Players from outside the United States are making a larger than ever impact on American college basketball. With the men's college championship down to the Final Four teams in Detroit, the growing number of international players is turning the NCAA tournament into a global event.
Fans in 153 countries around the world have been able to follow the tournament on television and the Internet, watching a total of 79 international players. Of the 65 teams invited to take part in the 2009 event, 42 had at least one player born outside of the United States.
Canada led the list with 14 players, while seven were born in Nigeria and Serbia, and Cameroon, France and Lithuania were each represented by four players. The international flavor of the tournament has been enhanced by student athletes from such diverse homelands as Australia, England, Greece, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Mali, Nigeria, Russia, Senegal and Tanzania.
More and more students from outside the United States are looking to American colleges and universities for their quality basketball programs. Three of the four teams that reached the Final Four have international players on their rosters.
Among those is Michigan State's Goran Suton, who fled war-torn Sarajevo as a six-year-old at the start of the Bosnian war in 1992. Suton talks about moving to Lansing, Michigan and his path to the Final Four. "I moved to America not for basketball but for plenty of other reasons that involved life and stuff. And well, I went to Everett High School, won a state championship there. Got recruited by Michigan State, five years later I'm here, playing Final Four and just a dream come true," he said.
Another well-know international player is Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet, who was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Thabeet was playing for a Tanzanian club when he began hearing about opportunities to play in the United States.
Using a computer at school, he contacted prep schools in the U.S, hoping to use basketball as to get an education and ease the financial strain on his widowed mother. But the 2.21-meter center never dreamed a school like Connecticut would offer him a scholarship. "It's been a long journey, it's been a roller coaster you know, a lot of ups and downs. I had to go through a lot. But I guess God had plans for me and hopefully I'll have a chance to get drafted and go to the NBA," he said.
But Thabeet says getting his degree in extremely important to him, so he can earn a living if basketball does not work out.
We will soon see whether they can help lead their teams to the 2009 national collegiate basketball championship.