn Kvas realized she needed to start putting tennis over academics. In Canada, unlike the United States, academics reign supreme over athletics. Athletic scholarships don’t exist in the country north of the border and academics are a way of life.
“Athletics just aren’t as organized in Canada as in the States,” Kvas said. “Sports just aren’t as much of a priority.”
However, the Mississauga, Ontario, native realized she had to shift her focus to tennis to earn a scholarship to attend a university in the States.
Kvas, a senior co-captain for the women’s tennis team, first played tennis as a 7-year-old at a summer camp and hated it. However, her parents, who both played recreational tennis often, encouraged her to play the sport, and she tried again as a 12-year-old. Kvas won a tournament and stuck with the game because she enjoyed winning.
At first, Kvas didn’t realize it was possible for her to attend college on an athletic scholarship. But she started playing well and winning more tournaments as a 14-year-old, and her coaches at her tennis academy, Ontario Racket Club and Tennis School, encouraged her to try and get recruited. Her father also pushed the recruiting process upon her.
The tournaments Kvas participated in, Canadian provincials and nationals, were the two biggest tournaments in Canada and helped her earn rankings in the country. Training for tennis became intense and demanding for her as she structured her days and schooling around the game.
A typical day started with waking up at 5:30 a.m. and receiving an hour-long individual lesson at her club. She then went to school from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and returned to her club for another lesson from 4 to 5 p.m. Then, she trained with other athletes from 5 to 7 p.m. and lifted weights and ran until 8 p.m. Kvas would then return home around 8:30 p.m. and eat dinner and try to do homework before getting some sleep.
The long days took a toll on her academics as she had a 70 average her first three years of high school at Holy Name of Mary, an all-girl Catholic and private school.
“My grades were really affected because I was missing school for sports,” Kvas said. “I missed a lot of classes and my teachers didn’t really understand. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience.”
Holy Name of Mary had zero tolerance for athletics; school was supposed to come first. Kvas’ teachers never really punished her for missing classes, but they did frown upon her and treat her differently for not taking school as seriously as they expected her to.
“My teachers didn’t understand the benefits an athletics scholarship could give me,” Kvas said. “Or that it could benefit my academics in the long run.”
Kvas won the tennis city championships her freshman and sophomore years of high school and was ranked No. 1 in the women’s singles division and No. 29 nationally. However, she was kicked off her team because she was ranked in the top 50 of her province. Once someone becomes ranked in the top 50, he or she is no longer allowed to compete in high school athletics.
“These high schools basically didn’t want you to be good and serious about a sport,” Kvas said. “Sports were more recreational. Looking for scholarships was non-existent.”
Therefore, Kvas switched high schools and attended Iona Catholic her senior year. The school was more lenient with academics and she did much better, earning a 92 average. She also continued playing in tournaments and caught the eye of college coaches.
Kvas earned scholarship offers from Division I schools St. Bonaventure, UTEP and Xavier. Bona’s women’s tennis head coach Michael Bates first saw her play in a tournament her senior year of high school. She stayed in touch with Bates through emails and signed with the Bonnies early in the school year.
Kvas, a journalism/mass communication major with a marketing minor, had many reasons for signing with St. Bonaventure.
“The main reason was the proximity to home and the strength of the J/MC program,” she said. “I also met the team and really liked them and the campus was nice and very pretty.”
Kvas, who had 27 singles match wins in her first three seasons with the Brown and White, believes she has been more successful in the classroom than on the tennis courts at St. Bonaventure.
“I’ve definitely been more successful with school than in tennis,” she said. “Bona’s puts academics first, which is really good. In terms of where I want to be in the future, I’m happy with that.”
Kvas has been on the Atlantic 10 honor roll and been an Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic Team selection each of her three years at Bona’s. Along with making the dean’s list every semester, she is also the president of the American Advertising Federation and a member of the American Marketing Association on campus.
After graduation this May, Kvas hopes to work at home or land an internship for a year, then go back to school. She would like to attend the Miami Ad School for her master’s degree and pursue a career in copyright and advertising.
