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Ghafari Leaves a Lasting Impression

By Daniel Herrick

That is all: Mark Ghafari ''14 walks off of the court at the end of his final game as a student following a season-ending loss to Hope College.

             The phrase “go out with a bang” is apt to describe men’s basketball senior Mark Ghafari. In his final game for the Kalamazoo College Hornets, Ghafari broke the school’s single-game scoring record by two points as he posted 46 on the road at Alma in the last game of the year. The record, previously held by John Schelske, was set in 1981.

             As crazy as it may seem, these are performances that we as fans were able to get used to seeing from Ghafari this season. The record-setting game against the Scots was his third 40-point outing of the season. Against Alma, Ghafari finished with a final stat line of 46 points, three rebounds, one steal and shot 13/23 from the field, 4/12 from three-point and a perfect 16/16 at the free throw line.

             In regards to the Alma game, Ghafari said, “At halftime I had like 11 or 12, nothing spectualar, and I came out of halftime and made my first three. I got a couple of easy buckets around the rim and then all of a sudden I looked up and had like 35.” He added, “I don’t think about it though. I just kept playing.”

             While Ghafari has spoiled us with his playing this season, an injury almost stole the senior’s opportunity to finish out his career on his terms. Playing at Hope on February 3, Ghafari felt a pain in his knee as he made a move to the basket. Originally, trainers thought it could be a torn meniscus—an injury that could have potentially required surgery and subsequently ruled him out for the year. The knee was enough to sideline Ghafari for the team’s next three games. However, he would return on a swollen knee to play the team’s final three games.

             The 46-point outing was just a glimpse of what Ghafari is capable of on a basketball court. He lead the MIAA in scoring this year with an average of 24.0 PPG. The next closest player finished with a final average of 15.6, nearly three points lower than Ghafari’s 19.1 scoring average in his junior season.

             The return from injury and subsequent explosion in the final game allowed Ghafari to move into the top-five of all-time scorers at K. His four-year total was 1,444 points, good for fifth of all-time.

             In addition to his spot among the top five scorers all-time, Ghafari holds the school record for free throws made in a game (23), consecutive free throws made in a game (18) and total free throws attempted in a game (24). All three records were set in a 38-point outing earlier this season against Depauw.

             Ghafari finished among the nation’s top-seven scorers in NCAA Division III and was among the top two early in the season when he trailed only Grinnell’s Jack Taylor, a player who has been featured on ESPN for some outrageous scoring totals and questionable team tactics surrounding passing. Among all three NCAA divisions, Ghafari’s 24.0 point per game would tie for the 11th highest average.

             Supreme scorers such as Ghafari can often be labeled as selfish players or gun-slingers in basketball circles. However, anyone who has had the pleasure to get to know Ghafari can immediately shut down any misconceived idea of egotism. With all the hype surrounding his senior season and individual accolades, it would be easy to focus on personal success.

             When he spoke about this season though, he didn’t talk about the three MIAA Player of the Week awards he secured (20 percent of the awards this season). Instead, he mentioned one idea immediately: the basketball program.

             “The program took a step in the right direction,” said Ghafari. “They have so much talent, they just need to keep working hard. And the talent level will keep rising every year Coach is here.”

             The program is certainly on the upswing, as evidenced by a very talented freshman class; however, replacing Ghafari will be a tall task for the Hornets. Players such as this do not come around often at Kalamazoo College. Only four players in College history have been able to surpass the scoring output posted by Ghafari. He also needed just 43 rebounds to become the 7th player all-time to join the 1,000-point-500-rebound club.

             Ghafari already held the record for three-pointers made in a season after he drilled 69 last season. His 58 makes from this season allowed him to move into second place all-time for total threes made. And if it weren’t for unfortunate injury, the opportunity to set the single-season scoring record was a very real possibility as he finished just 74 points behind the 22-year-old record.

             The admiration of Ghafari’s skill-set extends beyond the pages of this paper and into the world of FIBA Basketball. Present for Ghafari’s record-setting day was an agent who represents players in the Lebanese Professional Basketball league. The agent, Jad Saadeh, will represent Ghafari to Lebanese professional teams after signing a deal days after the season ended.

