Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Newcomers fuel Illini men

It has become common place for coaches to add a player or two into their January roster,  but five?  In a move that no one can  recall ever happening, Coach Brad Dancer started the spring season with more new Illini than old.

"With some unexpected departures there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty about this year's team," said Coach Dancer, "What you have now is tremendous leadership being displayed by the veterans, especially Marek Czerwinski and Abe Souza - not only in their results, but by their daily habits, the culture they are creating." 

Culture is the key as not only are there five new players, but they are from different parts of the world.  Among the freshmen, Bruno Abdelnour is from Syria, Stephen Hoh is Australian, Ku Singh is from India and Brian Alden is an Illinois native. The fifth newcomer is Johnny Hamui, a transfer from the University of Florida who was born in Mexico.

In addition to the culture shock there's been a few other adjustment problems for the January quintet.  For one thing, cold shock. "I came in June for a visit and didn't think it got that cold here," says  Singh of the frigid Midwest temperatures.   Abdelnour and Ho had never even been to the area before starting school so they had no idea what the area was like. 

The other issue with all the newcomers in starting on the team at the same time they are starting school is the lack of time to adjust.  "I haven't really met anyone not on the team," remarked Ho.  Hamui added that his experience is different coming in from another university, "the team dynamic is completely different and school is a little more challenging."  With a January start, there's no orientation and no socialization before the dual match schedule begins.

The new Illini have managed to keep on top of everything by bonding together.  They are all excited about the potential the team has this season, though they realize it may take a bit longer before they really show it on the court.  Dancer is not discouraged by the bumpy start, "Having five new guys come in at semester was and continues to be challenging, but what has been so exciting is the enthusiasm of their work ethic and commitment to getting the most out of themselves. The new guys are a unique blend of young men that set high standards for themselves."

Rounding out the Illini  with Czerwinksi and Souza are senior Meedo El Tabkh, who is just back in training after surgery, sophomore Dennis Nevolo and junior Connor RothBrad Dancer is quick to point out that "having the majority of the team from the Midwest, Illinois Tennis is still a very core value, blue collar work ethic, but with a few of the new guys bring a different cultural perspective it is adding knowledge and ideas to our training regiments. It's an exciting blend to watch develop."

Will this move by the University of Illinois to bring in a brand new team mid-year become a popular one? It's doubtful, but it just may work for them.
All photos by Marcia Frost-top: Ku Singh, Johnny Hamui, Stephen Hoh and Bruno Abdelnour (Brian Alden was unavailable when the photo was taken).; bottom: Coach Brad Dancer.
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