Kvas doesn’t have any regrets putting tennis before school growing up.
“It all pretty much worked out,” she said. “At the end of the day, I’m very happy here at Bona’s and I’ve grown so much as a person and a student.”
March: Jeanette Dietrich &
Rachel Bull, Women's Swimming
This month's foreign student-athlete feature sheds light on the stories of Germany's Dietrich and the United Kingdom's Bull and their similar paths to success at St. Bonaventure.
Similar Paths Led European Swimmers to St. Bonaventure
Jeanette Dietrich and Rachel Bull grew up swimming in countries where the sport wasn’t very popular. Dietrich, a junior, is from Dorsten, Germany where soccer rules the land and Bull, a sophomore, grew up in Croydon, United Kingdom. In the UK, soccer, rugby and cricket are the most popular sports. However, the two have been swimming since they were young children.
The pair began swimming the same way any child starts a sport for the first time, their parents put them up to it. Dietrich, whose parents are both coaches for a club team in Dorsten, swam for the first time as a 5-year old. Bull first hit the water at the age of 6.
Though swimming isn’t among their countries’ most popular sports, both Dietrich and Bull cite friendships as reasons for continuing to swim all their lives.
“Once you start it’s hard to stop,” said Dietrich. “Swim is so time consuming that you become close with all of your friends. My friends have kept me going.”
“Every swimmer knows each other in England,” added Bull. “The sport is very popular for being social and making friends.”
High school swimming is virtually non-existent in European countries. Instead, swimmers are a part of club teams from the start to finish of their swim careers. Dietrich swam for three club teams and currently swims for Germany’s best team, SG Essen. She travels 30-40 minutes from home to attend practices. In 2008, her first year with SG Essen, she was a member of the club’s 50-meter freestyle relay team which placed fifth in Nationals. She also was a member of the 100-meter freestyle relay team which placed second in Nationals in 2009.
Bull has been a member of five different club teams in the UK and currently swims for Beckenham. She has been with Beckenham for the last five years and with them qualified for the British Youth National Championships four straight years.
Neither Dietrich nor Bull thought about swimming in college in the States until their senior years of high school when they worked with recruiting companies to get their names and swim times out to college coaches. These recruiting companies do their best to help foreign athletes all over the world earn scholarships to attend colleges and universities in the States. Once student-athletes join these companies, they are contacted by interested college coaches.
“It has gotten a lot more popular,” said Bull. “A lot of swimmers in the UK go through the process now. You either train at home for the Olympics if you’re good enough or go to the States.”
Both swimmers decided last minute to attend Bonaventure and had their own reasons for doing so. Dietrich, who passed up offers from Oakland University and University of Michigan, came to Bona’s for its journalism/mass communication program.
“I knew I wanted to be a journalist since I was like 12,” said Dietrich. “I had a good opportunity here and I came for the experience.”
Bull, meanwhile, passed up an offer from St. Peter’s College in New Jersey and also the opportunity to attend college at home before choosing Bonaventure.
“I really liked the small campus here,” said Bull. “Everything is easy to get to. I prefer small schools and like to know a lot of people.”
Both Dietrich and Bull have had their troubles transitioning to life away from home. Dietrich, a journalism/mass communication major who minors in French, didn’t experience much of a culture shock, but misses her family and friends often and struggled with a new language at first.
“Learning a new language was the hardest,” said Dietrich. “Early on I understood people but couldn’t always respond.”
Bull, a psychology major, believes things are a lot different culturally in the States than in the UK.
“I had a big culture shock,” said Bull. “Coming to Bona's I thought it would be a lot like home in the UK, but it wasn’t.”
Both student-athletes say their teammates have helped their transition go as smoothly as possible.
“Having a big group of friends has definitely helped make my transition easier,” said Dietrich.
“I like the team. We are really close,” said Bull. “My friends are a big reason I am still here.”
Aside from culture and language, swimming at Bona's has been different for the pair as well. In Europe, men and women of all ages practice and train together and swimming is a very individual sport. At Bonaventure, on the other hand, the swimmers are part of a team and winning is taken more seriously.
