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Meet the Warriors: Vander Joaquim

Vander Joaquim is a fast learner.

It is how he adapted to an American lifestyle in just three years. It is how he figured out how to speak English despite knowing “zero words” when he moved to California from Angola in 2007.

And it is how he has emerged as the starting center for the Hawaii basketball team in his first season of NCAA Division I basketball.

“I just go out and try to play hard, do what the coaches tell me,” said Joaquim, a 6-foot-10 sophomore center.

Most recently, Joaquim has filled a role as the team’s top rebounder. Senior forward Bill Amis missed the last two games with a foot injury, and Joaquim stepped up to grab 27 total rebounds in those two games.

“I think Vander can be a heck of a player for us,” Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold said. “He’s still learning the game, which is good. It means he can grow and get better and better.”

That is one of the reasons why Joaquim decided to come to America for his final two years of high school. Both he and his parents realized that his best opportunity to develop as a basketball player was in the United States, so he left Angola in 2007 despite not knowing any English.

“I had to take (English) classes all day just to learn how to talk to people,” he said. “It was hard. It was really hard.”

Because he could not take regular classes during his junior and senior years of high school, he did not immediately qualify for a NCAA Division I scholarship and instead had to enroll at College of Eastern Utah. In his one year of school there, he earned enough credits to qualify for a scholarship to Hawaii.

Joaquim said he still struggles with some English words, but he has otherwise adapted to life in America. He listens to rap and hip-hop music; he watches the same television shows as his teammates – Family Guy and SportsCenter, in particular.

“I like it here,” he said. “But I miss my family, too.”

In his three-plus years in the United States, Joaquim has attended schools in California, West Virginia, Utah, and now Hawaii. He has not returned to Angola in that time.

He said he stays in contact with his parents and two brothers via telephone and computer, but it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a long time; I would like to go back to visit my family, but they know I am here to play basketball and go to school,” he said.

Associate coach Walter Roese and senior center Douglas Kurtz, who are both from Brazil, have aided Joaquim’s adjustment to Hawaii. The official language of both Angola and Brazil is Portuguese, so those three often converse together in that language.

“Yeah, that helps,” Joaquim said. “I knew Coach Roese for a long time. He helps me a lot.”

Arnold is hoping the development of Joaquim continues at its current pace.

“I said he could become one of the top centers in the WAC by the time he’s a senior, and I really think he could,” Arnold said.

(Photos by Brandon Flores)

4 Comments

  1. Will all the Meet the Warriors posts be tagged, grouped, or categorized in the future so they can more easily be found? Or how about a “related posts” widget that lists other Meet the Warriors posts?

  2. Good suggestion geewhy. Will see what we can do. Maybe put them along the left side rail with the other topics. Thanks.

  3. That would be great if they were grouped. Thanks for posting these and keep it up.

  4. Vander is having a great season. It’s great to see his development on the offensive end. Arnold isn’t kidding about him being one of the best big men in the wac by the time he leaves. If he keeps developing, he might be one of the best big men period. Go bows!

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