Sunday, March 23, 2008

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Diverse Davidson isn't divided
By Vahe Gregorian

RALEIGH, N.C. — As if "We Are the World" were playing in the background, Davidson coach Bob McKillop couldn't resist waxing philosophical about the diverse makeup of his team.

The Wildcats feature six foreign players, including two from Canada and one each from Turkey, England, Nigeria and the Congo — by way of France.

"The cultural diversity of our team is something I'm so proud of," McKillop said. "And maybe it's a lesson for the world to understand that no matter what your color, no matter what your religion, no matter what your nationality, you can all come together for a purpose."

That's what the 10th-seeded Wildcats did Friday, winning their first NCAA Tournament game since 1969 and 23rd game in a row to advance to Sunday's second-round meeting with No. 2 seed Georgetown at the RBC Center.

The range of conversations extends beyond what normal college basketball teams might discuss.

"Every single player is bringing something from his own culture," said Can Civi, a junior from Istanbul.

Not that the cultures don't clash at times.

Canadians Will Archambault and Max Paulhus Gosselin and Frenchman Boris Meno might speak French to mess not only with opponents but also with teammates.

"It's fun, but it's difficult at times because they will be speaking different languages and we don't know what they are saying," Davidson senior guard Jason Richards said.

While Richards leads the nation in assists and backcourt mate Stephen Curry is fifth in scoring and earned national attention with his 40-point effort in Friday's win over Gonzaga, the team's role players are just as crucial and play with McKillop's overarching point of emphasis.

"If you help someone, you help yourself," said junior forward Andrew Lovedale, a native of Nigeria.

Among others, Lovedale applies that off the court as well.

"If God had put Andrew in the Garden of Eden, we would still be there," McKillop said. "That's the kind of man he is."

Lovedale, who seemed embarrassed by McKillop's words, is forever grateful for his opportunity to play basketball and study at Davidson, where he is a political science major.

His odyssey to North Carolina came by way of England, where he attended high school. The first NCAA Tournament game he ever saw was the one he played in his freshman year, a 70-62 loss to Ohio State.

"I couldn't believe it was me playing in such a big tournament," he said. "The thing that comes to mind is, why me? Anyone could have been in the position I'm in."

Lovedale has used that position to take back shoes and shirts to Nigeria and try to illuminate teammates and classmates on the political and economic strife in the continent.

"As much as I'm here to learn, I feel like I'm here to bring a message from Africa," said Lovedale, who didn't mean just to teammates at the school of 1,700. "When I look in the stands, I don't see fans, I see friends."

The school recently proclaimed one of 25 "new Ivy" League institutions by Newsweek also has had 23 Rhodes Scholars. It also has basketball history, albeit 40 years back.

Beating Gonzaga on Friday was an affirmation of its direction, but Davidson has a ways to go before it can be what Gonzaga has been.

"They have done that by what they have done year after year after year," McKillop said. "They are not a shooting star; they are a shining star, and that's our aspiration."

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