“There is a much different team aspect here,” said Bull. “And I like that sports are a big deal because it makes it more fun to compete. It really brings people together.”
Dietrich and Bull, who both swim freestyle events, have been successful at the collegiate level. As a freshman, Dietrich was part of the Bonnies’ 200-yard medley relay team that finished third at the Atlantic 10 Championships. Last season, as a sophomore and freshman, respectively, Dietrich and Bull were members of the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams that finished fourth at the Atlantic 10 Championships.
St. Bonaventure women’s swimming head coach Seth Johnson believes Dietrich and Bull have been great contributors to his team.
“Jeanette and Rachel were on four or five relay teams right away,” said Johnson. “They both have had a major impact on our team and we owe a lot of our success to them.”
Johnson believes recruiting foreign student-athletes is important for the program.
“We are always looking overseas,” said Johnson. “We are looking for the next Rachel or next Jeanette that wants to be a part of it. I think that if we are going to compete at this level we need to have foreign athletes.”
Bonaventure may be a different world from Germany and the United Kingdom, yet Dietrich and Bull are happy with their choices to be a part of Bona Nation.
“I like the community and that everyone cares about each other. We’re a family,” said Dietrich. “I also like the small classes and that your teachers actually get to know you.”
“I really like the people here and having fun with them,” Bull added. “I’ve enjoyed the college experience and swimming as a team.
Dietrich also talked about “Bona Pride.”
“It’s something you can’t explain to people who don’t go here,” she said. “I’m proud to be a Bonnie.”
February: Vatslav Lets, Men's
This month's foreign student-athlete feature tells the story of Vatslav Lets' journey from Russia to St. Bonaventure to participate on the men's swimming team and receive a college education.
St. Bonaventure's Eastern Europe Swimming Pipeline Continues With Lets
Vatslav Lets is the most recent of a string of Eastern European swimmers to attend St. Bonaventure and make an instant impact in the water and on the program. He is one of six swimmers from Poland and Russia to don the Brown and White over the last 10 years.
Lets, a sophomore from Novosbirsk, Russia, joined a recruiting company last summer in order to get his name and swim times out to college coaches in the United States. He was recruited by 15 Division I schools and his short list consisted of Bona’s, University of South Carolina, University of Maryland, North Dakota and University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
Lets, who was unaware of St. Bonaventure before his recruiting process began, said 90 percent of his communication with men’s swimming head coach Sean McNamee was through email. The two communicated often, sometimes also by way of Skype, and Lets became familiar with Bona’s via YouTube videos of the school’s campus and features.
The recruiting process used to land Lets is one that McNamee is very familiar with. McNamee works with recruiting services to seek out Eastern European swimmers. One individual in particular, Marcin Budziszewski, is the middle man between McNamee and his recruits.
“Marcin knows we take care of our foreign swimmers,” said McNamee. “And he conveys that to them.”
Budziszewski also understands what foreigners need to have done to be eligible, or to qualify to swim in the States, like SAT scores and a proper high school education. With Budziszewski’s help, McNamee then contacts recruits the way he did Lets, via Skype and email.
High school students have very few college opportunities in Poland and Russia, and McNamee believes the education Bona’s can offer foreign student-athletes is key to the recruiting process.
“These kids have a huge world of opportunity in front of them when they come to us,” said McNamee. “Education is a big deal to them and they come over really appreciating the opportunity.”
Lets, a finance major with a minor in international business, said education had a lot to do with him choosing to attend Bonaventure.
“I knew at some point I’d have to stop swimming, so getting an education is real important,” said Lets. “Bona’s is a small school and I can concentrate on my studies here.”
Lets also appreciates that education is the priority at Bonaventure and the school’s strong business program was a big part of the deal for him.
Thus far, all of McNamee’s Eastern European recruits prior to Lets – four from Poland and one from Russia – have been very successful at Bonaventure. Lets looks to follow in the footsteps of Polish swimmers Adrian Blaszczak, Dawid Kundzik, Mariusmi Michalik and Michal Bogacki and Russian swimmer Ilya Nenashev. Blaszczak and Michalik led Bonaventure to eight straight first-place finishes in the 200 breaststroke at the Atlantic 10 Championships.
