March 9, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---When Augusta State takes to the court tomorrow night in the NCAA tournament, they'll do so with one guy who's literally chasing the American Dream.
At 6' 7", Etsho Illunga seems to be your typical basketball player. It's not the case. Illunga came to the US from the Congo in Africa to escape the hardships. That's where the long journey to Augusta started.
"What I said in the back of my head, sometimes you go through tough times to figure out what life is about," Etsho said.
After losing his dad, Etsho packed his bags, leaving his mom behind, and flew to New York. They told him he'd have to go to Houston for his immigration papers. Not knowing a soul and relying on the generosity of others, Ethso quickly learned plenty.
"Being in Houston and waiting for my immigration process to be done, I think I learned a lot of things. I built my confidence. From Houston, I flew back to New York and I was ready to expect anything."
His college basketball career started at a junior college in Illinois. That's where Jags coach Dip Metress discovered him and was impressed from the get-go.
"He's definitely not your normal case by any means," Coach Metress said. "Everybody who meets him on campus says the same thing. They mispronounce his name, and they say that's a wonderful kid, he's so manner able and so pleasant to deal with."
Soon after, he was in Augusta, where Metress has all but adopted him as a son.
"This is kind of his home," Metress said. "When you're in that unique case when your family is basically on the equator, as we joke about, he just doesn't have the resources to go home. America is his home. He's trying to get his citizenship."
A finance major who's fluent in five languages, Etsho wants to work on Wall Street. How many ball players do you know with those types of aspirations? He's also working on becoming a US citizen.
"As you know, since September 11, the process kind of takes a long time than it use to be. But so far everything is clear and I'll get it hopefully," Etsho said.