             Ghafari will visit Lebanon over spring break to meet with management from teams about a potential contract for next season. Due to his dual-citizenship status in the United States and Lebanon, Ghafari can legally occupy a roster spot designated for domestic players. Under FIBA rules, teams are allowed only a set number of international players on their rosters; this works in Ghafari’s favor as many of the international roster spots are reserved for Division One players blessed with 6’10” frames.

             Among the current well-known players in Lebanon are many former-NBA players. For example, former Rutgers star Quincy Douby recently signed with Al Hekmeh Beirut to return to the league after spending time in the Chinese professional league. Douby was an NBA first-round pick to the Sacramento Kings in 2006. The current leading scorer in the league, Hassan Whiteside, was also a former draft pick of Sacramento’s. He was drafted 33rd overall in 2010.

             The three-point shot will be one of the major assets that Ghafari can bring to a Lebanese team. In his senior season, Ghafari shot 37.9 percent from three while attempting 7.3 threes per game. Currently, of the 28 players that attempt at least 4.0 threes per game in the Lebanese league, only seven players shoot better than 37.9 percent. Ghafari posted this average while while attempting a total number of threes on the higher end of the spectrum and constantly being the focus of other team’s defensive efforts.

             Anyone familiar with the region around Lebanon is aware of the political turmoil infecting it. Syria is currently embroiled in serious conflict, leaving much uncertainty in neighboring Lebanon. Perhaps no one is more aware of how this can affect them than the Ghafari family.

             “My family had to be evacuated in 2006 during the Israeli-Lebanese conflict so I’ve been put through it. It puts things into perspective when you can hear bombs go off at night,” said Ghafari.

             The political unrest is a major concern for Ghafari and will play a major factor in the ultimate decision of whether or not he will officially join the league. The contract details discussed during his trip to the country will allow him to better view the entire scope of the issue.

             While the idea of professional basketball immediately brings a smile to Ghafari’s face and has him talking like a young, excited kid, Ghafari’s successes extend far beyond the basketball court. He was recently selected to the 2013-14 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA)/Capital One Academic All-America First Team. Last season he was selected as a member of the organization’s third team.

             Ghafari’s accomplishments in the classroom have led to him receiving a full-time job offer from Eaton Corporation upon his graduation in June. The opportunity to work for a strong, stable company presents itself in stark contract to the Lebanese league where stories of games having to be stopped due to riots in the stands have polluted American media in the past couple of years.

             Kalamazoo College basketball won’t soon forget the impact that Ghafari had on the program. His dominance and elegance on the court were a thing of beauty. The opportunity to watch a scorer of his caliber catch fire and take over a game is an unmatched on the basketball court. At times, it felt like everyone on the court was moving at a different level than him and we were all just waiting to see what Ghafari would do next. Now we turn our eyes beyond Anderson Athletic Center and down the road of our opportunity for Ghafari: what will he do next?

Injury Hits Men’s Basketball

By Daniel Herrick

Carter Goetz takes a shot in the January 29 game against Alma College. Robert Manor/ Index

The men’s basketball team has passed the halfway point of the MIAA season and currently is tied for fourth place with Trine. Each team is 4-4 in the conference.

The top four teams in the conference will qualify for the MIAA post-season tournament with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament at stake. If the season ended today the Hornets would be on the outside looking in due to their 0-1 head-to-head record against Trine.

Despite a 15-point loss at Hope on Monday, the Hornets have won three of their last four games and are increasingly looking like a team that belongs in the conference tournament. The loss to Hope was a disappointment; however, the Hornets only got 13 minutes and eight points out of senior leading-scorer Mark Ghafari due to a partial lateral tear in his left leg meniscus: an injury that is unfortunately becoming all too common in the NBA.

“It happened on a spin move and hook shot in the paint. Right after I knew something was up. I ran up and down the court twice and just hurt too much and then called a timeout and took myself out of the game,” said Ghafari.

The tear will definitely keep him out of action Wednesday night against Olivet. He will see a specialist Wednesday morning before evaluating if he will be able to return and play out the remainder of the year. Normal rehab for the injury, depending on its severity, can take months.

