Freshman forward Steve Tchiengang is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday night when the Commodores take on Illinois-Chicago at 7 p.m. CT at Memorial Gym.
Tchiengang has missed the first six games of the season due to a NCAA policy that involves some first-year international students.
The Douala, Cameroon, native did see action in the exhibition against Alabama-Huntsville on November 9 and scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting.
I had the opportunity in a recent interview to discuss several topics with him including why he came to America after spending the majority of his life in Cameroon. I hope you enjoy it.
Steve, I interrupted you and Jeffery Taylor playing FIFA soccer on the Playstation 3. What was the result of that game?
"He just scored the first goal because I was distracted by George Drake. At least, that's my excuse for it."
What's the usual outcome when you guys play that video game?
"Well, he's beaten me several times but I've beaten him a couple times, too. He has better experience on the PS3 and I usually play it on the XBOX 360, so he has the edge on me in that game."
In my interview with him a few weeks ago, he said that Sweden was better than Cameroon in Soccer. Would you like to set the record straight?
"He always says Sweden is better but I disagree. When you look at the records, Cameroon has gone farther in the national and international competitions."
So who's the better soccer player, you or him?
"Even if he did play soccer, he didn't play for a team with the level of competition that I did. Competition in Africa is rough and physical. It's the primary sport there. In fact, I read his quote in that interview where he said he was better than me and there's no way that's possible.
"I do have more experience in soccer than basketball, because this is only my fifth year playing basketball. I played soccer most of my life. But, we go at each other all the time, and it's just fun."
Does your soccer experience translate to the basketball court?
"Yes, it definitely does. Mentally, you have to be tough, because like I said soccer players are very physical in Africa. They do a crazy amount of training to help their stamina. I'm sure my quickness, lateral movement and other involvement with my feet helps me get an edge on some of the things I do on the basketball court."
The media guide says you picked up basketball when you were 15. How did you first get involved in basketball?
"I was back in Cameroon in a city called Douala. I was just working one day and this guy was like, `Do you know basketball?' and I said `Yes, I've heard of it.' So, he showed me how to shoot. I used to shoot with my hands behind my head. I had the desire and every day I just wanted to get better after every game. The game was totally neutral in my country. There's still not even a famous league or an organized game over there. So, I just started to play more often with friends. We played in the street and watched a lot of videos. We watched a lot of NBA action."
Was there anyone in particular you watched on television?
"Obviously, Michael Jordan. Every time you talked about basketball, everybody thinks of Michael Jordan. So I watched a lot of his stuff."
Why did you move to the United States?
"When I moved to the United States, my first purpose was to get an education, because my family back home was poor. I always felt at a certain age that my parents wouldn't be able to make it any more, and in Africa you don't get retirement and stuff like over here. It's totally different. You don't get insurance. Such a thing doesn't exist. So, I always felt that my family would really be pleased if I could be successful with my education.
"As for basketball, it wasn't until after my sophomore year of high school that I figured out what college basketball was, and all of the vibes around it. So, it wasn't an athletic purpose. It was strictly educational."
Have your parents ever seen you play basketball?
"The first time my mom watched me play basketball was my sophomore year. We lost that game by one. We played in a tournament in Houston, and we lost that game in the last second. I blocked the shot in the final possession and the referees called it goaltending, and that's how we lost the game. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life because my mom got to see me play even though we didn't win."
The Ambrose family took you in when you came to America. Talk about what they've meant to you.
"Well, I would say it was God's plan. I didn't know them at all. I didn't know English so it was hard to communicate at first. But, I'd define them as my parents. People could say, `They're white,' but it doesn't matter. They have a great heart. They love me just like a son. I call them mom and dad, just because I know that's how we feel. It doesn't matter the color of the skin or the blood relation. So, I do love them, and they've been a great addition to my life. They have been a tremendous blessing, and have taught me so much about life and things that really matter. I can never be thankful enough for it."
How's your experience been with the multicultural backgrounds of the players on this year's team?