So far Lets, who swims the 200 and 500 free and the 200 back, has carried on the success of his European predecessors. Although he didn’t enroll in school and join the swim team until January of his freshman year – missing the more vigorous training sessions of the season – he was a key member of the team that finished runner-up in the A-10 Championships.
At A-10’s, Lets participated on four relay teams and took first place in the 500-yard freestyle, setting a conference record in the event. At the end of the four-day event, he was honored as the Atlantic 10 Swimming and Diving Championships Rookie of the Year.
McNamee said his expectations for the Eastern European student-athletes are much higher than for his American swimmers because the Europeans are as talented as the top 50 swimmers in the States each year. They also command a lot more scholarship money coming over to the States. However, he stressed the positive impact they have had on his program.
“We invest a lot in these kids,” said McNamee. “But, they’ve met their expectations and we’ve had a great experience with them.”
Aside from his success in the pool, transitioning to living in the States hasn’t always been easy for Lets. Like most foreign student-athletes, he misses his family and friends back home. However, Lets seems mature beyond his years.
“I miss my family and friends back home a lot,” said Lets. “But, I’m the kind of person who can easily adapt to a new place and new people. I just know what I have to do here. I’m here to get an education and a good job.”
It has been so far, so good for Lets at Bonaventure. He likes the small campus community, laid back atmosphere and having a structured life day in and day out.
“We’re not rushed here and everything is so close,” said Lets. “I have my schedule and I follow it. Everything is set for me and I just have to do what I’m supposed to do.”
Lets is very happy with his choice to attend Bonaventure over 14 other Division I schools.
“Coming to Bona’s was definitely a good choice for me,” said Lets. “I’m getting a good education, we have a really nice team and I love my coach a lot.”
One could say McNamee loves his European swimmers just as much.
January: Youssou Ndoye and
Jean Yves Toupane, Men's Basketball
This month's edition features Youssou Ndoye and Jean Yves Toupane, men's basketball players who traveled similar winding paths from young athletes in Dakar, Senegal to the campus of St. Bonaventure.
Senegal Natives Have Planted Their SEEDS at St. Bonaventure
Youssou Ndoye and Jean Yves Toupane became friends while attending
the Sports For Education and Economic Development (SEEDS) Academy
in Thies, Senegal, five years ago. The pair has followed the same
path from SEEDS, to prep school in the United States, to St.
Bonaventure. Along the way they have matured as students and
basketball players and they look to improve everyday.
Ndoye, a sophomore majoring in sport management and French, and Toupane, an undecided freshman, grew up in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. Dakar is a busy city, like New York City, just not quite as big. Ndoye described the atmosphere to be like New York City, but a very different culture. In Dakar, basketball isn’t nearly as popular as soccer. Everyone grows up playing soccer with their friends; it’s a way of life.
Neither Ndoye nor Toupane has played basketball for very long. Despite growing up in a basketball family – his mother and two sisters played for Senegal’s national team – Ndoye started playing just six years ago. As a kid, he would skip basketball camps that his mother signed him up for to play soccer with his friends. However, as Ndoye grew taller – he now stands at seven feet – he realized basketball was for him. As for Toupane, he has played basketball for about seven years. He often played soccer as well growing up, but picked up basketball randomly one day and started to love it.
Although the two didn’t pick up basketball until their mid-teens, they both began to take the game very seriously. Ndoye and Toupane played almost every day.
“I wanted to be good, it was my competitive nature,” said Ndoye. “I played and worked out all the time.”
Toupane said he played basketball to have fun and worked out every day. He was motivated to travel and play basketball outside of Dakar and Senegal.
Then, the opportunity of a lifetime arose. In order to obtain a quality education and improve their basketball skills, Ndoye and Toupane attended the SEEDS Academy, 45 minutes from Dakar.