Ghafari isn’t the only notable Hornet to miss time, as of late. Freshman Chase Baysdell returned against Hope to play 21 minutes off the bench after missing the team’s previous two outings due to a violation of team rules. Baysdell is crucial to the Hornets’ success in moving forward. Without him in the lineup, the team desperately lacks in size. This showed during his absence as the Hornets were out-rebounded by 13 in the two games he missed.

Fellow-freshman Adam Dykema is still out for the Hornets after also violating team rules. Dykema can play a crucial role for the Hornets when he’s in the lineup as a bench scorer and possible third option to Ghafari and Adam Peters. Dykema last played against Adrian, a game in which he earned his third career start. In 22 minutes against Calvin earlier in the year, Dykema flashed his overall skill-set as he scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting. His play on the defensive end is faulty at times, not out of the ordinary for a young player, but Dykema’s willingness to shoot the ball with confidence from all over the floor is an asset the Hornets love to have. With Ghafari potentially out(or limited), Dykema’s ability to create on the perimeter will become even more vital to the Hornets attack. He is expected to return a week from Wednesday.

Junior Carter Goetz is proving his worth as an important bench piece for this Hornets team as well. Goetz played 26 minutes at Hope on Monday and scored nine points on 4-11 shooting. The eleven shots were his highest total since he took 12 in the January 2 game against IPFW. Goetz’s nine points were also his highest since that day. Though he is still struggling at times, for example a scoreless outing against Albion on Saturday, Goetz has shown a willingness to attack the basket when looking to score. Another Hornet being able to get into the lane can help to open the floor up more.

The Hornets will play two games this week, both nearly must-win games. On Wednesday night, the Hornets host a 1-6 Olivet team at 8:00 PM. The Comets’ one MIAA victory came via an overtime win on January 9 at Adrian. Ghafari and Peters combined for 57 points on 18-31 shooting in the Hornets first meeting with Olivet this season.

On Saturday, the Hornets will host Trine in a game that will carry serious effects for the MIAA postseason race. Calvin and Hope seem like locks for the tournament as each is currently carrying a 7-1 record. Alma, Adrian and Olivet almost surely will not qualify as the three bottom teams in the MIAA have combined for just four conference wins thus far. The Scots have the best opportunity of the group with games still remaining vs. Albion (whom they beat earlier in the year), vs. Olivet, at Olivet and at Adrian.

However, the race for the last two tournament spots is increasingly looking like it will come down to three teams: Kalamazoo, Albion and Trine.

As the three teams are all within one game of each other, every game from here on out is bordering on must-win status. The Hornets cannot afford to drop any of their remaining games, especially against the conference’s bottom-rung teams: Olivet, Adrian and Alma.

“I think every game is a must-win at this point,” said Ghafari. “We can only control the outcome of our games, so as long as we take care of business we should be in the top four once the regular season is over.”

The race for the tournament continues on Wednesday at 8:00 against Olivet and will continue in the Anderson Athletic Center on Saturday when the Hornets host Trine at 3:00 PM.

Men’s Basketball Chases MIAA’s Top Four

By Daniel Herrick

The men’s basketball team will host Alma College Wednesday night, Jan. 29, with an opportunity to improve to .500 in the MIAA on the line. Both Kalamazoo and Alma are currently 2-3 in the league.

While the Hornets boast the MIAA’s two highest scorers—senior Mark Ghafari (25.0 PPG) and junior Adam Peters (16.9 PPG)—the Scots have four of the league’s top 16. They are led by senior forward Isiah Law who scores on average 14.4 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting. Efficiency appears to be a value for the Scots as all four of their top scorers shoot better than 47 percent from the field. Sophomore DJ Beckman, the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.4 PPG, is making a case for the 50-40-90 club. The forward is currently shooting 52.1 percent from the field, 46.6 percent from three-point land and 94.7 percent at the free throw line.

As a team, Alma shoots 47.1 percent from the field, good for second in the MIAA. The Hornets check in just behind Alma in this category, as they shoot 46 percent overall.

Fans may be in for an offensive display on Wednesday night. Alma is the league’s second highest-scoring offense and Kalamazoo is third. Both teams can score at efficient rates from all over the floor. Alma takes and makes the second most three-pointers in the MIAA. The Scots have knocked in 123 from three on 338 attempts. The Hornets are third in this category making 110 threes on 303 attempts.

