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Juncbear
05-21-05, 04:10 AM
http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/sports/3192090

May 21, 2005, 1:40AM


Something good's cooking in this melting pot
--------------------------------------------


Having scoured the globe for talent, tennis coach Matt Knoll has Baylor
in position to win a second consecutive national championship

By DALE ROBERTSON
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

WACO - Here on the banks of the Brazos, there is
another kind of United Nations, which should be the envy of the other
one on the East River. Here, peace and harmony reign. Here, citizens of
many nations labor long hours toward a common goal. Here, good
prevails.

Good tennis anyway.

But not everybody appreciates what Matt Knoll and his
band of European brothers, with a smattering of New Zealanders
(assistant coach Rob Cheyne included) thrown in, have accomplished
between the baselines on behalf of Baylor University. There are plenty
of disgruntled souls who accuse Knoll of violating the spirit of
intercollegiate competition, if not bending the rules per se. They
don't believe a team of mercenary internationals the lone American,
Jon Reckewey from Nebraska, plays sparingly should be allowed to take
over the NCAA tennis tournament.

"Yeah, that's what some think," Knoll said, smirking. "I guess it's
because Benjamin (Becker) once had 10 ATP points and got up to (No.)
820 in the world."

And because Becker's fellow German and best friend, the sculpted
24-year-old Bavarian, Benedikt Dorsch, has the mature countenance and
physique of a 30-year-old.

"The schools that do pretty well don't seem to notice our approach as
much," said Knoll, the soon-to-be five-time Big 12 Coach of the Year.
"It's the schools who are underachieving that complain the most. ...
Look, the world has changed. Look at the NBA. We just started going
that way before some other people did."

Knoll came from Kansas in 1997, inheriting a program that hadn't won a
Big 12 match the previous year while playing on scruffy,
intramural-caliber courts. Top American prospects would practically
laugh in his face when he humbly suggested they consider Baylor.
Frustrated, he turned his attention to distant shores. In Knoll's
second season, South Africa's Johann Jooste, Australia's David Hodge
and Germany's Johannes Michalsky led the Bears to the NCAA tournament
for the first time.


Rapid progress

When one of the finest collegiate tennis complexes in the country, the
Bradley R. Hulse Grandstands, came on line in the spring of 2001, the
championship infrastructure was in place. NCAA quarterfinalists in
2003, the Bears took it a quantum step further in Tulsa, Okla., last
spring by winning the NCAA title. They are favored to defend it in
College Station this weekend.

Baylor is 30-0 in 2005 and has won 54 matches in a row. In Becker, a
senior from Orscholz near Karlsruhe in far southwestern Germany, they
have the defending national singles champion who only plays No. 2 on
his own team. The grand irony of what has happened in Waco is that
these kids from myriad cultures have melded into a single culture, one
dedicated only to winning.

"There aren't a lot of different agendas here," Knoll said. "At some
places, its hard to get everybody going in the right direction. Here,
everybody is immersed in the team's success, trying to get on the same
page. For us, it's all about pulling together as a team and working as
hard as we can to achieve our goals."

Knoll readily admits there's nothing "sexy" about Waco. No surf. No ski
runs. No Sixth Street. Just tennis. Lots and lots of tennis. In the
fall, the Bears are routinely drilling by 6 a.m. As a lonely,
linguistically challenged, homesick and often physically exhausted
freshman, Becker admits he thought frequently of fleeing back to
Germany.

"I was afraid I had made a terrible mistake," he said. "But by the
second year, I was very happy with everything."


Won't be outworked

"I could not believe how hard it would be," said Matija Zgaga, who grew
up in Maribor, Slovenia, and lettered as a freshman last season. "Coach
says we work harder than anybody else. ... It must be true. I could not
imagine working any harder."

Knoll is clear about the kind of player he seeks to become a Bear.

"I don't take players who won't fit in," he said. "The way we do things
isn't for everybody."

If you're Vladimir Portnov, you don't leave Moscow for Waco just to
hang out. And Michal Kokta left behind another great European capital,
Prague, because he wanted to experience an American education. He's at
Baylor as much to study, he insists, as he is for the elite-level
tennis.

"I'm not thinking about a professional career," the 20-year-old
sophomore said. "There are too many other things I want to do, to
learn. Computers. Languages. Books to read. The tennis is great, of
course, but it's just part of why I'm here."


True student-athletes

The senior leaders on the team, Becker and the currently No. 2-ranked
Dorsch, are themselves stars in the classroom, too. Both sport
grade-point averages comfortably above 3.0 and will graduate from
Baylor with degrees in international business. They intend to chase
their tennis dreams on the ATP's satellite circuit for the near term,
but tennis isn't a be-all, end-all for either.

But they do need to repeat as NCAA champions to finish a remarkably
memorable chapter in proper fashion.

Last year's title was unexpected if not a shocking surprise because
Baylor entered the tournament ranked No. 3 but the Bears will be
marked young men at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center on the
weekend.

Everybody wants a piece of the Bears, starting with the host Aggies,
Baylor's Sweet 16 opponent this evening.

Still, as Knoll notes: "There's a certain belief issue. Once you've
done it ... you can't put a price tag on that."

dale.robertson@chron.com


Brought to you by the HoustonChronicle.com

biggmatt24
05-21-05, 02:40 PM
Very good article. It's good to get recognition for the athletic accomplishments, while also recognizing these guys are just as serious n the classroom. Good job guys!

My favorite quote:

"I could not believe how hard it would be," said Matija Zgaga, who grew
up in Maribor, Slovenia, and lettered as a freshman last season. "Coach
says we work harder than anybody else. ... It must be true. I could not
imagine working any harder."

Baylor Sinister
05-21-05, 02:52 PM
Wow, had the chills throughout the article. I'm very proud of our team and the young men who represent Baylor on the court and in the classroom.

Thank you, seniors. Finish the Job

tbear34
05-21-05, 09:30 PM
Wow, had the chills throughout the article. I'm very proud of our team and the young men who represent Baylor on the court and in the classroom.

Thank you, seniors. Finish the Job

All that Baylor Sinister said.

Thanks you gentlemen for an outstand experience.

You have made so many BU faithful proud;

and especially those of us who get out there and hack it three or four times a week. :flash:

ditka
05-21-05, 10:38 PM
"The schools that do pretty well don't seem to notice our approach as
much," said Knoll, the soon-to-be five-time Big 12 Coach of the Year.
"It's the schools who are underachieving that complain the most. ...
'

Ha Ha, Tim Cass at A&M has been Knoll's biggest and most vocal critic. What a cut!