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A Shot Worth Taking

Leaving Slovakia for EIU has worked out perfectly for Sabina Oroszova.

Sabina Oroszova comes from a family of athletes. Considering she recently wrapped up a career placing her among the most prolific players in EIU women’s basketball history, that’s hardly surprising. What might catch you a bit more off-guard, however, is that nobody else in her family really had that much interest in the sport.

“I started playing when I was eight years old, and I was basically the only one from my family playing basketball,” remembers Oroszova, a business management student who grew up in Slovakia and had actually never been to the United States prior to attending Eastern. “Everybody else was focused on kayaking and canoe. My whole family was doing that sport.

“Many people in my family were very successful. Of course my mom and my dad made it to a couple nationals and my uncle actually made it to the Olympic games in Atlanta. So those were some people I looked up to. I knew how it is to be athlete, what the life of an athlete was going to be.”

Being quite tall, though, — Oroszova checks in at 6 feet, 2 inches — Sabina always caught the eye of basketball coaches, and it’s safe to say she made a good choice in pursuing the sport.

A three-year starter for the Panthers, she now sits second on EIU’s career rebounding list with 960, second on the career blocked shots list with 184, and at 1,279 points is the 14th highest scoring player in program history.

You can get a full rundown of Oroszova’s illustrious career on the athletic department’s website, and it’s worth checking out because the list of highlights – like her school record tying 38-point game against Bradley last season, her game-winning three-pointer against Jacksonville State this season, or her first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference standing as a senior – is filled with noteworthy information.

Keep this in mind, though: Oroszova’s statistics and athletic accomplishments are just one part of a much more amazing EIU experience. Traveling thousands of miles to get to Charleston, she’s successfully mastered an entirely different language and culture in her relatively short time stateside thanks in large part to the friendly nature of the campus community.

“There’s many challenges I had to face, like leaving my family, and another challenge was the language of course,” said Oroszova, better known as “Sabi” around campus. “I spoke a little English before I came here, but I was not fluent not confident. I would just be quiet and listening to people; trying to catch up on some phrase that I could use.

“I would not say it was difficult, just because so many good people were welcoming. I remember so many people came up to me at the first game and were like ‘We’re so happy for you to be here. We can't wait to see you grow and see you play games again.’ And those people always come to the games. Even though I'm done here, they always say ‘If you need help or anything just let us know. We are here for you.’ So, I really appreciate that about EIU community.”

So how did Oroszova end up at EIU?

“A recruiter saw me and was like ‘Hey I like your playing, would you like to come to the states and try to play for a university?’ And I was like ‘Of course.’ So after that we just went through paperwork, and schools trying to talk to me, and I chose Eastern Illinois.”

During her recruitment, Oroszova developed a good rapport with Rachel Galligan, a former player who at the time was an assistant on then-head coach Brady Sallee’s staff.

“I really made a really good relationship with her,” said Oroszova, who has since played for two more head coaches in Lee Buchanan and current coach Debbie Black. “We talked a lot on the Skype, or you know Facebook. We just made a relationship that made me like ‘Okay, this is where I want to go.’ I like the culture, I like the school, I like the people.”

Once she got to EIU, she realized the attitude toward sports and school is a little different here than back at home.

“I feel like America is more focused on sports,” said Oroszova, who said in Slovakia there were no school-affiliated teams but rather club teams. “They put much more money in it, and much more effort, and they invest money in athletes and just taking care of them.

“American schools are much different from Slovakian or European schools because they prepare you for life in general, not just for like one major or one specific thing. So that's why I think with my major in business management I can fit in anywhere.”

Oroszova describes herself as a hard worker on and off the court – she could often be found alone in the gym on a late-night shooting session and was recognized at the recent Student Athlete Honors Dinner for graduating with a grade point average between 3.25 and 3.49 (she says it was 3.4, to be exact).

Not that there hasn’t been a lot of fun, too.

“I love to hang out with my friends,” said Oroszova. “I was lucky enough to have great friends since I was a freshman; I have a senior and a junior best friends, so I'm just lucky enough to hang out with them for like three or four years. We built a great relationship.

“We just came back from Miami together, so that was a great time. We have always come up with something that’s fun. We like to go out to movies, just go bowling or something. We like to get together with other athletes and just play cards … just hang out.”

One way or another, Oroszova says her basketball career isn’t over.

“I'm trying to play pro,” she said. “I'm trying to maybe stay here and play for WNBA. If it doesn’t work out, I’m just going to go back to Europe and play there hopefully. I'm trying to stay on the basketball court as long as I can.

“Even if I didn't play, I would always try my best to stay around basketball – even like at a college as an assistant coach, or maybe a manager or something like that.”

And no matter what, she’s made connections here at EIU that’ll always tie her to the United States.

“I came here thinking ‘I'm going to come here for one year, let's see how it goes and then if I don't like it I'm just going to go home.’ And now I’ve been here for four years, and I'm still not ready to go home. I came here and everybody took me in.

“I’ll always have connections here, just like relationships with people, friends, my coaches – they are always going to be here for me. Once I’m done with basketball, my first call will be to Eastern. I believe I want to come back to the United States, maybe live here or move here or work here. Something.”

All in all, it’s safe to say Oroszova’s decision to become a Panther was a good one.

“It's great,” she said. “It always feels good to make my parents proud, make my coaches proud. People around have seen me grow and have seen me become who I am right now. It's really great.

“I've been here learning languages, meeting people, making connections … it’s just going to be always good and always going to be there forever.”

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