Out of Africa
By Bill Koch
Assistant basketball coach John Groce was just making idle conversation when he asked Romain Sato how his summer league game went.
“Honestly,” Sato said, “I don’t think there’s anyone in the country who can stop me from getting my shot off.”
Groce was stunned. The answer was so unlike Sato. The junior guard from the Central African Republic is quiet, polite and humble. He’s not some brash kid who struts around campus bragging about how good he is. This is a young man who thanked the coaching staff repeatedly for feeding him passes during a workout when head coach Thad Matta first arrived at Xavier a year ago. So when Sato said what he did, even if he said it in a matter-of-fact manner, Groce couldn’t help but take notice. It was as if he had just witnessed a revelation in his young protégé.
“I think he understood for the first time that, ‘Hey, I have a chance to be really good at this game and possibly use it as a vehicle professionally,’ ” Groce says.
David West, Xavier’s senior All-American forward, remains the heart and soul of the Musketeers. But Sato, a second-team All-Atlantic 10 Conference selection who made 41 percent of his three-point shots last season, has emerged from the shadows and is ready to stand in his own spotlight. He’s poised to burst onto the national scene after learning not to rely exclusively on his deadly jump shot, but to expand the limits of his game by driving to the basket and creating his own scoring opportunities.
And this newly developed versatility has not only equipped him to ease some of the offensive pressure on West—the focal point of every defense the Musketeers face—but gives the team a new tool that will push it to a higher level.
“Teams have to guard him,” West says. “They have to respect the fact that he can shoot the ball better than anybody in the country.”