DECKHEAD Former Saluki star Ashraf Amaya has made a name for himself all over the world, but he’ll never forget his roots at SIU

By Gus Bode

It was 1993 and the SIU men’s basketball team had not been to the NCAA tournament in 16 years. On March 8 in St. Louis, the Salukis battled a tough Illinois State squad for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title and a spot in the Big Dance.

Just before tip-off, senior forward Ashraf Amaya leaned into the SIU huddle and guaranteed his teammate, senior guard Tyrone Bell, that the Salukis would be victorious.

“He told Tyrone, ‘you take care of the guards and I’ll take care of the meat and potatoes and we’re gonna win this thing,'” said assistant coach Rodney Watson.

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SIU went off to defeat the Redbirds 70-59 and advanced to the NCAA tourney, where it was blown out by perennial powerhouse Duke in the first round.

The season, however, was still a success for the Dawgs, especially for their star forward. The NCAA berth was the culmination of a four-year odyssey in which SIU made it to the National Invitation Tournament three times and Amaya earned all-conference honors three times.

He was named Freshman of the Year in 1990, Player of the Year in 1992 and Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 and 1993.

Amaya finished his career with 1,137 rebounds, which placed him second in the SIU record books. He is also third all-time in scoring with 1,864 points, just two points ahead of current Saluki star Kent Williams.

Amaya’s career statistics are even more impressive considering that many of his teammates were as big of threats as him.

“He scored over 1,800 points and got over 1,200 rebounds at a time when he was playing with other people that could rebound and score,” said former teammate Rick Shipley. “It wasn’t as if he was a one-man show for any team he played on, yet he was able to put up monster numbers.”

Much of Amaya’s high output can be attributed to his positive work ethic.

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One of the first images that Shipley recalled when thinking about his former frontcourt mate was that of Amaya working out.

“You’d see him in the weight room, and he was always there before you got there and he was always there after you left,” Shipley said. “He was always one of the last guys to leave practice.”

Amaya said he had a lot of good memories from his time at SIU, but the one that stuck out the most are those that are negative.

He regrets not earning a degree, but more than that, he wishes he would have set his standards higher for himself.

“As I look back on it now, I pretty much coasted through, which is sad to say because I’ve been blessed with a tremendous amount of god-given talent,” Amaya said. “I’ve only pushed myself to a certain point. Since I’ve become a professional, I realized how hard I should have been working.”

Amaya was the most dominant player in the Valley for two years and also one of the top players in the nation. But he went undrafted and was forced to play in the Continental Basketball Association for a year and in Greece for another year before he earned a spot in the NBA with the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995.

He bounced around the league for three seasons and played with five different teams including the Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Washington Bullets and Detroit Pistons.

“Any time you’re undrafted, any time you don’t have that protection of a team showing interest in you, it’s hard,” Amaya said. “So for myself, I pretty much had to go improve myself, so when I was fortunate enough to make a team, I pretty much had to knock heads and prove myself.”

In 1998, Amaya, who did not have a contract at the time, earned a spot on the U.S. national team. The NBA Players Association was on strike and its members were replaced by unsigned players, which led to a lot of resentment toward Amaya and his teammates.

After earning a disappointing bronze medal at the world championships, Amaya returned to the States and could not find an NBA team that would take a chance on him.

Disillusioned by all that he had dealt with in the league, Amaya fled overseas to play in Europe.

The change of scenery has done wonders for his game.

Amaya has averaged more than 15.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in his five years in Italy and Greece. He has been named to several all-conference teams and earned a spot in an all-star game. He also was a member of a Greek League champion in 2001.

While his career is on the upswing, so is his personal life. On Jan. 22, his wife of three years, Faye, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a girl they named Ariel.

Amaya is currently in his native Chicago rehabbing an injury while supervising his real estate investment and property management businesses.

He plans to return to Europe soon and sign on with another team. Even though he is having a good time overseas, Amaya knows it is incomparable to succeeding in America, and he still wants another chance to prove himself in the NBA.

“[Europe’s] been great and I’ve enjoyed it,” Amaya said. “There’s no comparison. It’s night and day. The NBA would be the penthouse, and I guess Europe would be, if you’re in a good situation, a very comfortable hotel room.”

No matter whether Amaya makes it in the NBA ever again, his former teammates and coaches know that he has already accomplished something that few people ever get the chance to do.

“We’re proud of him,” Watson said. “You get a guy to practice with an NBA team, that’s a great honor, but for a guy to play in the NBA for two years, he’s had a great career.”

Reporter Todd Merchant can be reached at

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