SEEDS is a college-preparatory boarding school, for grades 9-12 and provides Senegalese boys a year-round, rigorous academic, athletic and leadership development curriculum. The Academy, which was opened in 2003 by Amadou Gallo Fall, offers free tuition, room, board and meals for up to 30 student-athletes. Fall is a native of Senegal and former Dallas Mavericks executive who currently is an NBA vice president of development based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The SEEDS Academy was important for the Ndoye and Toupane, who were roommates Ndoye’s second year there, as it allowed them to step away from their friends’ influences and the soccer lifestyle of their hometown. Once there, they realized basketball was key to their future; a chance to use the sport as a stepping stone to a college education and unlimited opportunities.
The SEEDS Academy is a high school, but with a college structure. The student-athletes live in dorm rooms and attend classes, practice basketball and are fed three meals daily. It was a learning experience for Ndoye and Toupane.
“Everything I learned basketball-wise and socially was because of SEEDS,” said Ndoye. “It was so serious. It was education first then basketball.”
The student-athletes follow a strict daily schedule at SEEDS. Ndoye and Toupane ran and worked out at 6 a.m., had classes all day, practiced from 6 to 8 p.m., and went to study hall in the evening. The goal of SEEDS is for the student-athletes to be prepared and not surprised when they attend prep schools and colleges and universities in the U.S.
“It really prepared me for high school in Maine,” said Toupane. “Nothing surprised me. I was used to it. SEEDS helped a lot.”
Ndoye added that SEEDS was also very instrumental in helping the student-athletes evolve socially.
“You build relationships living together and traveling,” said Ndoye. “We learned how to be social. I found my best friends there and we still talk everyday. We were all like a family.”
The 20 to 30 student-athletes at SEEDS all practiced together. They were one big team. They did drills, played full-court and learned plays and basketball lingo that would help them in the States. They also traveled to play games against the best competition around and outside of Senegal. Everyone worked toward a common goal.
“Everyone pushed each other hard,” said Toupane. “We all had the same goals and wanted to go to high school and college in the States.”
And, go to the States they did. In recent years the SEEDS Academy has placed over 40 student-athletes in prep schools and colleges and universities in America. Just last year, six SEEDS alums played on teams who made the NCAA Tournament; players like Baye Moussa Keita of Syracuse, Gorgui Dieng of Louisville, Cheikh Mbodj of Cincinnati and Ndoye as a freshman for the Bonnies. The success of these Senegalese student-athletes is a source of pride for their country.
“We come (to the U.S.) for ourselves, but mostly to represent our country,” said Ndoye. “People look up to us and we want to set a good example and show people (back home) you can be successful.”
After their time at SEEDS, Ndoye and Toupane were both sent to Lee Academy in Maine. The student-athletes don’t have input in where they attend prep school, they just accept where they are placed.
“We were just happy for the opportunity,” said Ndoye. “We don’t take nothing for granted. We take it and make the best of it.”
Ndoye and Toupane played two seasons each at Lee and were teammates Ndoye’s second year at the school. Lee Academy was just like SEEDS; daily life consisted of school, working out and practicing basketball. Ndoye said there wasn’t much to do at Lee as it was a secluded place, but it helped him to concentrate on school and basketball.
Additionally, Ndoye and Toupane had a lot to adjust to at Lee. Their biggest adjustment was the language, but they have caught on.
“You have to learn the language and socialize with people,” said Ndoye. “It was a culture shock at first, but once you fit in you feel like you have a new family.”
“The hardest part was learning English,” added Toupane. “It was hard to respond and react to my coach because I didn’t understand English, but Youssou helps me learn and adapt to things.”
Furthermore, the style of play on the court was a lot different than the pair was accustomed to. Athletes in the States were stronger, faster and have been playing basketball much longer than they have.
“People were stronger than you and knew how to play better than you,” said Ndoye. “The competition is so different and the level of play was so much higher.”
“We start playing so late in Senegal and kids in the States have been playing all their lives,” added Toupane. “In Senegal we play to travel and have fun and here they play because they love it. I have to love it and play hard and play like Americans.”
