If Orlando Johnson gets a little homesick while he's in China as a member of Team USA at the World University Games, he won't have to go far to touch base with one of his UCSB teammates.
Gaucho center Greg Somogyi is also in China and will represent his native Hungary at the Games. Somogyi has been a member of Hungary's national team at a variety of levels, but none come close to comparing to the World University Games opportunity.
"All the competitions I've played at before were restricted to Europe," Somogyi said. "This global event is yet another milestone for me. As always, it is a great honor to be selected to represent my country."
UCSB head coach Bob Williams believes that his 7-foot-3 center is prepared to have a major impact for his national team and then, down the road, for the Gauchos.
"There has been a real transformation in Greg," Williams said. "His approach in working out, improving his body and improving his game has been huge. I think the realization that he has a great opportunity has been profound."
There is no doubt that Somogyi understands the importance of the opportunities that lie ahead of him, first in China and then in the U.S.
"I think this event will give me great international exposure as a player, so I'm hoping to raise some awareness about myself and my abilities," he said. "I want to put my name on the list of many scouts. I'm also looking forward to the experience of playing a couple games before the Gaucho season starts so I can be confident and prepared going into my last year at UCSB."
Somogyi has set some very specific goals that he hopes he can achieve from his experience on the world stage.
"As I talked with Coach Williams about my goals, he suggested that I focus on playing through adversity and sustaining a constant effort," Somogyi recalled. "From my past experience with international referees, I'm expecting a lot of adversity, so it will be a great opportunity to practice keeping my composure. I'm hoping to come back with no regrets and I hope my teammates will respect me more as a player."
"I think Greg can put up numbers and compete with some of the best players in the world," Williams said. "He has spent the last five months preparing and he's ready. I think Greg looks at this opportunity as a springboard for his senior year. I know I do."
Somogyi, who has led the Big West in blocked shots each of the last two years and ranks third all-time at UCSB in the category, seems poised to "springboard" himself into his best year as a collegiate player. His work in the offseason has included regular tutorials from former Gaucho great and Los Angeles Lakers forward Don Ford. As a result, he harbors more confidence than ever before, particularly on the offensive end of the floor.
"I've worked a lot on my mid-range jump shot, both by myself and with the help of Don Ford, so right now, I'm most confident about that part of my game," he said. "I've been working on a number of inside moves too, but have not really had the chance to try them out in a real game situation, so I'm hoping that I will be able to perfect them in China."
"I feel he's very talented and will have a great senior year," Ford said. "He's a great mid-range shooter, runs the floor well and is a fantastic shot-blocker. I'm honestly excited for him."
Williams is excited that Somogyi will have the chance to test his game against some of the best young players that the world has to offer.
"The fact that he is so confident as he goes into the Games is great," Williams said. "I think it's also a great thing that Hungary is in the same pool as the U.S. and that he will get to play against Orlando (Johnson) and the rest of what could be the best team at the competition."
That a match-up with his Gaucho teammate looms on Aug. 14 is not lost on Somogyi and he is delighted that Johnson made Team USA.
"I was really happy for Orlando when I heard he made the traveling team," he said. "It is a great opportunity for him and I don't know a person who deserves it more."
Is he excited about playing the American squad?
"I'm glad we have the chance to go up against Team USA," Somogyi said. "They are, without a doubt, the favorites at this tournament."
While he is keyed-up to play Team USA, he believes his Hungarian teammates are even more thrilled.
"I'm sure my Hungarian teammates are a lot more excited than I am because, unlike me, they have never had the chance to play against players of this caliber," Somogyi said. "I'm looking at it as more of a personal challenge. I want to be able to compete with their post players and, hopefully, surprise some people with my performance."
One thing is for certain, with his confidence in tow, one person Somogyi won't surprise is himself.
Somogyi, Johnson and the rest of the UCSB basketball team will be aiming for their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011-12. The Gauchos will play a great home schedule that includes match-ups against national powers UNLV and San Diego State, as well the usual exciting Big West schedule. Season tickets will be on sale soon and to find out more information, click here.