Chuck-Ogbodo-UNCW.JPG
Photo courtesy John Crouch/UNCW Athletic Communications

International players reconsider return home after travel ban

Egypt is not of one seven countries on the new immigration ban list put forth by President Trump. But VCU men’s basketball coach Will Wade still felt the need to talk to Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed this week.

The 6-9 senior forward was one of four players born in Egypt who played Division I in 2015-16.

“We just talked about (the immigration ban). We just wanted to let him know we are here for him,” said Wade, a former VCU assistant now in his second season as the head coach. “He asked me a couple of questions; I just tried to comfort him.”

There are no players on Atlantic 10 men’s rosters from any of the seven countries on the ban list, but the topic is still germane to the athletes. The countries included in the list are Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia.

Hamdy-Mohamed told ASN that his family is fine back home.

“I’m really glad Egypt is not included in the ban,” said Hamdy-Mohamed, who added that his main focus is basketball.

He is on track to graduate later this semester. Even before the ban he planned to stay in the States after college. “It is a better opportunity if I stay here,” he said.

In the Colonial Athletic Association, UNC Wilmington senior forward Chuck Ogbodo is a Christian from Nigeria, which also has a large Muslim population. He is on track to graduate this semester with a degree in communications.

He had thought of going overseas to play pro hoops after college or perhaps stay in the U.S. and work. His American teammates have been talking to him the past few days about the ban and his plans after college.

“I just don’t have an answer right now,” he said. Ogbodo, who is not an American citizen, has not seen his family during the eight years he has been in the U.S. He had considered visiting them for a few weeks this year but now is not sure about going back to Nigeria due to immigration concerns.

Fordham junior forward Christian Sengfelder, who is from Germany, said he has friends back home who “can’t believe what is going on” in the U.S.

Sengfelder spoke to teammate Cavit Havsa of Turkey about the immigration ban. “He said he really wasn’t affected by it. He said he wants to stay in the States after college,” said Sengfelder.

“We talked about that (ban). Mostly we are talking basketball. Turkey is not in that situation” on the ban list, Havsa said.

German Javon Baumann, a graduate forward for Saint Joseph’s, said his team talked about the issue in the locker room Sunday.

“I mean it is all over the news. It is kind of difficult to avoid that, and it shouldn’t be avoided,” he said. He was with the Hawks in the summer of 2013 when the team took a tour of Italy, the home country of current Saint Joseph’s player Pierfrancesco Oliva.

The new policy signed by President Trump last weekend also hit close to home for Maurice Joseph, the interim head coach of George Washington.

A native of Montreal, he was Canada’s national player of the year as a high school senior in 2005. He began his playing career at Michigan State before transferring to Vermont.

Joseph was named the interim head coach at GW just before this season after former head coach Mike Lonergan was dismissed after allegations of verbal abuse of players.

“For me personally it is concerning,” Joseph said of the immigration ban. “It is definitely concerning.”

Joseph said he has spoken to some of his American players about the ban. GW has had international players on its roster for many years, and Joseph notes the school is just a few blocks west of the White House.

This year’s GW team includes students from Canada, Puerto Rico and Japan, and recent squads included players form Serbia, Greece, Denmark and Argentina. One of the top players this season for GW is Yuta Watanabe, a junior guard and one of the few natives of Japan at the Division I level.

“It could affect recruiting,” Joseph said of the ban. “We are going to (continue to) recruit internationally.”

In the CAA, College of Charleston head coach Earl Grant said he was against the ban. But he understood the need to keep out people who may want to harm the United States.

“I think the immigration ban is not a good thing personally,” Grant said. “There are a lot of good people coming for good causes. In terms of recruiting it could hurt.”

Osinachi Smart of Nigeria is a redshirt freshman for the Cougars this season. “At some point we will have a conversation. He is not going home anytime soon,” said Grant, who is hoping to make an overseas trip with his program this summer.

JMU first-year head coach Louis Rowe did not want to comment about his opinion of the ban. The CAA Dukes roster includes players from Lithuania, Serbia, New Zealand and Haiti.

“We do have a few foreign guys; they are guys that I am fond of. (The ban) is something they are aware of but have not talked to me about,” Rowe said Tuesday.

The Fordham roster includes two players from Turkey, a country with a heavy Muslim population: freshmen guards Sinan Saglam; and Havsa, who had played in nine games going into a home contest Tuesday against Dayton.

The Rams, who play at Saint Joseph’s Saturday on ASN, also have players from Canada, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer said he had not talked to his foreign players as of Monday morning but he is aware of the issue.

“We also have an assistant (Ali Ton) who was born in Turkey,” Neubauer said. The ban “is something that I have been following. People on campus are very much aware of the situation.”

Duquesne president Ken Gormely released a statement Monday that said: “Recent actions by the executive branch raise serious questions that go to the heart of Duquesne’s core principles and mission, and prompt me to write this letter.”

Similar letters from college presidents have been sent out the past few days, including ones from George Washington, George Mason and VCU.

The Dukes men’s team has players from England and Canada and the women’s team has three players from Hungary, two from Canada and one each from Serbia, Estonia and Spain.

Could the ban impact recruiting or foreign trips?

“I don’t know about the repercussions. It is interesting time in our country and the world,” said Neubauer, in his second season as the Fordham head coach. “If it was something that would affect us directly it would be something we would discuss. I don’t think the ban affects us directly” at this time.

Bob McKillop has been the Davidson coach since 1989 and for years has had many international players, especially from Europe.

The Wildcats, have players on their roster this season from Serbia, Nigeria, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Greece.

McKillop had not spoken to his international players as of Monday morning.

“I am not that well informed about it at this point,” he said.

McKillop didn’t say directly how he felt about the ban. But he did say “we live in the greatest country in the world. Decade after decade we have welcomed immigrants (and) the countless contributions they have made.”

Havsa of Fordham said he had to adjust as a point guard coming to the States and with teammates from around the world.

“Everyone is talking different languages (but) in basketball they are talking the same language,” Havsa said. “It is a team sport.”

David Driver is a freelance writer based in Cheverly, Md. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonVaDriver.

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