Sosa following in the path of Garcia
With shared roots, former Louisville great continues mentorship of current U of L guard
Francisco Garcia had to check out Edgar Sosa's game, find out about this fellow Dominican who apparently had game back in New York.
So he went to Sosa's Senior Night game at Rice High in Harlem. Garcia was already in the NBA, a year removed from leading Louisville to the Final Four.
How many NBA players would do that?
Sure, there is a connection between high school players and the NBA that is tighter now than it's ever been because the players entering the league can be only a year or two removed from their high school prom. Still, the kinship that Garcia felt with Sosa is unique.
They shared a love for their native island and a comfort in their native Spanish language. They were a pair of transplanted New Yorkers with a connection to Louisville. Garcia had played for Rick Pitino's Cardinals. Sosa was about to do the same. Who else could prepare Sosa for what he was about to face?
"I committed [to Louisville] and he gave me a call one day," said Sosa, who is about to start his senior season as the leader of a team that has high aspirations again in 2009 after a clean sweep of the two conference titles (regular season and tournament) in '08.
"We just start talking about Louisville, about what it's like going to be playing for Coach P," Sosa said. "He said I could keep calling him for advice."
Sosa, who moved to New York from the Dominican at the age of 5, said the conversations took place about once a week. And then, on Senior Night, Sosa met Garcia in person.
"Everybody was talking about him, so I thought I should go meet Edgar," said Garcia, who is entering his fifth season with the Sacramento Kings. "When I was growing up, I had nobody to guide me through like that. I wanted to be there for him and build a relationship. It was great for me to meet a kid that was working so hard and that had so much talent."
Sosa is just 70 points shy of 1,000 in his career at Louisville. He has been a starter for most of his three seasons. But he has had his moments with Pitino. At one point, the coach challenged him about transferring. Pitino knows what buttons to push on players. So Sosa needed Garcia, since he understood Pitino better than most.
"I was trying to guide him through, because I know coach Pitino, I know the program," Garcia said. "I told him I would help him make it. Pitino is a tough coach. He wants to get the best out of his players. He's a big emotional coach and a great, great coach. He can get the best out of you. He did it with me every day, all day."
The communication between the two is constant.
"We became so close once I committed," Sosa said of the start of their relationship. "I always knew about him because we were from the same city, but since I committed we've been like brothers."
Garcia said the communication ranges from calls to text messages to e-mails.
Garcia said Felipe Lopez, who played at St. John's, opened the door for him, although they didn't have the same relationship. There have been other Dominicans of note lately, like Luis Flores (played at Manhattan College), Charlie Villanueva (starred at Connecticut before hitting the NBA) and, most notably, Al Horford (won two national titles at Florida before he made the jump to the league).
But the path from the Dominican Republic to college basketball doesn't always have to end with the NBA. Simply being a Division I college player from the D.R. is an achievement alone.
"The Dominican is such a poor country, and the opportunity to go to college and then maybe the NBA is such a short window," Garcia said. "You've got to take advantage of it. Every time I go back and talk to [players] I basically tell them that you've got to know somebody. I didn't have that so I want to be there to guide them."
Garcia said he played baseball as a youngster, but "I'm not going to lie, I wasn't that good." He quickly gravitated to hoops.
Both Sosa and Garcia have played on the Dominican Republic's junior national team, and the latter is now competing with the national team, along with Villanueva, Horford and Flores, among others. The team finished fifth at the FIBA Americas tournament in Puerto Rico in early September.
In Sacramento, Garcia has averaged 9.1 points per game for his career, making 44.1 percent of his shots. His average last season was 12.7 points, a number he could hit again under new coach Paul Westphal.
Sosa says that if he can reach the NBA like Garcia, it would mean "the world, not just for me, but also for my family and Dominicans in general -- Dominicans are becoming more noticed in basketball."
To do that, Sosa would have to have a special season. He'll have to be a true point guard, a selective shooter and a player who doesn't turn the ball over. He went on a decent stretch to close out last season, with 47 assists and 28 turnovers in his final 21 games.
Sosa will be paired in the backcourt, at various times, with senior Jerry Smith, junior Preston Knowles and freshman Peyton Siva. The departure of forwards Terrence Williams and Earl Clark means the perimeter will have to produce. Sosa said sophomore forward Samardo Samuels is ready to bust out with a more pronounced game because of his expanding midrange ability.
Still, the emphasis will be on the perimeter. Williams did so much for the Cards last season that his imprint will be hard to replace.
"I've been working so hard," Sosa said. "[Francisco] told me stories about how him and [former Louisville guard] Taquan Dean would sleep in the gym and use the [shooting] gun all night and never take rest. It's something that I've taken serious about my senior year. I want this to be the hardest year I've worked. I hope it pays off for me."
Garcia is confident it will. And if Sosa does produce in the manner in which he professes, he'll have a potential guide to deal with the anguish of playing professional basketball, regardless of the locale.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.