Both Ndoye and Toupane were recruited by St. Bonaventure’s men’s basketball assistant coaches Steve Curran and Jeff Massey during their senior years at Lee Academy. Ndoye chose the Brown and White over Duquesne, Tulsa and Washington, and Toupane passed on Washington and Missouri for the Bonnies. They both believed Bona’s was a good fit for them.
“I thought it was a good fit for me, playing behind an NBA player and knowing what the coaches wanted,” said Ndoye. “They wanted to win and so did I. It was a great fit for me.”
“The success here was big,” added Toupane. “And I thought I’d have a lot of time to play and improve my basketball skills."
When Toupane signed his letter of intent to attend St. Bonaventure last year, he knew he’d be joining Ndoye once again at what could be their third and final stop together. From SEEDS, to Lee Academy, to Bonaventure they’ve become very good friends and enjoy playing basketball together.
“It’s just been great,” said Ndoye. “Our relationship off the court has made it easier on the court. It’s so easy to play with him.”
Although the pair is far removed from their native Dakar and have only been at Bona’s for a short amount of time, they have enjoyed their college experience.
“It’s a great school,” said Toupane. “I’ve met a lot of great people here who help me.”
“It’s just been great. I can’t complain,” added Ndoye. “People here are great and show us a lot of love. The only thing you can ask for is to be loved wherever you go.”
December: Ajax Admirals, Men's
Cooke’s latest feature focuses on three men’s soccer players – Emmett O’Connor, Kaine Moar and Ben Cowman – who all played for the same club team in Ontario before ultimately all choosing St. Bonaventure as their college destination.
Soccer & Friendship Led Three Canadians To Bonaventure
Emmett O’Connor, Kaine Moar and Ben Cowman all grew up in
small, rural Ajax, Ontario. The Canadian town has been growing into
a diverse, suburban area of late, consisting of many residential
areas. In Ajax, soccer and hockey are split as the most popular
sports. These three Bonnies have played soccer all of their
O’Connor and Cowman started playing soccer when they were 4 years old, while Moar started as a 7-year-old.
“In Ajax, you basically start playing as soon as you can,” said O’Connor.
All three student-athletes played for the same club soccer team growing up – the Ajax Admirals – and play together now for the Brown and White.
O’Connor and Moar, both junior forwards, met each other as 4-year-olds in pre-kindergarten. They have been friends and played soccer together ever since.
“We always played together,” said Moar. “A lot of our friends played soccer, so it was pretty much all we did. It was fun.”
O’Connor and Moar both attended high school at Archbishop Dennis O’Connor. There, the pair won four straight LOSSA, or regional, championships at the senior level from 2006-2009 and co-captained the school to its first-ever OFSA, or provincial, championship their senior season. They also shared the Most Valuable Player award for the OFSA tournament.
O’Connor and Moar took pride in guiding their school to the top.
“We ran practices and basically took over the team,” said Moar. “The fact that we won proved it was all worth it.”
“It really put a high point on the season,” added O’Connor. “At that point it was the biggest thing we had ever won.”
Cowman, a freshman goalkeeper, attended R.S. McLaughlin High School. He didn’t play soccer with either of his fellow Ajax natives until joining O’Connor on the Ajax Admirals team this past summer and Moar on the field this year at St. Bonaventure.
High school soccer in Canada isn’t taken nearly as serious as club soccer. There are no athletic scholarships to attend colleges or universities north of the border; therefore, high school sports are more recreational. Club soccer is for the more serious athletes.
The Ajax Admirals are ranked as the No. 2 club team in Ontario. It is an extremely successful program which organizes the provinces’ youth leagues and has a team for each age group – from under-9 through under-18, under-21 and a men’s league. The players attest to the program’s success.
“It’s really organized and successful,” said Moar. “They never have a lack of management.”
“They take pride in what they do,” added Cowman. “They are well known and prestigious.”
