Some say George Mason's Moyo Kasim is the Akeem Olajuwon of volleyball. Kasim considers it a flattering comparison.
After all, Kasim is from the same country as Olajuwon and spikes much the same way his friend slam-dunks: With authority.
"I'm a very aggressive person on the court," said Kasim, who is from Lagos, Nigeria. "With all the publicity I've been getting, I feel that I'm like him sometimes."
Kasim, who at 6 feet 6 carries 198 pounds and an amiable smile, played basketball with Olajuwon, now a center with the NBA's Houston Rockets, in Nigeria before coming to the United States. It was, however, his uncle in Brooklyn and friends in Rhode Island who lured him to this country in 1982.
To George Mason and Coach Ron Shayka, what matters is he chose the Fairfax campus, and he helped the Patriots to the final four of the NCAA playoffs his first two years. This season, he is a junior and the team took a 7-0 record and No. 7 national ranking into last night's match against Southern California.
A crowd of 1,200 saw Kasim, a middle blocker, display his skills but third-ranked Southern Cal beat the Patriots in the East vs. West tournament at Patriot Center, 13-15, 13-15, 15-13, 15-11, 15-13.
UCLA beat Ball State, 8-15, 15-5, 15-5, 15-2, and plays George Mason at 8 this evening after a 6 p.m. USC-Ball State match.
It was a letter from friends that prompted Kasim to come to America. "They said a lot was over here," he said.
"I came with the intent of spending a few weeks. I just wanted to shop around, buy things. After I saw him (Olajuwon) play a few times, I said, 'Maybe it's possible that I will stay.' "
Kasim and Olajuwon, who attended the University of Houston, met at basketball camps in Nigeria. Kasim is a good basketball player, and Olajuwon tried to persuade him to concentrate on the more practical sport.
"We're really close," said Kasim. "We talked on the phone (overseas). When I came here, he left me with three tickets when they played the Bullets.
"He was really surprised when I chose volleyball. He said that (basketball is) where the money is. But the seasons overlap, so I can't play both. The motive behind (choosing volleyball) was that back home I made the national team. I got to travel, and I started to like it.
"To be a volleyball player, you have to be a great athlete," said Kasim, a preseason first-team all-America pick whose vertical jump is 39 inches. "A volleyball player can play any sport. What makes it so interesting is the way people play. It's so fast."
But Kasim, who has been known to get into pickup basketball games around campus, said, "I have been thinking a lot about (playing basketball in the future). I'll have to see how it goes."
Kasim, son of the king of Epe, Nigeria, Alhaji Oba M.D. Kasim, said he will play volleyball on his country's national team this summer.
"I get homesick sometimes," he said. "I haven't been home in three years. But I like this country a whole lot. If I get a chance, I'll stay here after I graduate.
"I remember when I was back home. The day I was coming here was when the government overturned. I don't want to take a chance again."