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22 Valparaiso Thanks to Eastern Europe, Valpo could make a racket in the bracket at the NCAAs

Huddled in a corner of the Hoosier hoops heartland, Valparaiso
has two Croats on its roster, matching its total of native
Indianans. The Crusaders also boast a Czech, a Finn and a
Latvian. It's no coincidence that Valpo's four straight visits to
the NCAA tournament began with the onset of the program's foreign
invasion back in '95. "We couldn't recruit any tall players from
America so we figured out where to find them," assistant coach
Scott Drew explains. "Luckily for us, not a lot of Europeans know
the difference between Valpo and Kentucky or UConn."

Relying on what Drew calls the domino theory, one Croat led to
another, and the international pipeline eventually produced this
season's Best Player You've Never Heard Of, Lubos Barton, a 6'8"
sophomore forward from Ceska Lipa, Czech Republic. Barton is a
gym rat who scored 27 points in his college debut and led the
Crusaders in scoring (13.8 points a game), steals (50) and
three-pointers (62) in his first season. In last summer's
European championships Barton was the tournament's second-leading
scorer, averaging 18.7 points and sinking 19 of 31
three-pointers. "I turned down offers to play pro ball in Europe
because I still have a lot to learn about basketball," Barton
says. "I didn't know who Michael Jordan was until a few years

Barton will be supported by a world atlas of teammates, most
notably forward Ivan Vujic of Split, Croatia; center Antti
Nikkila from Kangasala, Finland; forward Raitis Grafs of Riga,
Latvia; and guard Milo Stovall from...Kalamazoo, Mich. Thanks
to its crucial assist from Eastern Europe, Valparaiso is the only
Division I school to have won its conference regular-season and
tournament titles each of the last five years. With its string of
NCAA invites, however, the program may soon be stripped of its
status as a lovable underdog. "We've taken great pride in being
labeled the Cinderella team of the '90s," Crusaders coach Homer
Drew says. "We can only hope the clock never strikes midnight at


COLOR PHOTO: ANTONIN KRATOCHVIL Bouncing Czech After he lit up the European championships, Barton took a break in Ceska Lipa.



SF Lubos Barton[1] 6'8" So. 13.8 ppg
PF Raitis Grafs 6'10" Fr. 19.0 ppg*
C Ivan Vujic[1] 6'11" Sr. 6.0 rpg
SG Milo Stovall[1] 6'3" So. 10.6 ppg
PG Greg Tonagel[1] 6'3" So. 3.1 apg

1998-99 record: 23-9 Final rank (coaches' poll): unranked
Returning starter[1] *for Latvian junior national team