O’Connor and Moar played six seasons each for Ajax, while Cowman played seven, and each saw great success with the Admirals. Playing together, O’Connor and Moar won the Ontario Cup, the province’s equivalent of an American state championship, their last year together. Cowman, always playing at different age levels from his elders, won two Ontario Cups and nationals twice.
Along with the three Bonnies, the Admirals have sent a number of athletes to play college soccer in the States in recent years. O’Connor, Moar and Cowman have seen teammates go on to play at James Madison University, Vermont, Dayton, Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Florida Gulf Coast and more. In recent years, the Admirals have played in tournaments in the States where their players are seen and recruited by college coaches.
“Soccer is becoming a lot more organized in Canada,” said Cowman. “Now teams go to the States to get looked at.”
O’Connor, who has tallied nine goals and 19 assists for the Brown and White through his first three seasons, was the first of the three Ajax natives to be recruited by Bona men’s soccer coach Mel Mahler. Mahler, who is friends with the Ajax Admirals president, saw O’Connor play at a tournament in the States in July 2010, just months before he enrolled at St. Bonaventure. O’Connor wasn’t planning on attending a university in the States, but the allure of Division-I soccer reeled him in.
“We don’t have it (D-I soccer) in Canada so I just wanted to play Division I,” said O’Connor. “I thought it was the best.”
Moar, who has four career goals at Bona’s, and Cowman agreed they came to Bonaventure for the D-I experience as well. Moar played his freshman season at Division II University of D.C. He played well there, scoring five goals and adding an assist, but didn’t really like the school. With the help of O’Connor, Mahler recruited him to Bona’s late in the summer before his sophomore season. As for Cowman, Mahler recruited him late this past summer to fill a void at the goalkeeper position. Like Moar, O’Connor referenced Cowman to his coach. Cowman started three games in net this past year.
The Ajax trio has found it easier to adjust to a new college lifestyle having each other around.
“Being the only freshman on the team, it helps knowing Emmett,” said Cowman. “Canadians just automatically connect, too.”
“I was so nervous at first coming in to Bona’s,” added O’Connor. “But it was nice knowing kids from my area I could connect to.” The Bonnies currently have nine players on their roster from Ontario.
O’Connor, Moar and Cowman believe their familiarity with each other gives them an advantage on the field.
“You know their body movements and where they’re going to be,” said Moar. “You know what they like to do.”
“We have great chemistry playing together,” commented O’Connor.
The Ajax natives and friends have enjoyed their long soccer journey together through youth leagues to high school and club soccer and now at Bonaventure.
“It’s fun playing with someone you’ve known and played with for so long,” said Moar. “And you always have someone you can relate to.”
November: Luis Guevara, Men’s Tennis
In this month’s edition, Cooke sat down with the senior co-captain of the men’s tennis team, Luis Guevara. Guevara grew up in Valencia, Venezuela, and discusses with Cooke the big differences (and similarities) between Bonaventure and his hometown. The senior talks about his road to becoming a tennis player and the choices made which formed his decision to come to America and become a member of BonaNation.
For Guevara, Bonaventure Has Been a Second Home
Luis Guevara has found it easy to transition to living in the
United States at St. Bonaventure University. Guevara was raised
most of his life in Valencia, Venezuela, which he describes a small
city with a little bit of everything that isn’t far from the
“It’s nothing like you would find here,” Guevara said of Bona’s. “It is two different worlds.”
Valencia used to be a booming industrial city, but has become a place struck by economic downfall. However, Guevara said it is a friendly place where one can get to know many people, a quality of Valencia that has made Guevara comfortable here at Bonaventure as well.
Guevara is a senior co-captain on the men’s tennis team. He has been a successful player over the course of his three+ years for the Bonnies, and is playing this year as the #3 singles and #1 doubles with fellow co-captain Oscar Yanez. Guevara has played in Atlantic 10 Tournament matches in each of his three years. As a sophomore he won first round matches in both singles and doubles vs. Fordham and as a junior he won the first round of #1 doubles over Richmond.
