Monday, February 16, 2009

Soccer Star's Heart Is on Hardwood

Soccer Star's Heart Is on Hardwood
The Sport That Brought Kalipinde To the U.S. Is Taking Him to College
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, February 16, 2009; E03

Given Kalipinde flings open the door of his dorm room at Episcopal High School. "Come in, come in, come in," says the 19-year-old with a toothy grin.

He strolls past the Shaquille O'Neal poster taped to his wooden armoire, dodges the bunk beds and slaps his hand on the cinderblock wall next to a Kobe Bryant poster hung over his roommate's desk.

"Kobe Bryant right there. My coach doesn't like him, but, hey, he's the man. Kobe Bean Bryant."

In many ways, he sounds like just another basketball-obsessed kid enjoying his senior season. But Kalipinde's journey to the elite boarding school in Alexandria has been a unique trip. A product of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program, Kalipinde's basketball voyage started at home in Zambia and continued to South Africa before the 6-foot-3 guard finally arrived in this country in August 2007.

Video by B.J. Koubaroulis/The Washington Post

Honored last fall as The Post's boys' soccer All-Met Player of the Year, Kalipinde has signed a letter-of-intent to play basketball at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. His room bears no evidence of his soccer prowess.

"Basketball is what I love doing and it's the reason I'm here," says Kalipinde.

Kalipinde has a graceful jump shot, poise, speed, ballhandling ability, an enveloping wing-span and impressive strength. He has paced the Maroon (13-6, 7-3 IAC) by averaging a team-high 20.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals entering tomorrow's first-round Interstate Athletic Conference tournament game against St. Albans (3-20, 1-9).

Among the colleges that have expressed an interest in Kalipinde were Wake Forest, UNLV, George Mason, Richmond, Boston University and Fordham. He chose Loyola, however, out of loyalty; LMU assistant Myke Scholl helped bring him to the United States.

"The first time I saw him playing was with boys much older than him, 14 years old playing with 18-, 19-year-old guys and he just showed a lot of promise," said Scholl, a former Detroit Pistons scout who spent 10 years as director of international programs for Miles and Associates International, a sports marketing firm in Johannesburg. "You find, in the development over there, that there are lot of centers and power forwards that come over here and have success, but you haven't found guards like him. That's what struck me at the core about him. . . . He was just so natural."

While in South Africa, Scholl also established the country's first national high school basketball league. It was sometime around 2004 when Scholl first saw Kalipinde on a basketball court.

"He's been my coach since, I guess, probably since I was 14," Kalipinde said. "That helped me out, having someone I know out there, helping me out each and every day."

Scholl had heard of Kalipinde while the player was still in Zambia and helped secure a spot for him in 2006 at the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg. The camps, part of the NBA's international global outreach initiative, include instruction from NBA players and are made up of the continent's top emerging 19-and-under talent. Kalipinde was one of two players chosen from Zambia.

"He was the first guard that I saw that really had the ability to come over here and earn a college scholarship," Scholl said.

Soon after the camp, Kalipinde left Manali boys' high school in Lusaka to attend Durban -- a boarding school in South Africa.

"Once Myke had him at Basketball Without Borders, that's when he got him enrolled at Durban to help him academically," Episcopal Coach Jim Fitzpatrick said.

Episcopal Director of Counseling Jeff Goodell met Scholl at the Basketball Without Borders camp, setting in motion the sequence of events that relocated Kalipinde. That process included two visits by Scholl to Episcopal, online tours by Kalipinde, testing, submission of writing samples, application for financial aid and phone interviews with Episcopal staff members.

"At Episcopal, one thing about the athletic programs, and specifically basketball in this area, you have to make sure that you get good kids here that are also good players, who have some talent," Fitzpatrick said. "You have to be creative."

Though he is 19, Kalipinde is not a fifth-year senior. He has had four years of high school, but a teachers strike in South Africa kept him out of school for months before he came to Episcopal.

"The first thing I wanted to do when I got here was go to the basketball court," said Kalipinde, who is in the United States on an I-20 student visa. "Once you get to the basketball court, it doesn't have the U.S. written on it, you know, it's just a basketball court."

Because Episcopal students are encouraged to play more than one sport, Kalipinde soon found his way to the soccer field.

In a soccer-rich metro area that is infused with ultra-competitive club, travel and Olympic Developmental programs, Kalipinde flourished despite playing the sport for a total of six months in the past two years.

A goalkeeper on the Zambian under-18 national team, he played forward for the Maroon and scored 14 goals to go with 22 assists. There was interest from such college soccer programs as Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion, but it wasn't reciprocated.

"Our message to all the soccer coaches was clear," Episcopal soccer coach Rick Wilcox said. Kalipinde's preference was plain. Another factor that played his role his decision was that a full college scholarship was more likely in basketball than soccer, which might have only netted him a partial scholarship.

Currently, Kalipinde receives a financial aid package from Episcopal that pays for most of the $41,000 annual tuition. Kalipinde often works odd jobs and at athletic youth camps at Episcopal to send money to his mother, four brothers and sister in Zambia, where the average per capita annual income is $800 per year, according to the World Bank. Kalipinde's father died when Given was young.

"I could run to the mall with this money and get some clothes or Xbox or something," Kalipinde said. "Coming from where we came from, where things are not so easy, and not getting things as kids, I guess it teaches you a lot. Giving back and helping out, you know, kind of keeps you on a helping page with everyone back home. It keeps you kind of thinking, you know 'I'm still part of the family.' "

Though he is far from his family, Kalipinde has grown close to Fitzpatrick, who has turned a spare room in his house on campus into a bedroom that Kalipinde uses when most others at his school return to their families during vacations and holidays.

"I look at Given like a son," Fitzpatrick said. "Luckily for me, he has let me be a part of his life and be a father-like figure in his life and, luckily for me, he's allowed me to look at him like a son. When this journey is over at Episcopal, I think Given will always be a part of my life and I a part of his."

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