Stradnieks adjusts to American style

Stradnieks adjusts to American style

By Evan Jones, @EvanJones_DE

At 17 years old, SIU freshman forward Rudy Stradnieks picked up and moved half-way around the world to follow his dream of playing collegiate basketball. 

After traveling 3,811 miles from Riga, Latvia to Lee, Maine, he finished his senior year of high school at Lee Academy so American university coaches could get a better look at his basketball. 

“I wanted to come play for a university,” Stradnieks said. “If I’m in America, coaches can see me in person. It’s much easier to communicate in person.” 

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He started watching American movies and cartoons as a kid to learn English. Stradnieks said “Home Alone” movies were his favorite, and taught him the most about American culture.

He said he has trouble understanding English in business classes, but communication isn’t much a problem in basketball. 

“I don’t even have to speak on the court anymore,” he said. “Right now we understand each other. We have a great chemistry.” 

That chemistry also extends off the court.

Junior center Bola Olaniyan has matched up with Stradnieks in practice. Stradnieks said Olaniyan is the most physical player he has defended.

“When I fight with Bola in practice, once I get into the game it’s easy,” he said.

The physicality of Olaniyan has taught Stradnieks how to play defense in America he said. 

Off the court, Olaniyan and Stradnieks hang out and play video games. 

The two play “NBA 2K” together — Olaniyan plays with Lebron James and the Cavaliers while Rudy opts for Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Sometimes I win, sometimes he wins,” Olaniyan said. “[Stradnieks] is a good guy, and a cool guy to hang out with. It’s good to chill and just relax.” 

Stradnieks is one of two true freshmen on the basketball team this season. He has played in 43 minutes while freshman guard Sean Lloyd has played in six.

He played in 14 minutes and blocked two shots in the last two games against UTEP and Portland.  

The big lights of SIU Arena might intimidate most freshmen, but Stradnieks has experience playing in large arenas. 

He played in the FIBA European Championships for the Latvian national team in Italy, Egypt and Spain. In the 2014 European Championships in Italy he averaged 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds a game. He had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the ninth-place game against Lithuania.

Stradnieks said he is always excited to play in SIU Arena. 

“I know the people in the stands are thirsty for wins, so we’re going to try our best.”

Evan Jones can be reached at [email protected], 536-3304, or on Twitter @EvanJones_DE

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