OGDEN — For the last several months, many college basketball coaches have dealt with at least some anxiety regarding their international players.
Some programs are bringing in international players who will be new to the United States. Some had returning international players stay on campus, while others saw players return home in the spring during the uncertainty of the developing coronavirus pandemic.
Resultant travel bans from President Donald Trump have prohibited travel into the United States from 34 countries, including many European locales where international college basketball players live.
At Weber State, returning players Michal Kozak, from the Czech Republic, and Donatas Kupsas, from Lithuania, remained on campus to wait out the pandemic.
But several months ago, incoming WSU transfers Balint Mocsan and Seikou Sisoho Jawara returned home to Hungary and Spain, respectively — countries where people cannot currently travel directly to the United States — and have been waiting to learn how they could return to attend Weber State.
“Two months ago, I was worried. I didn’t know if we were going to make it,” Sisoho Jawara told the Standard-Examiner. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to get back to the United States.”
Those travel bans have had many basketball coaches scrambling. UConn women’s basketball has three international players, The Associated Press reported on July 1, trying to get to the United States. One couldn’t get a visa because their embassy was closed, amid other travel problems.
Because Mocsan (Idaho State) and Sisoho Jawara (Loyola Marymount) have been playing college basketball in the states, they already have the requisite visas and immigration forms. They just need a green light to fly.
For some time, coaches at WSU and elsewhere mulled a workaround, figuring out how to send their players to a country not banned from travel into the United States, have them quarantine for 14 days, then fly to the U.S. and quarantine again.
“If I had to do it, if it was the only way to get to the United States, I was ready to do it,” Sisoho Jawara said. “But it was almost a one-month process.”
As Weber State opened required summer camp Monday with 10 of its 13 scholarship players (with Kham Davis recovering from injuries suffered in a car crash), new hope and a simpler process had emerged to get Mocsan and Sisoho Jawara to join their teammates in Ogden.
International students now have a process to fly back to the United States, head coach Randy Rahe says, which involves vetting their paperwork and enrollment through the United States embassies in their respective countries.
“That just went into place about a week ago. ... Some of the embassies are confused about what they need to have, there’s some red tape to get through,” Rahe said. “But we think we’re going to be fine, we just don’t know exactly when it will be done. Those kids have put their information into the embassies, now they’re just waiting on verification that they’re OK to come back.”
Mocsan and Sisoho Jawara should be able to arrive early to mid-August, they hope.
“They already attended school here, they already have everything they need. If you’re a new player, there’s a lot more, it sounds like, to get that to happen,” Rahe said.
Meanwhile, Sisoho Jawara keeps doing what he has for the last several months: work out with a trainer in Spain and do as much as he can to be ready. He sees his teammates post about workouts on Instagram and stays in touch with many of them, with Kozak and Mocsan at the top of that list.
“It’s not the same, working out here without my teammates and all that, but I’m doing what I can,” Sisoho Jawara said. “We know the situation so I understand what’s going on, I understand why I’m not there yet. I don’t feel sorry for myself when I see them working out. I just think soon I’ll be there working out and we’ll have a great season.
“I see them working out over there, so I’m working out over here, and everybody will be ready for the season.”