UCA pair gets back to beach
The Los Angeles sun welcomed the teammates home.
Jared Chatham and Matthew Mondesir woke early Tuesday morning with the rest of the University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball team, fresh off its midnight flight from Arkansas.
They had a day to spend before tonight’s game at UCLA, and the team went to Manhattan Beach so some players could see the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
Chatham and Mondesir, who both played at George Washington Prep (Calif.), had known the waters all their life.
“We used to come here to work out and run the sand dunes,” said Chatham, a 6-8, 185-pound redshirt freshman forward.
“Yeah,” added Mondesir, a 6-5, 200-pound freshman guard. “Like Rocky III.”
Mondesir is originally from Inglewood, just eight miles north of Manhattan Beach, and Chatham grew up in the Crenshaw District, five miles farther north and just southeast of UCLA’s campus.
The teammates visited their families later that night, and they shared their excitement in finally playing in historic Edwin W. Pauley Pavilion.
“UCLA is a college basketball Mecca,” Mondesir said. “It feels good to play here. All the work we put in through the years, seeing the struggle we’ve both gone through, one step closer to our goals. We’ve
accomplished those goals, and we get to show our families what we’re doing away in college.”
Chatham and Mondesir have combined for 17 points and 11 rebounds in UCA’s first two games, a 107-66 loss at Baylor and a 99-51 victory over the University of the Ozarks.
Fourth-year Coach Russ Pennell said his team is playing more to its identity, after they tried too hard to score in the blowout loss and victory.
“I think that’s what will give us a chance,” he said. “I
believe upsets come not from supernatural strength, but a team doing what it does best. And as the game wears on, you hang on. It’s not making 25 three-pointers … we’re not really capable of that. This is the way you’ll eventually win a conference championship, when you can play for whatever standard you have for your team.”
Pennell and his players discussed another standard Tuesday morning over breakfast in the hotel.
Sophomore forward Aaron
Weidenaar looked up at the television and saw that the three UCLA players who had been detained in China for allegedly shoplifting in Hangzhou were scheduled to return to Los Angeles that afternoon.
“You think they’ll play tomorrow night?” Pennell recalled Weidenaar asking.
“Oh, no,” Pennell said. “No, I don’t think so.”
“What would you do?” Weidenaar asked. “Would you suspend them?”
“I can’t tell you that right now,” Pennell said. “I don’t
know the ins and outs of that. Everyone’s going to watch and see what they’re going to do. Their coach is in a no-win situation. Some people will think he didn’t suspend them long enough; some will think the suspension is too long. When you make a decision like that, you drag all of us into it.”
Pennell then pulled out his phone and scrolled through a quick search of nationwide suspensions of collegiate athletes and read the headlines aloud.
“I’m thankful I’m not reading
your names,” he said.
The team finished its breakfast and left for the beach.
“It’s morals and ethics,” Pennell said later. “We’ve all been 18-19 years old. If something comes out of your mind, you don’t really think of the ramifications about it. Every decision you’re going to make, you have to own up to it. … I just want to get my guys to be critical thinkers. And when they make decisions, count the cost. That’s what coaching is.”