Tennis has been a part of Guevara’s life for a long time, but he wasn’t actually interested in the sport at first. He attended summer camps at a country club in Valencia where he found soccer and baseball – Venezuela’s most popular sports – to be more interesting. However, with the urging of his friends who were playing the sport daily, Guevara first picked up a racket at the age of 7 and hasn’t put it down since.
In Venezuela, and many foreign countries, high schools do not have athletics teams. Schools are strictly for academics, and if a person wants to play sports, he/she does it on their own time at country clubs or academies. Guevara played tennis casually at country clubs until he was 12 years old when he joined an academy called the Tennis Association of Carabobo. The academy, where he would practice every day after school, had coaches for different levels of players, according to their skills. As a player got better, he/she moved up levels.
Guevara wasn’t very successful on the courts as a 12- and 13-year-old. “People told me I had the tools to play and do well, but I wouldn’t win,” he said. “Once I was 15 and 16 I did much better. I got more serious.”
As a 16-year-old, Guevara was one of the top four players in Venezuela in the under-16 age group. He started winning tournaments and made the national tournament. His biggest achievement was winning nationals in doubles. Guevara finished on top of the 32-person, 16-team field with a 4-0 record.
Coming off of his success in nationals, Guevara traveled around South America playing in tournaments against athletes from all of the South American countries. These tournaments opened his eyes to what would lie ahead of him in his future.
“I didn’t do real well there and I knew I couldn’t play professionally,” said Guevara. “So I decided I wanted to work hard and try to earn a scholarship in the States.”
After deciding on what he wanted in his future, Guevara joined an organization called College Prospects of America. The company helps athletes, both foreign and American, get recruited and earn a scholarship to colleges and universities. They do so by sending student-athletes’ resumes and recruiting videos to all of their contacts.
Guevara was first contacted by Bonaventure as a 16-year-old after joining the recruiting company. He was contacted by 30-40 schools, and managed to narrow his options down to five Division I schools before choosing Bona’s.
Guevara had many reasons for choosing the Brown and White. He knew the team had numerous South American players, and a former assistant coach, Alejandro Nery, was also from Venezuela. Nery was an assistant coach two years before Guevara arrived on campus in 2009, but he was a major factor in his recruitment. Furthermore, Guevara liked Bonaventure’s small population.
“Not being a big school made my transition easier,” said Guevara. “You actually get to meet people and get to know them, unlike much bigger schools.”
Guevara didn’t find it difficult to adjust to living in the U.S. because he was accustomed to being away from home and being alone while traveling for tennis tournaments. However, his biggest challenge has been being away from home for extended periods of time. Last school year, he was gone for six months: January to July. He normally only goes home twice a year, but the tennis team has made life away from his family easier for him.
“You get homesick, but the transition hasn’t been hard,” said Guevara. “The team has always been like a big family.”
Furthermore, Guevara said Venezuela can be a dangerous place where he doesn’t feel safe walking alone at night. This isn’t the case at Bonaventure which he says is a lot more safe and relaxed.
Guevara has enjoyed his time playing tennis for Bona’s and believes he has had success. “It’s been fun,” said Guevara. “I’ve had my struggles, but I also feel like I’ve been successful and I feel I have been a good captain. I have no regrets and I’ll still try to get better every day.”
Leading has come easy for Guevara as he has co-captained his team the past two seasons. “I feel like I’ve always been a good leader in school and sports,” he said. “I’m not out of my element, it comes easy for me.”
Winning the A-10 Tournament might not be a realistic goal for Guevara and his teammates this season, but he is confident and looking to have success. “I’m feeling good right now and playing with confidence,” he said. “I’m playing the best I have in my four years here.” Guevara hopes to make a run in the A-10 Tournament and knock off perennial powers like Xavier and George Washington.
Bonaventure has become a second home for Guevara, a place where he really feels comfortable. “Bona’s is a really big family,” he said. “Everyone gets to know each other real well. I’ve been able to become close to students and teachers.”
Guevara, a management major with minors in finance and computer science, is looking for a job in sports business upon graduation in May. However, if he doesn’t find a job that satisfies him, he would like to return to Bona’s as a graduate student.
Why rush to leave a place you love, right?