With four international players, Mercyhurst College’s men’s basketball team features the most worldly roster in the entire Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference this season.
Call it a global education. Call it solid recruiting. Call it an international brand of the game.
Whatever label others may want to apply to the program, the players simply want to be known as winners.
And, so far, they’ve earned that moniker with a 4-1 start.
Iddo Cohen (Israel), Olivier Dupiton (Canada), Luis Leao (Brazil) and Jonathan Ouegnin (France) were each born at various corners of the globe but have all ended up in Laker jerseys this season.
“If you get 14 players from Erie and Pittsburgh or 14 from around the world,” head coach Gary Manchel says, “as long as they’re a good fit for the college on and off the court, that’s what we concern ourselves with.”
All four say they have meshed well with Mercyhurst’s 15-player roster, and early season statistics confirm each has a specific niche and benefit to the team.
Leao, the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game as a redshirt sophomore, has also grabbed a team-high 45 rebounds in five games.
Dupiton averages eight points per game, but he holds a leadership role as the team’s eldest player.
He began study in Mercyhurst’s Organizational Leadership graduate program this fall after a four-year career at Division I Stetson University.
“(Mercyhurst) definitely fit very well for me,” Dupiton said. “It’s taken me a little while to get comfortable, but I’ll get there.”
One of five Laker seniors, Cohen saw limited playing time in 2009-10 but has already topped last year’s total appearances, playing in each of Mercyhurst’s first five games.
“It’s always nice when you can contribute,” said Cohen, a 6-foot-9-inch center. “Last year, we had a lot of guys who played my position, so it was their turn. This year, I have more chances.”
And Ouegnin, a freshman, is averaging 10.6 minutes per game early in his college career.
The three newest international players took quickly to Mercyhurst’s system, as did Cohen when he arrived in 2007.
“These guys play our system as well as anyone else,” Manchel said. “We focus so much on a team game, and not so much the one-on-one aspect that many young American players see.”
All four grew up playing the game in their respective homes and neighborhoods then made it onto advanced travel clubs, joined national teams or, for Dupiton, played Division I. Those achievements all caught Manchel’s eye.
Cohen wanted to study abroad after he finished Israel’s three years of mandatory military service for males. He competed for the Israeli National team and connected with Manchel when the coach was visiting Israel.
His hometown of Haifa lies just north of the West Bank on the Mediterranean Sea.
“It’s a nice port city with warm weather and beaches,” Cohen said. “My first year in Erie was tough with the snow.”
Dupiton, though a native of Montreal, agreed about Erie’s climate.
“I played in Orlando for the past four years, so I’m not used to the cold anymore,” he joked. “But I don’t live too far from the gym or my classes, so it’s all good.”
He received several offers from other colleges after his Stetson career concluded in February, but had a priority of finding a private school “not too far away from home.”
“After my visit, I had a good vibe with the guys here and the coaches,” Dupiton says.
He noted the difficulties attached to attending college hundreds of miles from his urban Montreal home.
“The first two years didn’t really matter, but by the fifth one, it’s harder being away.”
Though they share the team’s largest age gap, Dupiton and Ouegnin have bonded as the team’s lone French speakers.
Ouegnin began playing the game with his father in LeChesnay, a suburb of Paris.
He excelled on a club team in Besançon before making his way to Phoenix last year to play for Westwind Prep International, a high school basketball powerhouse.
“We did great things last year (at Westwind), which helped me get recruited by colleges,” said Ouegnin, who received Division I offers from the University of San Diego, Western Illinois University and Portland State.
“I don’t really care about the snow since we have it in France, too, and it’s cool because there’s a lot of international students (at Mercyhurst),” he said.
Leao, a native of Brusque, Brazil, could not be reached for comment.
The quartet has united with its 11 other teammates for a 4-1 start.
“We gotta keep winning,” Ouegnin says, “gotta go to the (NCAA) tournament.”
Even with a diverse range of backgrounds, the team’s chemistry could hardly be better.
“These are just good guys. Great to be a part of,” Cohen said.
Dupiton found that out on the first day of practice.
“From the get go, we meshed pretty well as teammates,” he said. “For the first time, I see on a team that there’s not a lot of animosity against anybody. No one’s fighting, everyone is supporting.”
A global education.