Players from outside the United States are making a larger than ever impact on American college basketball. With the National Collegiate Athletic Association, NCAA, men's championship tournament known as March Madness down to the Final Four teams in Saint Louis, Missouri.
This season, 393 players born outside the United States, an average of more than one on each team, played basketball for U.S. division-one colleges. A record total of 71 players from 32 countries and Puerto Rico were on the 65 teams invited to take part in the 2005 national championship tournament.
Australia and Canada are each represented by 10 players, while five players were born in Brazil and four come from Germany. South Africa, Nigeria, France, Sweden, Denmark Lithuania, Austria, and Colombia are among the other countries represented.
One of the best-known foreign players is center Andrew Bogut of Australia who stands two meters 13 centimeters tall. Bogut is seen as a potential top-10 pick in June's National Basketball Association draft after leading the University of Utah to a 27-5 record and the so-called "Sweet-16" round of college basketball's national championship tournament. He is also one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy given to the top college player of the year.
Despite the Australian's game-high 20 points and 12 rebounds, Utah fell to Kentucky 52-62 in their third round game. While he had a game most players would envy, Bogut said he struggled with his shooting.
"I had good looks. It was just one of those things, that I just struggled to shoot the ball all day from everywhere. I just could not knock them down," he said. " I do not think it was anything special they [Kentucky] had done [on defense]. I think it was just not my day shooting the basketball."
Even so, Bogut, who was born to Croatian parents but grew up in Melbourne, Australia, has put up numbers that have NBA scouts interested. The 20-year-old sophomore averaged 20.7 points a game, while shooting 63 percent from the field and averaged 12.3 rebounds per game, second best in U.S. college play.
He also led college basketball with 24 double-doubles, games in which he reached double figures in two statistical categories (such as rebounds and points scored.) Bogut announced Monday that he would give up the final two years of his college career to become eligible for selection in June's NBA draft.
With the Final Four match-ups set, Illinois plays Louisville and North Carolina takes on Michigan State, three players born outside the U.S. are still battling for the championship. Juan Palacios of Colombia and Otis George of the Caribbean island of Dominica play for Louisville, while Idong Ibok of Nigeria is on the Michigan State squad.
It won't be long before we see whether they can help their teams cut down the nets symbolizing the 2005 national collegiate basketball championship.