By Daniel Herrick
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?