OSU's Della Valle: It's gotta be the hair...

OSU’s Della Valle: It’s gotta be the hair…

The easy way to introduce a piece like this: Are you ready for March Madness? But of course that’s a rhetorical question as – despite the morphing NBA playoff picture and the Euroleague Top 16 round homestretch – the basketball world’s attention turns to the U.S. college game.

Fans of international ball will be pleased to note the distinct foreign accent in the 2013 NCAA Tournament: 47 of the 60 sides with spots clinched in the competition list non-U.S. players on the roster. And while Canadians and Australians (including three on Albany and two with Luc Longley’s alma mater the University of New Mexico) lead the bunch, 18 European players remain on tourney team rosters.

Below runs a brief look at the first half of Europe’s representatives in the big bracket; with the other nine set to play for one of three tournament teams, BallinEurope will pay particular attention to these guys in an upcoming article.

First up: The two guys listed on rosters who will not see action. Notre Dame’s Eric Katenda (France) announced this summer that he was ready to get onto the court for the Fighting Irish after suffering a freakish potentially career-ending eye injury while still officially a recruit. Unfortunately, this comeback story has only a bittersweet ending thus far: While coach Mike Brey has stated that Katenda’s scholarship will be honored, the Frenchman did not suit up for the team this season.

Adria Gasol, he of that famous ball-playing family, was a walk-on for UCLA this season after spending a couple seasons in Spain, and saw no actual game time. By all accounts, Adria is not expected to achieve anywhere near the greatness of his elder brothers and at this point must be the single most fervent backer of keeping Pau with the Lakers.

In the “Human Victory Cigar” category are Davidson’s Ali Mackay (Scotland) and Ohio State’s Amedeo Della Valle (Italy). Now a sophomore, Mackay’s cameo appearances were interrupted in December when he underwent knee surgery but happily for the Scotsman, he recovered extremely quickly thereafter.

Marek Soucek: What happened...?

Marek Soucek: What happened…?

As for freshman Della Valle, BiE’ll just let the Cleveland-Plain Dealer take over: “‘To many of the students, they probably see themselves as me because I maybe don’t look like a basketball player.’

“He doesn’t. At 6’5” and listed at 190 pounds, Della Valle is known mostly for his black curls, a hairstyle not often seen on the court. So he has taken on the role seen on many teams: The guy on the end of the bench that students root to see late in blowouts…”

Well, with that coif, at least he can’t be missed on the bench…

Meanwhile, has the horrendous experiment once known as Jan Vesely ruined Czech players’ chances heretofore? Oklahoma State’s seven-footer Marek Soucek has to be disappointed with his 2012-13 season, in which he played in just six games for the Sooners after spraining his knee early into the season.

Onto the positives, then. Three teams come into the tournament carrying a single European, and each are a focus of their side.

After transferring from Wyoming and missing all of 2011-12, Amath M’Baye (France) turned in roughly the same stats per minute for Oklahoma that he contributed in his sophomore year to the Buffaloes, albeit in about five minutes fewer per game. BiE’s not sure if the Sooners’ stat line alone will help him reach his stated goal of playing in the NBA, but M’Baye is certain to attract interest from European clubs – at least for his ridiculous dunks.

M’baye’s personal highlight of the season: His sole double-double for Oklahoma on February 20 at Texas Tech of 15 points and 13 rebounds. The lowlight (at least for teammate Romero Osby, it seems): The weird incident directly below.

For Davidson, Chris Czerapowicz (Poland) turned in another solid season in his junior year with the university which included notable improvement in both his shooting touch and shot selection: Despite scoring nearly one point per game less than in 2011-12 (with marks of 9.2 and 10.1, respectively), his percentages were up at all three ranges and his true shooting percentage was a nice 56.6%. For Davidson, Czerapowicz provides a third scoring threat on the floor for an already jumpshot-happy team.

And yeah, he can throw it down, too.

The Netherlands’ Kevin Van Wijk and Valparaiso are looking up from the no. 14 spot, and at least one expert reckons the Dutchman is key to the Crusaders’ chances for the upset. In his pre-tournament power rankings, Eamonn Brennan of ESPN paid heed with “March Madness legend Bryce Drew makes his return to the NCAA tournament field this season, his first appearance as a coach, thanks to the efficient forward tandem of Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk.

A salient point, indeed: Either Broekhoff or Van Wijk led the team in most statistical categories, combining for 28.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. It’s tough to visualize a Valparaiso upset against a Michigan State side loaded with the three-headed beast Adreian Payne/Derrick Nix/Branden Dawson, but that’s what March Madness is all about, eh?

Finally, there’s Will Yeguete (France) of Florida. In what was expected to be something of a transition year for Florida (and we hoped one for Yeguete as well), the Gators superseded expectations in taking the SEC regular-season title and bagging a no. 3 seed for The Big Dance.

Yeguete was looking on the verge of a banner year as a sixth-man type until undergoing knee surgery in February; though initial reports questioned whether he’d return at all in time for the tournament, he was back in uniform by March. Yeguete hasn’t appeared 100% since his return – shooting just 6-of-19 overall in seven games this month combined – and has been seeing reduced minutes well under the quality time he’d been getting in 2012.

Next: BallinEurope’s three favorite teams for March Madness.

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