Anatoly Bose has come a long way
Nicholls State's Anatoly Bose is one of the most prolific scorers in America, yet he's virtually unseen.
Raised on a farm in Kazakhstan and a beach-town suburb of Sydney, Bose is doing his best these days to bring recognition to a program based in tiny Thibodaux, La. Featuring a diversity in his game rather befitting an international man of mystery, the 6-foot-6 senior swingman ranks third in the nation in scoring, averaging 25 points per game, and accounts for nearly 37 percent of the team's points.
"It's not a fluke," Colonels coach J.P. Piper said of Bose's success. "It's not an accident. The greatest legacy he'll leave is of putting the work in."
Bose's metamorphosis from an obscure college prospect who received only two Division I scholarship offers to an obscure pro prospect who after last season declared for the NBA draft is also very much defined by fortuitous circumstances.
He might have never developed a passion for basketball had it not been for his mother's idea to have the family leave Kazakhstan and emigrate to New York in search of opportunity when he was 6 years old.
In Brooklyn's Russian-speaking community and basketball-rich culture, Bose grew up following the Knicks-Pacers rivalry and was hooked on playing "NBA Live 95" for Sega Genesis. At that young age and speaking limited English, he often found it difficult getting time on the playground courts.
"I grew up watching people play in the park, trying to get in a game," said Bose, who eventually joined a Russian youth basketball league.
Even at age 12, when Bose and his family moved to the Sydney suburb of Bondi in Australia, he kept tabs on college stars such as Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick on the Internet, then decided midway through his high school career that he wanted to return to the United States to play.
However, the first objective was to get noticed. So he took the initiative and wrote to Division I and Division II coaches across America, sending out nearly 600 letters to introduce them to his background and his basketball accomplishments Down Under.
Most of the coaches never got back to Bose, and the ones who did mainly asked for game video or politely informed him that their recruiting classes were filled. But Nicholls State assistant coach Martin Unger, who would spend only one season at the school, grew curious about the e-mail he received from Bose.
"So we got a guy that was from Russia, came to the states and was now in Australia?" wondered Unger, who thought the Aussie's time spent in New York might help him adjust more easily than the average foreign prospect.
Unger responded, and as it turned out, Bose somehow had heard of the small-town Southland Conference school that sits in the heart of Cajun Country.
"I actually had," said Bose, who knew that Sydney native Stefan Blaszczynski had been a former standout guard at Nicholls State. "It automatically jumped to me."
Unger eventually flew to Australia to watch the under-20 nationals in Ballarat, and while laying eyes on Bose for the first time in a foreign gym more than 9,000 miles from Louisiana, he immediately noticed the skinny shooter's athleticism and assertiveness.
On the surface, though, Unger tried not to appear too interested because there was one other American recruiter in the gym. David Patrick was Unger's predecessor at Nicholls State and had previously helped Piper turn the school into a destination for Australian recruits but was working on doing the same as an assistant coach for Saint Mary's.
"I hoped David Patrick didn't like [Bose]," Unger said with a laugh. "I wanted David to understand he wasn't good enough."
Unger was so convinced of the fit that he implored Piper to sign Bose off a highlight DVD even as he was taking another job. He was so worried about spoiling the perfect match with his departure that he didn't bother informing the prized import.
Bose, whose only other Division I offer came from Portland, jumped at the opportunity without visiting Nicholls State or knowing that the coach who recruited him there would eventually leave the program (Unger didn't know he was leaving while in Australia scouting Bose).
He was homesick at first and needed time to get acclimated on the court. Nicholls State runs a five-out motion offense without true post players and relies on both its forwards to have face-up and post-up games. As a freshman, Bose preferred to merely catch and shoot rather than take bumps and bruises.
Piper pushed Bose not to be so one-dimensional, but it took more than a nudge for him to get the wake-up call. In August before his sophomore season, and while on a getaway at Toledo Bend Lake with friends, Bose hit a ditch and flipped the four-wheeler he was riding. It sent him to the hospital with a broken collarbone and a scraped-up back from a hard landing on the gravel.
"It was pretty stupid," Bose said. "I knew Coach was going to kill me."
Instead, Piper set him straight. "He was lucky to be alive," Piper said. "We had a great heart-to-heart on what he stood to lose. It really grounded him. He became more focused after that."
Bose subsequently spent his time plotting his comeback as a multifaceted scorer. He added muscle to get up to 200 pounds, allowing him to attack the rim and comfortably draw contact. He studied game video to learn how to craftily run off screens.
He also cooped himself up in the gym, working to fine-tune his 3-point shot and free throw shooting. "I try to work at more my weaknesses than my strengths," Bose said. "I'll never just work on one thing."
As a result, Bose became a starter during his sophomore year. As a junior, he finished 16th in the nation in points (21.1 points per game), tied a single-season school record by draining 86 3-pointers and led the Colonels in rebounding (6.0 rebounds per game).
Bose declared for the NBA draft to gain some publicity, and even though no teams worked him out, he was able to improve his explosiveness during the offseason based on a tip Piper received from an NBA-level trainer. Using a Bosu ball to strengthen his ankles, Bose has picked up inches on his vertical leap.
With such a versatile go-to guy on the floor, Piper invites opponents to pick their poison. Put a guard on Bose, and he can go to the block. Against bigger defenders, he can be quick off the dribble. He also shoots nearly 85 percent from the line.
Behind the gaudy numbers Bose has put up, Nicholls State is 5-4 this season after an 11-win campaign in 2009-10. In consecutive games on the road last month (against Oklahoma State and LSU), he scored a combined 65 points.
"He's to me what college basketball is about," LSU coach Trent Johnson said after Bose's 28-point performance helped beat the Tigers. "He's a guy that's not overly strong, he's not big, he's not physical, he's not overly athletic, but he understands how to play this game."
Not even the recruiter who unearthed Bose and recognized his promise could have predicted the dramatic emergence. "I knew he had skill," said Unger, now an assistant at UMKC. "I knew he was athletic. I did envision him doing a lot of other things.
"I never dreamed he'd be doing what he's doing right now."
Said the shaggy-haired and soft-spoken Bose: "It's a dream come true."
Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.