While fans can expect to see some scoring, the game may be won by whichever team is stronger on the defensive end and taking care of the ball. When both teams can score at such efficient rates, total possessions can go a long way toward determining the game’s eventual winner. Both the Hornets and the Scots struggle at times handling the ball. In fact, they are the MIAA’s two-worst teams in terms of ball security. While the Scots are slightly better at forcing turnovers, neither team is elite in this category.

The Hornets do, however, hold a significant advantage on the glass. Kalamazoo is currently the third-best rebounding team in the MIAA. They secure 37.1 boards per game. The Scots, on the other hand, are just .1 rebounds better than league-worst Adrian. Alma pulls in 30.9 rebounds per game. Limiting Alma’s second-chance opportunities can go a long way for a Hornets team that has struggled to defend at times this season.

Three other MIAA games will occur Wednesday night as well, including Trine hosting Olivet. Trine currently sits alone in fourth-place in the conference at 3-3. A Trine loss to Olivet would allow the winner of the K-Alma game to move percentage points ahead into sole ownership of fourth place. While the Hornets may have dropped some winnable games early in the MIAA slate, a win over Alma would keep them right in the thick of the battle to be among the conference’s top-four teams in order to qualify for the MIAA tournament.

Kalamazoo will tip-off against Alma at the Anderson Athletic Center at 7:30 PM on Wednesday evening.

Ghafari leads Basketball into MIAA Season

By Daniel Herrick

The men’s basketball season kicked off their MIAA season last week with a loss at home against Albion followed a road victory at Olivet. The win over the Comets was capped by a three from senior Mark Ghafari with a near a minute remaining that put the Hornets in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.

A Ghafari-led victory is common for the Hornets who have started off the season just 6-7.  He is currently tied for second in the nation for points per game with 27.7, an average that took a slight hit after a 17-point outing against Albion. Prior to that game, Ghafari was alone in second place at 28.7 ppg behind only Grinnell College guard Jack Taylor: whom some might remember from his 138-point game in November of 2012, or perhaps his mere 109-point display earlier this season.

Behind Ghafari and junior forward Adam Peters, who is averaging 17.2 ppg, this Hornets team can score. They entered this week tied for the MIAA lead in points per game with the Olivet Comets at 85.5 per, more than seven higher than the next closest team. Unfortunately, the Hornets and Comets are also far worse than the rest of the league on the defensive end. Kalamazoo is just behind Olivet in this department giving up 85.0 ppg versus the Comets’ 86.5.

Against Olivet on Saturday, these statistics showed. The Hornets needed 90 points to pull out a seven-point victory over Olivet. Ghafari’s 30 points were about par for the course for him, but perhaps more important was the 27 the Hornets received from Peters. Ghafari, rightfully so, has gotten a majority of the buzz this season, but Peters is quietly putting together a great year in his shadow.

The Hornets’ success moving forward will depend on strong performances from Peters, as well as the teams’ entire supporting cast. Thus far Peters has proven ready for the challenge. His 17.2 ppg are second in the MIAA behind only Ghafari. When team’s choose to double or triple team Ghafari, the Hornets are confident they can take advantage: “When Mark [Ghafari] does get defended well, we just need to find Adam [Peters] more and have the confidence to make plays on our own. Our offense is designed such that Mark isn’t the only option within our plays,” said senior Grant Carey.

And despite teams continuing to plan for him, Ghafari will continue to earn his points in a variety of ways. He understands that he will have to look to attack in new areas that aren’t as susceptible to potential double teams: “I have to take advantage of the opportunities I get in transition because the defense won’t be set,” said Ghafari. “Another thing that coach has me doing is trying to shoot some more pull-ups instead of driving into traffic when defenses are collapsing on me.”

The Hornets will play two MIAA games this week: at Trine on Tuesday night before hosting Calvin on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. As the Hornets continue on with MIAA play, their goal from the beginning of the season has not changed: “Our top goal from day one has been to become conference tournament champions and thereby receive an NCAA tournament berth,” said Carey.

No matter his personal successes, Ghafari echoed his teammate’s statement: “I don’t put much thought on personal accolades. The best accolade out there is having your team being number 1 at the end of the day. That’s the one I want.”