UI Student-Athletes in a Global Game

International players contribute to Vandal Athletics community environment and program excellence.

The University of Idaho has a history of recruiting international student-athletes — including Patrick Venzke ’01, the first German player in the NFL, and more recently Australian Stacey Barr ’15, who signed a contract with the Women’s National Basketball League’s Perth Lynx in Australia last spring.

These international student-athletes have contributed to the global culture of UI.

“On a university campus, one of the beautiful things is how students can learn from one another. I find it fascinating in the fall when I am teaching my life skills class that I’ll have student-athletes from Spain, from Germany, from Mexico, from Australia, from a small town in Idaho, from inner-city L.A., and totally different cultures,” said Rob Spear, UI’s athletic director. “What an opportunity to advance their knowledge of the world because we truly live in a global society. It really aids in the overall development of a student- athlete and I think it is so important to have our student-athletes exposed to different cultures.”

Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, a sophomore basketball player, is one of those students looking to contribute to UI.

Mkrtychyan spent his early life in Turkmenistan before moving to Moscow, Russia, where his father, Suren, became a coach for the Russian national judo team. Mkrtychyan’s athletic career began in judo, but by age 12, Mkrtychyan decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Allen, and play basketball.

Mkrtychyan played for the junior Armenian national team (his father’s home country), but realized there was little opportunity to move forward with the sport beyond high school.

“My brother gave me the idea that here (in America) you have college basketball, you have a lot of chances to improve abilities, skills and to move into professional basketball,” Mkrtychyan said.

So Mkrtychyan took the opportunity to move to Hawaii prior to his sophomore year of high school. His brother was playing for Hawaii Pacific University. It was not an easy transition, with language being the biggest barrier.

“After I moved to Hawaii, it was four or five months before I started to understand people, no problem. It was six or seven months before I started talking,” Mkrtychyan said.

Language was not the only adjustment — he also had to learn to play a more physical style of basketball compared to the Russian style, which is more about finesse. Luckily, his brother was able teach him the skills needed to adjust his style of play.

Mkrtychyan’s school, Academy of the Pacific, closed after the 2011-12 school year. Mkrtychyan then moved to Portland, where he attended Columbia Christian Schools. After he sat out his junior year because of his transfer, his team went on to win a state tournament. Mkrtychyan was recruited heavily, but chose UI.

“I liked the composition between teammates and coaches,” he said. “They respect each other — not just as coach to player, but more like a family. You could talk to the coaches as a friend.”

Mkrtychyan contributed to the team’s success last year, playing in all 30 games and starting in five. He was the team’s fourth-leading scorer, with an average of 8.8 points per game, and was second in rebounding with an average of 4.8 per game. Mkrtychyan is looking forward to a successful sophomore season and believes the team has a chance at the Big Sky title.

“I am working on being the best player I can be. I expect myself to be the best player in the league next year,” Mkrtychyan said.

At UI, Mkrtychyan is a psychology major, which he hopes will contribute to his success in basketball.

“I want to learn more about people — how they think and act in different situations,” he said. “I think it will help me to communicate with them better. Plus it will help my further career as a basketball coach, after I finish playing basketball professionally of course.”

Article by Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka, College of Law, University of Idaho