The Athens News
LaDanian Tomlinson (NFL single-season touchdown leader), Vernon Wells (MLB two-time All-Star), Darrin McFadden (fourth overall NFL draft pick), Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon winner at age 17), Nomar Garciapara (1997 AL rookie of the year).
No this isn’t a Gatorade advertisement.
Gray Sheffield (World Series champion 1997), Tony Romo (two-time Pro Bowl), Greg Oden (NBA first overall draft pick).
No these aren’t the next contestants on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Eli Manning (Super Bowl MVP XLII), Kobe Bryant (three-time NBA champion).
These are the alumni of Athletic & Personal Development program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and the school where Ohio University recruiting prospect Kyryl Natyazhko (originally from the former Soviet republic of Ukraine) spent his first year in America playing basketball.
Natyazhko visited OU Feb. 26 when the Ohio men’s team played rival Miami of Ohio, pulling off their first sweep over the Redhawks in a decade, winning 75-56.
IMG Academy (IMGA) is a state-of-the-art, multi-sport complex where young and professional athletes come for its “world-class sports training experiences.” On the IMGA’s 300 acres of professional, regulation-size facilities, weight rooms, practice fields, dormitories, cafeterias and two academic campuses, students come to train in one of six sports (tennis, golf, soccer, baseball, basketball and swimming).
This place is like Wonka’s chocolate factory when it comes to sports, but instead of golden tickets athletes are searching for college scholarships and professional careers. And that is exactly what 6-foot-10-inch Natyazhko is looking for now.
He is regarded as one of the top 75 basketball recruits of the 2009 class (ninth-best center) according to basketballrecruiting.rivals.com. Currently pursuing him in the recruiting process are Arizona State, Florida State, Kentucky, Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh, Xavier and Ohio.
The recruiting process for athletes is another specialty that IMGA both teaches and is very knowledgeable about. They have more numbers in their Rolodex then Donald Trump.
“All of our coaches have been through the recruiting process with numerous student athletes,” said Anthony Macri, recruiting coordinator/player development specialist for IMGA. “Each of us comes to the table with a different set of connections that we try to use on behalf of that student athlete.”
IMGA also has a database of contact information for just about every Division I and II college in the nation. As for Natyazhko, he is looking to join his cousin Kyrylo Fresenko of the NBA’s Utah Jazz and can reach his goal with a little work and the right school, according to Macri.
“He could end up becoming, cross your fingers because you never know what’s going to happen with him, the best player to come out of the full-time high-school program here at IMG Academy,” Macri said. “And that includes the players we have had drafted right out of the academy.”
“He’s an inside-out player. He is willing to hit people, which is always a good thing. He is not soft. He is more of a face-up forward then he is a center,” Macri said.
Averaging statistics like 16 points, 11 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, Natyazhko would be a great addition to Ohio’s inside game next year.
“He can shoot the ball from range and can put the ball on the deck,” Macri said. “He does have a couple of things to work on like his rebounding. Sometimes he doesn’t attack the boards as aggressively as he could. Sometimes he puts the ball on the floor a little too quickly.”
Natyazhko also has been described as a classic European player because of his willingness to shoot more than playing the post position. IMGA has “Americanized” his game a little to make him a more diverse player as well as a physical one.
“I want to play power forward in college, not center,” Natyazhko told IMGA in an interview on Oct. 6, 2008. “That would allow me to play in the post but still go to the perimeter every once in a while. If a bigger guy is guarding me, I want to be able to play facing the basket. But if it’s a smaller guy, I can just back him down.”
Natyazhko has a lot of options when it comes to college, but his decision will not solely rely on the reputation of the school alone.
“Relationship with the coach and people around me is really important,” Natyazhko said (2008). “I’m still getting used to being in America, so I want to be around people I can believe in and who have my back.”
It would take platform shoes and a stepladder to be able to look Natyazhko in the eyes, but if he is willing to come and play here next season, then it looks like I’m heading to a DSW and Home Depot.