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It’s All Greek to Him (2017 Final Four Notebook)

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
You would be all smiles too if you were averaging 24.5 points and shooting 65% (17-of-26) from three in four NCAA Tournament games, like Oregon's Tyler Dorsey. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
You would be all smiles too if you were averaging 24.5 points and shooting 65% (17-of-26) from three-point range in four NCAA Tournament games, like Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Every clutch three-point basket Tyler Dorsey has drained during Oregon’s run to the Final Four – and there have been a lot of them – has sent his mom, Samia, usually attired in one of Tyler’s No. 5 Oregon jerseys, cheering and dancing for joy from the first row behind the Ducks’ bench. As much as those three-pointers and clutch plays have filled many people in Eugene and in Pasadena, Calif., where Tyler was born and raised, with lots of pride, the same can be said for the scores of fans who relentlessly cheered on Tyler two years ago on an international stage.

In Greece, a country almost 7,000 miles away but is as much home for Tyler than any other land he has played the game of basketball in.

Dorsey’s journey from California to the Mediterranean and back – and discovering more of his roots in the process – all started with a serendipitous meeting between Oregon’s top assistant, Tony Stubblefield, and an international sports journalist. In March of 2015, Dorsey, who had recently been cut from camp for the United States Under-18 basketball team, had committed to the University of Oregon, a fact that Stubblefield shared with NBA Greece journalist Nikos Papaioannou while out on a recruiting trip in Athens. Stubblefield suggested that Dorsey might make a good fit for the county’s national basketball team. Papaioannou, after learning more about Dorsey and his game, agreed, and notified the Greek federation – who previously had no knowledge of Dorsey – that the player might be a welcome addition to the Greek basketball program.

Samia, who lived in Greece as an infant and was born to a Greek father and an Israeli mother, was able to produce the paperwork proving her Greek heritage, allowing Tyler to be eligible to play for Greece in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship – which so happened to be taking place on the Greek island of Crete. Tyler received his Greek passport on the Tuesday before the tournament started in June of 2015, and he led Greece to a fourth-place finish in the tournament while leading the team in scoring and minutes played. As it turned out, Dorsey’s Greek team went up against the United States in the semifinals – and a number of players he was passed over for to join the Team USA program. Greece lost by six (76-82), with Dorsey leading the team in points with 23, hitting two threes and making 11 free throws in the contest.

More than going up against the world’s best players at his age group and improving his own game, Dorsey’s time in the Mediterranean allowed him to get more in touch with a large part of his heritage.

“I always knew I was 50 percent Greek, but I never knew early enough to, like, start that up,” Dorsey told A Lot of Sports Talk during media availability in the Oregon locker room. “For a couple of summers, I’ve been to Greece a lot. That helped me in realizing a different type of basketball, different type of style, European play, that you can add to your game. And I added a couple of essentials to my game.”

Even with being familiar with his Greek roots, it still took him a while to get familiar with actually setting foot and spending a considerable amount of time in the Land of the Gods. When asked what was the biggest adjustment he had to make in spending time there as an adult, Dorsey said, “everything.”

“Yeah, it was a culture shock and everything came fast. The lifestyle. The food. The way people move out there. That was the biggest shock to me. How it looks out there is different. It was a culture shock.”

Along with seeing her son play on the biggest stage in college basketball in the States, Samia was able to see her son play with “HELLAS” across his chest, something she said her late father, who passed away in 2012, would have loved nothing more than to have seen that.

“My mom and I have a great connection,” said Tyler. “I love her. We always used to go to my grandma’s house and she used to cook food – now [my grandma is] getting a little older so she doesn’t do it. We’d go over there and eat Greek food a lot when I was growing up. My mom went out to Greece when I was out there for a couple of days. When I was little, I went out there with my grandma, but I don’t remember much because I was so little. It’s just a great experience and having those roots with my mom.”

During the NCAA Tournament, Samia has had the best seat in the house to watch Tyler’s heroic exploits. Dorsey has scored at least 20 points in each of Oregon’s four NCAA Tournament games, including 27 in the Ducks’ Midwest Regional Final win over Kansas in Kansas City. Thriving in hostile territory – winning against the Jayhawks in Kansas City certainly would qualify as that – is what many athletes dream about.

Dorsey’s time playing for Greece also qualifies as a dream, even with the adjustments that he had to make off the court. He also had to make adjustments on the court as well, as his coach at the U19 championship barely spoke English, along with most of his teammates. The words that Tyler did learn during his experience in Crete two years ago were definitely ones used to get his attention.

“You always learn the bad words when you first talk about language,” said Dorsey. “So I learned a couple of bad words, some swear words.”

Despite the salty language he learned on the fly, it wasn’t the first time Tyler came across a language that wasn’t native to him.

“[My mom] speaks Arabic when she talks to my grandma,” said Dorsey. “I don’t know much of it, but she speaks a lot of it and I pick up on some words whenever I get a chance.” Dorsey says that, after the season is over, he hopes to sit down and learn Greek so he can speak it fluently.

But there’s still the matter of the Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium at hand, where Dorsey hopes to have his mom, as well as many Ducks supporters wearing green and yellow, cheering him on like the many people in Greece did just two years ago on a world basketball stage similar to what he’ll experience on Saturday night. On the surface, it might have been odd to have a whole country who might not have known about him just days prior cheering him on like a native son. But Dorsey didn’t hesitate to let us know that it was far from peculiar.

“I felt love,” Dorsey said. “I just felt at home.”

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