Basketball team includes international faces

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Joshua Watson and Morgan Gates

Published: November 9, 2005

Upon first glance, the team may just seem like any other group of junior college students playing the game they love. However, if you were to get close enough to hear them speak, you would also find out that the men of the 2005-06 men’s basketball team are diverse, as well as talented and passionate about their game.

The team features 13 players in total – 11 from the United States and two international players. Andrius Zukauskas of Lithuania and Luis Buther Lopez of Puerto Rico are similar in many aspects. Both men are 6-foot-5 freshmen and play forward. Both men now also call Pensacola home.

“It’s a definitive cultural diversity, both with basketball and learning,” Head Coach Paul Swanson said. “The addition (of Zakauskas and Lopez) exposes the other 11 men to other countries and cultures.”

But the adjustment hasn’t been all that easy.

Zukauskas said, “The hardest thing for me to adjust to after coming here was the second week. The first week was okay, but the second week we started conditioning training and I had a problem sleeping. Day time here is night time in Lithuania, and for two weeks I woke up around five or six times a night.

“I adapted fast to the team. I felt welcomed by them,” he said.  “I like the atmosphere here, I am very happy to be in Pensacola. It’s still different though, a different culture, a different climate, and a different language. In the south the sun is always shining.”

Although the team might have new players from different places, goals reamin the same. “Our goal is to win our conference championship, advance to the state tournament and contend for the national championship,” Swanson said. “Also, our objective is to be the best team possible both individually and collectively.

“Aside from athletics, our goal is to graduate every sophomore with the chance at being awarded a scholarship at a four-year institution.”

He commended the college for its stance on diversity, especially with athletics.

“Athletics is an integral part of the overall educational process,” said Swanson.

Zukauskas said the level of basketball is better here with a system that allows teachers to pay more attention to his schedule. He says the level of basketball in Lithuania isn’t bad, but just that it’s hard to study and play basketball at the same time there.

“My education is very important to me,” Zukauskas said.

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