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Lasisi cleans up with new chance at Whitworth

Even Whitworth has its dirty laundry.

When basketball practice is over, the players hit the books and their sweaty jerseys hit the hamper. Idris Lasisi stays behind to take extra free throws: One by one, he tosses them into the washing machine. Money!

“I don’t mind it, since I’m here anyway,” said Lasisi, the Pirates’ second-leading scorer, who also sweeps the practice courts while the team’s laundry spins and dries.

The whole scene seems coincidental, since Lasisi – an honors student from Belgium who speaks three languages – was hung out to dry two years ago by the NCAA as he pursued a dream of playing basketball at a four-year school in the United States.

After stops at two junior colleges, including North Idaho College, he was back home last summer “with his plans up in the air,” according to first-year Whitworth coach Matt Logie.

Isisi’s plans now include helping the Pirates win another Northwest Conference title and earn his degree in international business. Laundry and custodial work – 18 hours a week – help pay the bills in the meantime. He puts in a couple of more each week as a French-language tutor.

“Twenty hours, that’s all I’m allowed as a foreigner,” he says, implying he could work more.

Through skill and circumstance, he’s a key part of a team that’s ranked 10th in this week’s Division 3 poll, averaging 16.4 points and helping lead the Pirates to a key road sweep of Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound last weekend. His eligibility exhausted, this will be his only season at Whitworth, and he’s making it count.

Lasisi, 23, the son of a Nigerian father and Belgian mother, grew up in Leuven, near Brussels, and during high school made the practice squad with a local team in the Belgian Pro-Am League.

“I played at the end, when we were up by 30 or down by 30,” Lasisi said. “I only played a total of 18 minutes.”

A chance meeting with an American coach in December 2008 led to an offer the following summer from Sheridan (Wyo.) Junior College. “I sent them a video and a week later I was gone,” Lasisi said.

Amid the cowboy culture and eight-hour bus trips, Lasisi averaged 10 points and three rebounds to help the Generals finish 27-7. His shooting touch caught the eye of scouts from the University of Montana, and in June 2010, the Grizzlies signed him to a three-year scholarship, pending NCAA approval.

After several months, it finally came. Lasisi expected to sit out four games as a penalty for the semipro appearances in Belgium, but the NCAA saw it differently – 39 games, or better than two games for every minute of pro-am garbage time.

“I felt I was powerless,” Lasisi said, “since I had the grades and the talent, so I felt it was kind of unfair.”

Worse, he couldn’t go back to Sheridan, which had filled its scholarship limit for the following year.

“But I decided to keep going and look at other options,” and found one at NIC. “I had an average year, but learned a lot of things.”

Short of funds and options, he went home at the end of the school year.

Meanwhile Logie heard about Lasisi from an NIC assistant during an AAU event last July in the Seattle area. Logie, barely two months into the job, filed that away for future reference, since “with the transition there’s a million things going on.”

They connected, exchanging phone calls and videos.

“We got to know each other and jumped through all the hoops,” Logie said. “I just found him to be the prototypical student-athlete. He’s all-academic everywhere he’s been, and just exemplifies the student-athlete.”

Lasisi jumped on a plane, and was admitted at Whitworth without knowing he would ever play a game.

This time the path was open.

“He’s been a fantastic addition to the team,” Logie said. “He has the talent and experience, and he’s worked hard to integrate himself with the returning guys.”

“It’s a great group of guys,” Lasisi said. “We get along great and we want to win a conference championship.”

And after that?

“It would be hard to play pro ball,” said Lasisi, meaning that it makes more sense to come back to Whitworth next fall and earn his degree in international business. “I’ve seen people be successful in that.”

One dream fulfilled, he’s already looking ahead to another.

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