Even for someone 16, an age at which fear tends to take a back seat to the need to experience the new and thrilling, Kansas University basketball recruit Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk showed courage on many levels in deciding to become one of the youngest college basketball players in history.
For one thing, Lawrence is almost 10,000 kilometers (almost 6,000 miles) from his hometown of Cherkasy, Ukraine. For another, he has chosen to compete for minutes with older athletes, some of whom were among the most recruited players in America. And he has chosen to play for a coach not known for coddling superstars.
Knowing all that, Mykhailiuk decided that playing for Kansas was a better move than staying home and playing for the local professional team.
He showed guts and a strong belief in himself by signing with Kansas, all encouraging signs.
Mykhailiuk didn’t commit before speaking to someone with inside knowledge on what cultural changes he will confront.
KU throws coach Andy Kokhanovsky, also Ukrainian, said KU assistant basketball coach Kurtis Townsend put Kokhanovsky on the phone with Mykhailiuk when the recruit visited campus and Kokhanovsky was out of town with the KU track and field team.
Mykhailiuk was educated at a school that specializes in languages. He comes from a part of Ukraine where Urkanian is the first language. In Kokhanovsky’s hometown, Russian is the native tongue.
“We spoke in Russian,” Kokhanovsky said. “He speaks Russian without accent.”
Mykhailiuk speaks English fluently with an accent, so he already is ahead of some of the athletes Kokhanovsky has coached. He will encounter other cultural shifts.
“Food, relationships with people are a little bit different, boyfriend-girlfriend, all that stuff. It’s an adjustment,” Kokhanovsky said.
The exposure to American food with so many preservatives doesn’t always go well initially for Eastern Europeans, the throws coach said.
“We try to eat low-fat here, but add all the preservatives,” Kokhanovsky said. “In the big scheme, what’s more important, natural food or all that added stuff, preservatives? When you come here and you’re not used to it, some eat new food, and they gain weight. That’s what they have to worry about, not to eat so much junk.”
Interestingly, Kokhanovsky pointed to another use of the word weight that could shape up as a major adjustment for the athletic, 6-foot-6 sharp-shooter.
“In Europe, he’s not allowed to do the weights because of the (belief that it can hurt his) shot,” Kokhanovsky said. “That’s one of the different things, culturally. Some of them don’t do weights at all. They believe when you’re shooting, personal touch is important. It doesn’t matter how big you are. Just two different approaches.”
Kokhanovsky said that during his conversation with Mykhailiuk, he told him, “You have to go to college here. You have to do the schoolwork. You’re going to have help, academic support, but you’re going to have to ask for help.”
Mykhailiuk was the star of the Ukrainian youth national team, averaging 25.2 points per game.
“In his mind he is the best,” Kokhanovsky said. “For him, it’s going to be hard to adjust to: Go to school, do your homework, don’t make any money. Over there, because he’s a superstar, he wouldn’t have to go to school. Nobody is going to do for him stuff like you would over there. Over there, he’s a superstar. Here, he’s with a bunch of superstars. He chose to do this.”
He chose the more difficult path, a sure sign of toughness.