Mebarki realizing dream of playing basketball in U.S.

November 19, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

Growing up in Lyon, France, Nabil Mebarki had a dream.

It was a dream that for 18 years of his life was just a dream.

It was a dream of moving to the United States.

A native of Lyon, one of the largest cities in France and about three hours from Paris, the 21-year-old had a ticket to the United States and that ticket was basketball. That ticket took him to Wyoming and has since brought him to Imperial Valley College.

Mebarki's older brother, Karim, made the move from France to the U.S. with no problems, so he decided to follow.

"When I first told my parents, my dad was really happy that I decided to come to the U.S.," said Mebarki. "My mom, though, was very scared because she thought I would be by myself and I wouldn't know any English. But after awhile, she was OK with it."


After high school in France, Mebarki made the move to Wyoming. He wound up at Northwest College in Powell, a town with a population slightly more than 5,000.

"My brother played there in Wyoming, so I just went there, too," said the 6-foot-4, 195-pounder. "I liked it there, but it was a very small town and very cold."

There also was a bit of a language barrier. When he was in France he took six years of English classes, but mostly basic English.

"When I took classes in France, they just taught us the basics of English. When I got to Wyoming, mostly people were talking very fast and in slang. And I didn't understand what they were saying," said Mebarki. "So that first year I would misunderstand what they were saying because my English was not very good.

"So for the first three months I would try not to talk to anyone because I thought people would not understand me. If people would talk to me, I would just give short answers. But things eventually came easier to me after I was there for awhile."

After redshirting his first year at Northwest, Mebarki started as a forward his second year.

He said the play here is more aggressive, faster-paced and involves a lot more athleticism than in France. It took him about a year to get fully adjusted to playing basketball in the U.S., but he says he now has no problems.

Things were going well, he had started adjusting to life in the U.S. on and off the court and he was playing a game that he loved. Everything seemed to be going as planned.

But there was still another dream he wanted to fulfill. Growing up in Lyon he heard about a place in America where the weather was perfect year-round and the basketball was as competitive as anywhere in the world — a place called California.

"I had heard about California when I was in France. And I had a friend that I met while playing basketball in the U.S. who told me about it. And I really wanted to come out here," said Mebarki. "It was just a dream to come to the United States, but coming to California made it even better. For me, Wyoming was just my first step to getting out here."

After one year at Northwest he started doing some research on California schools.

He came across IVC and talked to IVC men's basketball coach Nick Gehler about playing for the Arabs. After some mulling, he decided come to IVC. He has earned a stating spot at forward and has been one of the team's leading scorers in each of its first five games.

Unlike his first few months in Powell, it didn't take Mebarki long to find his place in the Imperial Valley. Shortly after moving to the Valley he found a home in Brawley with Tammy Prock, who also was housing former IVC player Ryan Holmes.

"That was a very good experience living with Tammy and her family. Just being around a family made things a lot easier. It wasn't like just living in a dorm. She made me feel like part of the family," said Mebarki. "I was real surprised at first that she let me stay there. At first I didn't even know her and she didn't even know me and she just accepted me. Staying there, I wasn't as homesick and it just made everything easier on me."

Mebarki is now living with some teammates in El Centro and is continuing to adjust to the American culture. He still refers to football as American football, laughs when people refer to "French" fries and has gone from listening to French music to R&B and rap music.

He plans on returning home to Lyon this summer, but will be back in the U.S. ready to transfer to a four-year college either in California or in New York, where his brother now resides.

For now, home is in the Imperial Valley.

"The people here in the Valley are all very nice people, a lot nicer than people in France. In France if you don't know someone, they'll never talk to you, but here it's not like that. Here, people I don't know come up to me and talk to me and that makes things a lot easier," said Mebarki.

"Living here has been a great experience for me. I like the team better, I like the people better, and I just like the Imperial Valley a lot more than Wyoming."

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