One island. Two recruits. Three athletes. One college.
This is the story of how two men from Grenada found their way to Hillsboro and a place on the 2013-14 Tabor College basketball roster.
The recruits?Andrew Thomas, a 6-foot, 7-inch forward/center, and Jonathan Gibson, a 6-8 center?are in town and excited about the opportunities ahead, both athletically and academically.
Tabor men?s coach Micah Ratzlaff shares the excitement.
?I?m happy for Tabor, and not just Tabor basketball, I?m actually happy for the college,? he said. ?I think these guys will be a huge impact on the campus. They?ve already been an impact in my life and my family?s life.?
The story has its beginning with former Tabor athlete and Grenada native Orson Thomas, who returned to Hillsboro for a visit earlier this month.
A 2009 Tabor graduate, Orson went on to earn his master?s degree from Emporia State University and now is an auditor with a Dallas accounting firm. He also is a licensed certified public accountant in Kansas and Texas.
Orson first came to the U.S. in 2005 to play basketball at East Central University in Ada, Okla., where Ratzlaff was an assistant coach.
In 2006, Ratzlaff transitioned to Tabor as an assistant coach, and, upon taking over as head coach in 2007, worked to get Orson to Tabor.
?(I) knew (Orson) would enjoy an environment like Tabor because he?s a Christian,? Ratz?laff said. ?We both had to work really hard for him to be able to come here financially, but we made it work, and he came.?
A 6-3 forward, Orson played two years for the Bluejays, beginning with the 2007-08 season. He graduated in 2009 with a degree in accounting, finance and management.
In the years that followed, Ratzlaff entertained the possibility of recruiting other athletes from Grenada. But financial resources was always a question.
?I knew there were players in Grenada, but I also knew that there was nothing I could do,? he said. ?I knew I couldn?t afford them.?
When Tabor received an endowment donation last March to enhance the men?s basketball program?the designation of which Ratzlaff declined to disclose?Ratzlaff recognized the potential for new recruiting opportunities and contacted his former athlete from Grenada.
?I called Orson and I said, ?Hey, just wondering. Call over to the island and see if there?s anybody available,?? Ratzlaff said.
The result of that conversation led Ratzlaff to Andrew Thomas, a Division II athlete and native of Windsor Forest, St. David, Grenada who had finished two years at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., and was looking for a change.
?We brought Andrew in for a visit, and he hit it (off) really well with me, my family, and then all of our players,? Ratzlaff said.
Andrew signed with Tabor, and after wrapping up the school year at Cameron, came straight to Hillsboro where he has worked for Tabor maintenance over the summer.
Meanwhile, Orson also connected Ratzlaff with Jonathan Gibson, a native of Morne Jaloux, St. George?s, who was in Grenada waiting for an opportunity to come to the U.S. to play basketball.
With school winding down for the year, Ratzlaff said he made a quick trip to Grenada at the end of April.
While there, he met with three coaches on the island and signed Jonathan?who had never before been to the U.S.
Setting the stage
Jonathan?s interest in basketball began his senior year of high school.
?Everyone had been telling me, ?You?re tall, maybe you should go play basketball,? so I?ll give it a shot, and I just stuck with it,? he said, adding that he eventually fell in love with the sport.
Andrew picked up basketball after high school.
?When I got out of high school, I wasn?t working or anything; I was just at home doing nothing, and that?s when basketball came in,? he said. ?I just picked it up, and I just fell in love with it and started playing every day. I knew that this is what I want to do.?
Although coming from different cities, Andrew and Jonathan knew each other in Grenada and even worked out together at the same basketball school.
?The basketball school is mainly for guys that are done with high school and looking to further play basketball in the U.S.,? Orson said. ?So they would go to the school and just work out probably every Saturday, and then the coaches would look for schools (in the U.S.) where they can come over here and play for them.?
The coaches at the school work with athletes to get them up to speed and ready to play the U.S. style of basketball, Orson added.
Andrew credited Orson?who grew up attending the same church as he did in Grenada?with connecting him to basketball opportunities in the U.S., first at Cameron, and now at Tabor.
?I started talking to Orson because he was over here and everything, and I was just explaining my situation to him, how it was back home,? Andrew said. ?He said he would do all he can to get me out, and I just kept in touch with him. He helped me with everything.?
For Jonathan, it has been his dream to come to the U.S.
?This is a great experience for me,? he said. ?I remember sitting at home wondering, ?Will I ever get to go to America?? but it happened.?
Both Andrew and Jonathan spoke of their impressions coming from Grenada to the U.S.
?When I first got here, it was a big change for me,? Andrew said. ?I mean, the speed of the game, being able to speak and have people understand the way I speak.
?It started off tough, but I just got adjusted as fast as I could.?
Jonathan, who arrived in Hillsboro about a month ago, said: ?When I got here, it was easy for me to adjust to everything. I don?t really miss home as yet, but probably as school goes on and the years go by, I probably will off and on.?
Ratzlaff said neither man has had any trouble fitting in the Hillsboro environment.
But there have been some adjustments. For example, both come from cities larger than Hillsboro.
?(Hillsboro) is a really good Christian community, and you know, there?s not really much to do around here, but that?s what I was looking for and I was looking for a change, just something different,? Andrew said. ?I actually like it here.?
Both Andrew and Jonathan described their native Grenada, a tropical island in the Caribbean located north of Trinidad and Tobago close to South America.
?It?s the ?Isle of Spice,?? Jonathan said. ?Fishing is big. They?re really big on tourism.?
Added Andrew: ?It actually relies on tourism for basic income. We do a lot of farming back home. The big sport is cricket, that?s what everyone plays back home.?
As far as the game of basketball, the sport is comparable in Grenada and the U.S., with one noticeable difference.
?I just think it?s way faster over here,? Andrew said. ?The pace is faster than Grenada. That?s the biggest difference I noticed, but besides that, it?s roughly the same.?
In addition to being excited for the upcoming season, both players anticipate a good academic year as well.
Jonathan, who will be a freshman this year, has chosen to major in business and accounting.
?I?m really into school, and I?ve missed it so badly,? he said. ?Getting back to school will be kind of exciting for me.?
Andrew, a junior, is majoring in sports management. He would like to help others as Orson helped him, he said.
?When I finish doing my degree, just try to do the same for someone else, just help them out and get people over here,? he said. ?That?s what I was hoping through sports management, just to pass on what (Orson) did to other people back home, around the world, wherever.?
Ratzlaff is excited for the school year and is confident in his decision to bring these two athletes to Tabor.
?It may be a different road than other people would?ve taken, but I really do feel like God had his way in this for sure,? he said. ?And it has absolutely nothing to do with basketball. It has to do with two guys that are hungry to do something, to make something happen, on and off the court.
?I know for a fact we got the right kids, no matter what happens,? he added. ?I know for a fact that (endowment) scholarship couldn?t be in better hands with these two guys, there?s no doubt. So it?ll be exciting.
?I?m not going to hide from it, we have two big boys here in town, and they?re ready to go.?