"Well, they like to make fun of me and my French accent because I don't know how to pronounce `three' and when I say `Jeffrey' I accent the `r.' I think it's just funny because it brings us laughter, and we need that especially when we are trying to learn so many things. I enjoy the diversity of backgrounds that we have on the team, and I think it's a good thing to have."
Now let's look back at the exhibition with Alabama-Huntsville on November 9. In your only action of the year, you showed you have some outside range for a big guy.
"The 3-pointer has always been in my game since my sophomore year of high school, when I took a lot of time and dedication into putting in the hours to develop my outside game. I'll work on my 3-pointer every time I come into the gym. I work on my post moves, too, but I work on the 3-pointer because I know that somehow I'll be open at the arc and will need to knock those shots down. Plus, I think I can use it as an asset for my team, by making the defense honest by drawing attention to me so we can have another person cutting to the basket for an open shot."
You also looked comfortable in the post.
"Actually, this is my first year playing the post. Last year, I played wing. I played the forward, but I was taking 3-pointers all the time and never posted up. So, this year I'm learning to play the post, and I'm very happy with the way it's coming out. I think my hook shot is coming along, and my game with my back to the basket is coming along. I'll keep working on the little details."
Do you shoot with both hands in the post?
"Yes, I can shoot with both."
Were you nervous before your first collegiate game that night?
"Well, I was a little before the game, because I wasn't even expecting to play due to a pulled hamstring. At the last minute they said I could go but to let the coaches know if I felt any pain or tightness. As far as nervousness, I was feeling pretty confident. I was just loose and relaxed. I've played in front of big crowds before so that didn't make me nervous. I'd say the nervousness came at the free throws. I was an 88 percent free-throw shooter my senior year, and missing three free throws for me is a lot. That was one of the most disappointing things for me that night. But, I was in the gym the next day. I shot only free throws for two hours."
You scored 11 points with seven of those coming during an early run. Talk about that stretch where you provided a spark for the offense.
"First off, after I knocked down the 3-pointer I realized I was in the zone and wanted to keep doing it. Then, we came back and made a stop and I made that crazy left-handed dunk with a foul, even though I missed the free throw. I think all of that wouldn't have happened without the help of my teammates. I think by making those plays, and my teammates making defensive stops just gave us a boost to take over the game and control it to the end."
Has your high school nickname ("The Proof") carried over to college?
"We don't really call each other by nicknames. Coach Rice likes to call us freshmen, `Young Dragons.' That nickname has carried over with the other players."
Why did you decide to wear No. 33?
"I wear it because according to Bible scholars, Jesus Christ died at the age of 33. He's part of my life, and he has done tremendous things in my life, even things I don't think I deserve sometimes. So, I wanted that number in recognition of him, because at the end of the day everything is up to him. I just wanted to thank him for that."
Reshard Langford has the same number for similar reasons. Have you talked to him about that?
"Actually, I told him that he had a nice number, that it was my number too, and that I hoped we had it for the same reason. He said, `I hope so too.'"
Finally, considering you are still pretty new to the sport of basketball, do you think you still have a lot of room to grow on the court?
"Yes. My coach in high school always told me that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. I believe that I can improve in every single way possible on the floor, and off the floor too. I think I can improve so much of my game with time and dedication. The sky's the limit if I really put myself into that position by working hard."
Now it's time for the video of the day. Actually, I'll throw in two.
First, we all got Rick Roll'd on Thanksgiving Day during the annual telecast of the Macy's parade. And it was amazing.
My friend Matt said it best in an email.
"I saw this live on TV as well. This was good on so many levels. The song they were playing that got interrupted was a
Harry Nilsson song. Definitely the highlight of the parade. If there can be highlights for a parade."
Second, Jason sent me this video of a baby that just might be a Karate Kid prodigy. You'll see why.
And speaking of Karate Kid, it's been reported that Will Smith's son, Jaden, will star in an updated version of the 1984 film. Who knows how it will turn out, but it can't be any worse than the fourth installment that featured two-time oscar winner Hilary Swank.