How Gonzaga's Matt Santangelo recovered from a trying NCAA loss
Just a few days after Gonzaga's 67-62 loss to Connecticut in the
NCAA West Regional final on March 20, the Bulldogs' 6'1" junior
guard, Matt Santangelo, was back in the gym trying to erase his
bad memories of that game. Santangelo had become a hero while
spearheading Gonzaga's improbable run to the brink of the Final
Four, but his joyride had ended miserably when he scored only
two points (on 1-of-9 shooting) against the Huskies. Santangelo
went to the Martin Center that day for a casual workout, but
after missing his first few shots he started having flashbacks
to the Connecticut game. He left after 10 minutes. "I could feel
myself tensing up, and I just had to get out of there,"
Santangelo recalls. "Kind of like Maverick in Top Gun, I wasn't
ready to be in the cockpit again."
It may have taken a little time, but now Santangelo's career is
airborne again. He was one of 31 college-age invitees to the USA
Basketball men's national team trials in Colorado Springs over
Memorial Day weekend, and he excelled there. He was chosen as
one of 16 finalists from which a 12-man team will be named to
represent the U.S. at the World University Games in Spain,
starting on July 3. Santangelo made 44% of his three-point
attempts in four games at the trials and had 16 assists to just
five turnovers. "He's better than I thought he was," Dayton
coach Oliver Purnell, who will coach the U.S. in Spain, said of
Santangelo. "He has a great basketball IQ, and he can really
Santangelo's performance in Colorado Springs did wonders for his
confidence, which was battered by a season that hadn't always
gone well for him. His numbers dropped considerably from his
sophomore year--his scoring average falling from 16.2 to 12.7,
and his shooting accuracy slipping from 43.5% to 37.5%--largely
because he played out of position at shooting guard to allow
senior Quentin Hall to run the point. As a result Santangelo
went to the trials with nagging doubts about whether he belonged
with the likes of Ed Cota and Scoonie Penn. After the first
session, Gonzaga coach Dan Monson, a U.S. team assistant, took
Santangelo aside and said, "Don't show these guys too much
"If Matt has one fault, it's that he's a perfectionist," Monson
says. "He doesn't dwell on the positives enough."
Indeed, after Gonzaga was eliminated from the NCAAs, Santangelo
cut out a newspaper photograph that showed him being smothered
by UConn guard Ricky Moore and tacked it to the bulletin board
in his bedroom. "That game isn't out of my system yet, and I
don't want it to be," he says. That motivation bodes well for
the Bulldogs next season. Now that Hall has used up his
eligibility, Santangelo will be at the point for a team that has
seven of its top 10 players back.
Santangelo stops short of predicting a Final Four appearance for
Gonzaga, but he's clearly looking forward to the season. "I
think we'll be at least as good as we were last year," he says.
"The NCAA tournament is all about who gets hot at the right
time. We proved to the world it can happen to anybody."
Ohio State's Loss
NCAA TELLS YUGO: NO GO
When 7'3" Aleksandar Radojevic left Yugoslavia for the U.S. in
May 1997, he had two goals. The first was to develop his
basketball skills, which is why he headed to Barton County
(Kans.) Community College. His other aim was to get a college
degree, which is why he signed a letter of intent with Ohio
State last November, even though NBA scouts were already
projecting him as a potential first-round pick. "My father's
dream was for me to finish school," says Radojevic, "because I'm
not going to play basketball all my life."
The death of his father, Krsto, last September isn't something
Aleksandar talks about easily. He couldn't go home for the
funeral because he feared he would be drafted into the Yugoslav
Army. "Going home would have jeopardized everything I've done,"
he says. As it turns out, Radojevic unwittingly jeopardized his
father's dream three years ago, when he signed a contract to
play with the Buducnost club in the Basketball Federation of
Yugoslavia. The discovery of that contract, which paid Radojevic
roughly $13,000, prompted the NCAA in April to rule him
ineligible to play college basketball. Ohio State's appeal of
the ruling was rejected last month.
Though most eligibility cases regarding foreign players have
arisen because the NCAA unearthed some damaging information,
Radojevic's case came to light because officials of his former
club apparently were miffed over his decision to play in the U.S.
Says Radojevic, "I'm hoping I will never return to Yugoslavia
because of them. They insist on destroying my career."
Ohio State learned shortly before the November signing period
that Radojevic might not be eligible to play. The NCAA sent the
Buckeyes a copy of a letter it had received from Buducnost's
general manager stating that Radojevic "has signed contract with
our club...and was paid for his first season." Says Ohio State
coach Jim O'Brien, "We talked to Aleks about it, and he said he
hardly played." Indeed, the Buckeyes eventually learned that
Radojevic had played a total of 19 minutes in four games during
the 1996-97 season. So O'Brien decided to accept Radojevic's
letter of intent and appeal to the NCAA for his right to play.
Ohio State proposed suspending Radojevic for the first 10 games
of the coming season and requiring him to repay the $13,000 to a
charity of his choice, but the NCAA denied the appeal.
Radojevic's case raises questions regarding the NCAA's treatment
of foreign players. Given that the only place for a youngster
overseas to develop his skills is with a club team, which often
requires players to sign a contract, is there any doubt that
there are other players competing for U.S. colleges with
as-yet-undiscovered backgrounds similar to Radojevic's? And what
about all those American schoolboys who spend their summers
playing for AAU teams that provide travel expenses, sneakers and
sometimes other benefits? Are the rules being applied to
Those questions may get resolved someday, but it will be too
late for Radojevic. "I'm disappointed and frustrated," he says.
"You have so many kids who want to go to the NBA right after
high school, and I wanted to stay in college and they wouldn't
let me. It's really bad."
Star Prospect Bucks Trend
STAYING HOME FOR THE SUMMER
With the summer evaluation period set to begin in three weeks,
hundreds of the nation's top schoolboys are preparing to spend
the month of July crisscrossing the U.S. to appear at showcase
camps and in AAU tournaments. Waverly High's Marcus Taylor,
however, will spend most of July at home in Lansing, Mich.,
working out with his father, James. Marcus, a 6'3" point guard
who's widely regarded as one of the top players in the incoming
senior class, will attend the Nike All-American Camp in
Indianapolis from July 5-11 but he hasn't played AAU ball since
he was in seventh grade, and his dad isn't about to encourage
him to start now.
"He doesn't need the exposure, and I don't want him to pick up
bad habits and bad thoughts," James says. "There are so many
players nowadays who don't know how to play, don't have
fundamentals and don't understand the team concept. I haven't
seen anybody learning those things in AAU."
That means college coaches will only have a small window of
opportunity to watch Marcus play this summer, but it's probably
just as well in the eyes of one coach, Michigan State's Tom
Izzo. Izzo has been going to Marcus's games since Marcus was in
seventh grade, and Marcus attends almost all the Spartans' home
games. As if that weren't enough, Marcus also has a good
relationship with Magic Johnson, the hero of the Spartans' 1979
national championship team, who grew up just two miles from
where Marcus lives.
While Marcus insists he hasn't decided where he's going to
college, he did receive some telling advice from Johnson a few
years ago. "He told me to make sure it's my decision because I'm
going to have to live with it," Marcus says. "Of course, he also
said I shouldn't go too far from my family. I guess that was a
COLOR PHOTO: TIM DEFRISCO A strong showing at the USA Basketball trials has Santangelo looking ahead to next season.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER A brief stint with a Yugoslav pro team cost Radojevic a major college career.