Koundjia Carries Pain, Pride on Path to GW

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Regis Koundjia was 8 years old when his father, a diplomat for the troubled Central African Republic, arrived home feeling ill. At first Regis, his mom and eight older siblings didn't think much of it.

"Then he got sicker and sicker," the George Washington University junior forward recalled this week. "There was nothing we could do, nothing the doctors could do. After two weeks, that was it."

The family suspected Fidele Koundjia, who had traveled around the world representing his impoverished country, had consumed a drink poisoned by a political enemy.

"After that, I just didn't trust anybody," said Regis Koundjia, now 22. "People say something, they do something different. I am comfortable around people here in America, but I am careful about what I say. I protect myself. I have to take care of myself."

Koundjia has carried that memory with him from the Central African Republic, to prep schools in Ohio and North Carolina, to Louisiana State, and finally to GW.

After transferring to Foggy Bottom early last year, he became eligible to play in late December and has emerged as an influential player off the bench for the eighth-ranked and once-beaten Colonials, averaging 15 minutes, 5.1 points and 3 rebounds.

"Knowing all he's been through to get here, it's an extra responsibility on me to make sure he succeeds," Coach Karl Hobbs said. "There's so much he can do not only for himself, but for his family and his country."

Koundjia's first love was soccer -- "I am nice in soccer," he said with a laugh. "I can score goals." -- but as he grew to 6 feet 8, he saw a future in basketball. He arrived in the United States five years ago and had not returned home until last summer, when he was invited to play for the Central African Republic's national team.

Pride in his country and continent runs deep.

"Some people, when you say you are from Africa, they say, 'Oh, the jungle,' " he said. "They don't know. They just watch TV. When they show the Africa image on TV, they only show the bad part. Africa is not all like that."

The Central African Republic, however, has had severe problems since gaining independence from France in 1960 -- coups, strict military rule, lawlessness in rural areas and the spread of AIDS. Life expectancy is 43, among the lowest in the world.

For Koundjia, things were a little better. Although his father usually traveled abroad by himself, the entire family lived in the Ivory Coast for a few years, and several of his siblings eventually settled in Europe.

Koundjia has found the United States to his liking. He first was enrolled at a prep school in Dayton, Ohio, but then transferred to Laurinburg (N.C.) Institute, where he averaged 20 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists as a senior.

At LSU, Koundjia started 20 of 27 games as a freshman in 2003-04 but saw his playing time curtailed early last season. He decided to transfer, selecting GW over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Georgetown.

Perhaps his biggest challenge is understanding Hobbs's system.

"I was a little bit confused with the plays," he said. "But now when I am in the game, [Hobbs] knows what I know so he calls the safe plays."

Added Hobbs: "The best is yet to come. Each game he's becoming more relaxed and comfortable with what we're trying to do. He's still learning all those things, so now he's not using his natural abilities as opposed to figuring out where he's supposed to be.

"Once he gets past that, you are going to see some amazing things come out."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company