Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
WOU’s Andy Avgi, right, defends against Shorter’s Anthony Banks during a nonleague game Dec. 12. Avgi currently leads WOU in 13 statistical categories.
January 02, 2013
MONMOUTH -- At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Andy Avgi has proven he is almost impossible to stop once he gets the basketball on the low block.
Avgi was a standout tight end for Woodburn High in his prep days, garnering a preferred walk-on spot from Oregon State.
Opponents can try to box him out once the shot goes up, but his hunger for the ball has him averaging more than six rebounds per game for the Western Oregon University men's basketball team.
He can shoot the 3-pointer -- as he proved late in a 36-point performance in WOU's thrilling triple-overtime win over Central Washington earlier in the season -- and his 77.4 percent mark at the free-throw line makes opponents wary of fouling him.
Avgi leads the Wolves in 13 statistical categories, including scoring at 20.4 points per game, and his conference mark stands at 30 points per Great Northwest Athletic Conference contest.
He's also a freshman.
Perhaps the most interesting part about all of these highlights is how they almost didn't have a chance to happen -- not at Western Oregon and not on the basketball court.
First, Avgi had to make a decision that would certainly have a major outcome on his future.
Midway through the summer of 2011, Avgi, confined by the walls of his Oregon State University dorm room, took a long, hard look at his life.
What appeared to be a fantastic opportunity -- a preferred walk-on spot for the Beavers football team, a chance at Division I athletic glory, perhaps a shot at the NFL -- wasn't sitting right with the Woodburn High School product, and he knew it.
Avgi was battling with an inner crisis that conflicted every part of him.
"I was really upset," Avgi recalled. "I wouldn't say depressed, but I didn't really know what to do. So I called my high school coaches, my traveling coach - he said basically, `It's all up to you.
"`You're a big boy now, it's your decision and you can't let anyone else influence your decision.'"
So Avgi picked up the phone and made one more phone call.
Brady Bergeson knew about Avgi -- a two-sport prep standout in both football and basketball -- before he even took the job as the head coach of the Western Oregon University men's basketball team prior to the 2011-12 season.
"When I was (an assistant coach) at Sacramento State, we were looking at him a little bit when we were down there," Bergeson said, "but nothing really came of it."
At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds during his senior year of high school, Avgi dominated on the hardwood, garnering Mid-Willamette Conference Player of the Year for boys basketball in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. In a game during his senior year, Avgi's exploits were splattered all over the Internet when, on a breakaway dunk, he shattered a backboard at Rex Putnam High, in the same gymnasium where former Lake Oswego High and current NBA player Kevin Love did it years earlier.
Despite things not working out with a scholarship in Sacramento, Bergeson didn't forget what he saw in Avgi.
When he landed the job at WOU, the talented center was the No. 1 player on Bergeson's recruiting list.
The problem was, Avgi had already made his decision - and it wasn't to play basketball.
With his size, stellar athleticism and soft hands, he was a college coach's dream at tight end.
Current Dallas High football coach Tracy Jackson, Avgi's high school coach his junior and senior football seasons at Woodburn, said Avgi probably didn't drop a ball that came in his vicinity -- ever.
"He has huge hands," said Jackson, who noted that coaches from Southern California, Boise State and Air Force all recruited Avgi at one time. "We could throw anything up that was close and it was caught -- I'm not lying."
So, listening to the many people around him who said he should use his talents on the football field, Avgi chose Oregon State.
He had knee surgery following his high school senior season, so it was already in his plans to redshirt his first year while at OSU, with hopes to land an athletic scholarship afterward. But as he spent the first few weeks at a summer orientation program in Corvallis, Avgi -- already enrolled in classes for the fall -- began to have second thoughts.
"I was thinking about if I really wanted to give up basketball -- I didn't know if I really could," Avgi said. "It was probably the second week I was there and I was like, `Is this really what I want to do? Do I want to keep playing football?'"
Bergeson already knew about Avgi's struggle in making a decision, so when he got the call that Avgi had changed his mind, he was ready.
Western Oregon's Andy Avgi, left, made a tough decision when he chose to leave a shot at playing football for Oregon State to play basketball at Western. Now leading the Wolves in 13 statistical categories, Avgi knows he made the right decision.
"He had this internal struggle going because he didn't love football with his heart," Bergeson said. "He liked it because he was really good at it and everyone told him he should go (play football), but he fought that.
