By Patrick Lujan
Basketball player Michael Sakazaki became the first Guam athlete to earn the Oceania National Olympic Committee’s Foundations Scholarship.
With the high price of college, the $13,000 award is a sure welcome as he ventures out to Hawaii to attend Chaminade University and play for the Silverswords basketball team.
“It’s an honor and I hope that experiencing this, more recruits can look at Guam,” said the Father Duenas graduate who also won the Shieh Scholar Athlete Award as well as Chaminade’s Regent Scholarship.
It’s a good financial lift with college tuition in excess of $20,000 a year.
“We’re very grateful to the Guam Basketball Confederation, the Guam National Olympic Committee and the Foundation to give Michael the opportunity to play in a top Division II team,” said Michael’s dad Jason Sakazaki.
“Having a Guam athlete (awarded) is very significant,” said GNOC Secretary-General Bob Steffy. “All the (Oceania) countries apply and they only give four scholarships (per year).”
Steffy said that over the years, the awards normally went to athletes from Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
According to GBC Secretary-General Tony Thompson, the application process started back in January 2012.
“It wasn’t an easy sale (to the ONOC),” Thompson stated. “It was a collective effort with the Sakazaki family, GNOC and Oceania Basketball. First thing to his application was his academics, then all his past experiences he’s gone through representing Guam.”
The two requirements attached to this scholarship is that the athlete maintain at least a 3.2 GPA and remain on the university basketball program.
With all the scholarships secured, it’s now time for Sakazaki to get out to Hawaii and do what he needs to do. He departs on Sunday, Aug. 11.
Always the tallest kid on the team, Sakazaki was forced to play center throughout his upbringing on island. Going into college, he won’t be the tallest on the team anymore. He knows he’ll be moved to small forward so in preparation of that, he’s been working hard at playing the new position.
Helping him transition to the new position has been Chris Fernandez, former Guam National point guard who played some ball at Georgia Tech and is arguably the best point guard Guam has known.
Fernandez and FD assistant coach Jimmy Yi put Sakazaki through a 10-week program that has just wrapped up this week. The program consisted of drills and conditioning for the small forward position. The college freshman said the biggest take away from the time spent with his mentors have been protecting the ball while dribbling and some simple outside moves he normally wouldn’t need as a center.
NOTE: All sports federations in good standing with the GNOC can apply for this scholarship through Ms. Kelly Blas, GNOC Sports Development Officer.
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