Loyola has international flair

Trio reflects trend to recruit outside U.S.

College basketball

January 13, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

By the time she was 8, Siobhan Prior already was plotting her life's course. To play basketball, she knew she would have to leave Nottingham, England, for the distant shores of the United States.

Vika Sholokhova first glimpsed her future at 12, when her parents said she would eventually depart St. Petersburg, Russia, for basketball in the States.

Prior embraced the long-range plan. Sholokhova cried.

Some 10 years later, their paths crossed in Baltimore and linked at Loyola College.

Shevy and Showtime -- as they are known on campus -- represent the changing face of women's college basketball. Prior, at 5 feet 10, is a sharpshooting junior guard whose time has come for the Greyhounds. Sholokhova, a 6-3 senior, is a do-it-all post player whose flashy game helped inspire the nickname.

Along with freshman Melissa Bangay of Ontario, they have formed their own international support system at Loyola. Prior and Sholokhova are roommates as well as comrades in all things European.

"It's a big connection," Sholokhova said. "[Prior] is the one who understands me all the time, and I understand her. We're real similar. If I have problems, she's the first one I will go to on the team."

At a time when global communication has never been easier, these players also are the wave of the college future. With three international athletes on the roster and another on the way (recruit Kathleen Excellent from Montreal), Loyola is pacesetter in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. "But everybody is always looking for them," Loyola coach Joe Logan says of players from abroad.

Logan, who is 45-28 through 2 1/2 seasons at Loyola, first picked up on international recruiting as an assistant at Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia. His recruiting base still is Maryland -- he got Candice Walker from Towson Catholic, Ashley Alexander from Silver Spring and Meredith Tolley from Monrovia -- and his territory stretches from New York (Meghan Wood) to Northern Virginia.

But he has an appreciation for international talent.

"With today's technology, the world's become so much smaller," Logan said. "We can get video now [from overseas]. We can make a lot more contacts through e-mail with international coaches. I think it will get easier to find kids. It's definitely something we will continue to do."

The interest runs both ways. Marti Whitmore, Logan's top assistant and lead recruiter, visited Canada regularly during two stints as head coach at St. Bonaventure.

"[International players] are looking to get to the U.S. and get it paid for, and the [competitive] level, they don't quite understand," Whitmore said.

Prior did, and at an early age. Her mother was a distinguished British national player, and her father is a successful national women's coach. They knew early that Siobhan (pronounced Sha-von) would need to come to the U.S.

"When I was 8, I wrote a little story in class about how I wanted to go to America and play basketball," Prior said. "I still have it at home."

Prior's doubts came later, after she arrived on campus and sampled the strenuous workload under Logan.

"My freshman year, I really struggled," she said. "Academics was fine. It was basketball. ... I remember there'd be days I'd come out of the weight room and I'd be on the phone crying to my mum."

Prior persevered and got a starting job this season, and today she serves as a sounding board for other foreign-born players.

"At the beginning of the year, Shevy said if I was missing home, don't feel shy about addressing it with her," Bangay said. "Which is nice to know there's someone here who's probably faced the same problems."

Sholokhova's mother was a national basketball player in Russia, her father a national hockey player. She arrived in the U.S. five years ago and stayed with a host family in Vineland, N.J. Then, starting her college career, she played 1 1/2 seasons at Pittsburgh before transferring to Loyola, where she was named the MAAC Sixth Player of the Year last season.

Sholokhova learned to run the floor, shoot and rebound in Russia at a young age. Here, her size makes her a weapon.

"It's her flashiness," Logan said of Sholokhova's nickname. "Sometimes I'd prefer her to be a little more fundamental. I would prefer her nickname to be `Fundamentally Sound' as opposed to `Showtime.' "

Either way, she's part of the international impact on the Loyola program.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Foreign flavor

A look at the three international players on Loyola's women's basketball team:

Vika Sholokhova

Age, class: 22, senior

Back home: Played on Russian national junior team as a shooting guard or small forward.

Role at Loyola: Post player who leads the team in blocks and is second in rebounds.

Biggest U.S. adjustment: Hated playing with her back to the basket at first. "Now I enjoy it," she said.

Siobhan Prior

Age, class: 20, junior

Back home: Played in several European championships, including a few games with the senior women's team.

Role at Loyola: Wing player who is becoming a shooter/scorer.

Biggest U.S. adjustment: Adapting to the physical conditioning regimen. Her hard work helped her get a starting job this season.

Melissa Bangay

Age, class: 18, freshman

Back home: Took part in basketball, volleyball, soccer and track, and made the honor roll four times.

Role at Loyola: Post player who plays sparingly behind Meghan Wood.

Biggest U.S. adjustment: Level of play. "It's definitely on a whole different level than what I played before," she said.

KEN MURRAY

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