"We talked about it at length, about what it's like to wake up in the morning and just love what you do and to be so driven to get better at what you're doing ... how important that is.
"I think he listened and then at some point in time, he called back and said `Coach, I made a mistake. Do you still have a spot?' Of course at that point, we were still recruiting and would have done anything we could have to get him, anyway."
Still recovering from his knee surgery, Avgi, a redshirt last year, didn't see the court for the Wolves until December of last season.
When he was finally released for full contact, his impact was immediate.
"It was like letting a bull loose in a china shop," teammate Kolton Nelson, WOU's tallest player at 6-foot-7, said bluntly.
"You have sore sides and everything, he hits hard, he doesn't take a possession off.
"You want him on your team - you don't want him on the opposite team -- because he's going 10-speed the whole 2« hours. It helped us last year because he was on the scout team every time, so we were going against somebody who was going to work way harder than who we would actually play against."
Once Avgi was finally eligible to play his first college game -- and first game in nearly two years -- it didn't take him long to find his groove.
Avgi netted 11 points in the exhibition win over Northwest Christian, then scored 20 and 21 points in the Wolves' first two losses against Hawaii Hilo and Chaminade. His biggest tear came during four wins over Carroll, Corban, Northwest Nazarene and Central Washington from Nov. 23 to Dec. 1, when he averaged 28 points per game and shot a crisp 65 percent from the field.
"After we played Hawaii Hilo (Nov. 9), I felt good. My body felt good, I felt like how I should be playing and it kind of brought me back to high school, how I played (then)."
Bergeson already knows what opposing coaches probably fear: Avgi is only going to get better.
"I think what we've learned this year, in a short period of time, is how intelligent he is of the game," Bergeson said. "He really studies it. He sees the game unfold, he understands what teams are running and what they're trying to accomplish offensively."
With the return of Nelson to the lineup -- he missed the first six games with a knee injury -- it's probably safe to assume that Avgi won't be leaned on so heavily offensively as the season moves forward.
But he'll still be fun to watch.
Jackson said he's not surprised by any of the success that Avgi, whose family is part of the Russian Old Believers community in Woodburn, has had thus far.
"One thing about Andy is he knows who he is," Jackson said. "He was raised that way. His church is such that they have very specific and clear expectations and he lives those."
Those expectations include seasonal fasting -- Avgi has to follow a vegan diet in the months leading up to Christmas and Easter -- along with church services that take up large portions of the days and evenings on the weekends.
Avgi adheres to the meat-free diet even during season, when he's forced to find alternative protein sources. He also attends as many services as he can, when the team isn't on the road.
"I'm always thinking about (my religion) -- it's like engraved in you," Avgi said. "Even when you're a kid, you always think about it."
Avgi has strong family support from his parents, John and Cindy, along with his older brothers, Julian and John Jr. John Jr. played football for the Wolves in 2007.
That bond has also kept him close to Woodburn and those roots have had a factor in Avgi's choices.
"It doesn't surprise me that he's excelling the way that he is," Jackson added. "He knows what's important to him.
"A lot of kids sort of float. They take their time figuring it out, they have no clue who they are, but Andy does. I think that's rare."
As for football, Avgi said he hasn't forgotten about the sport completely -- an inkling that he could possibly play in the future is there, though tucked away.
"It's in the back of my head ... maybe in the future," he said. "But if I keep playing (basketball) like this and having as much fun as this, I don't know if I want to.
"I'm having so much fun playing basketball. Why would I want to jeopardize that?"
THE ANDY AVGI FILE
Schools: Western Oregon University (2011-present); Woodburn High (2007-11)
Specs: 6-foot-5, 260 pounds.
Class: Redshirt freshman.
Notable: Leads the Wolves in 13 statistical categories, including points, rebounds, field goal percentage, blocked shots and free throws made ... Averaging 20.4 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Wolves, who currently boast a 7-3 record ... Shooting 63.3 percent from the field, 77.4 percent from the free-throw line and 57.1 percent (4-for-7) from the 3-point line ... Is averaging 30 points per game in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play (two games) after netting a career-high 36 in WOU's triple overtime win Dec. 1 over Central Washington ... Was named Mid-Willamette Conference player of the year for boys basketball three straight seasons while at Woodburn High School