Jan. 17, 2006
By Tom Acox - Artur Surov's high tops squeak as he pivots to catch a high pass in the paint. Only the 7'1'' junior's teammates and a few coaches look on in Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse on this quiet rainy practice day. Surov - wearing the team's white practice uniform - fakes left and then softly lofts a baby hook. Nothing but net.
Although there are no cheers when Surov hits that shot in practice, "Arrrrrrrrrtur, Arrrrrrrrrtur" chants from the student section have become a regular occurrence in games at the Fieldhouse. "He just seems like such a nice guy, all the fans love him," says Saint Joseph's student and super-fan Frank Garofalo.
Although the 22-year-old management major hasn't played big time minutes for the Hawks, his soft-spoken manners and even softer touch around the basket have slowly made him a fan favorite on Hawk Hill.
Surov was born in Estonia and moved to Finland when he was six years old. In high school he made his way to the States and attended Memorial Day School in Savannah, Georgia. In 2003, Surov was courted by upwards of 30 colleges and finally settled on St. Joe's after recruiting by Hawks' head coach Phil Martelli.
The culture shock didn't fluster Surov although his brief encounter with Southern cooking may have led to his 40-pound weight gain prior to his freshman year. "America really affects so much of the rest of the world you have an idea of what to expect - even through things like old movies," says Surov. He also credits most Americans welcoming and outgoing personalities with easing his adjustments.
Surov says he may have taken a lot of his freshman year for granted during the Hawks' whirlwind undefeated regular season and Elite Eight run in the NCAA Tournament. "I didn't have a practice in college after a loss until my 28th game - that was pretty surreal. And I didn't even realize how surreal it was until my sophomore year started." However, he also says that season now inspires him in his work ethic and helps him appreciate all the time he spends with the team. "That was like a model or example of what a season should and can be."
Surov's popularity on campus would seem inevitable after spending any amount of time with him. Although, not as outspoken as some of his teammates he is one of the friendliest and most cultured Hawks. "I think people might think I'm cold or negative because I'm not as outgoing as most people in America," says Surov. The fact that he is so aware of how he may come across just makes his soft-spoken nature more endearing.
Surov also counts reading and educating himself as one of his main past times. "I just finished Orwell's 1984, it was crazy." He's also quick to ask, "Have you read it? You need to check it out."
Though Surov is minoring in Russian he has always made it a priority to become proficient in English as well. "Back in Finland I made it a point to read books exclusively in English." Currently he is reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
The recently trimmed down 245-pound gentle giant - Surov entered St. Joe's tipping the scales at 285 pounds - has credited his weight loss in the past to a stricter diet and tougher conditioning regimen.
The big guy still likes to eat, however. "I really like to cook," says Surov. He doesn't have a specialty yet but he does make a mean version of a Finnish crepe. Another one of his more traditional dishes that his roommates enjoy is called "Ploff". "It's basically this pork and rice dish." He also says one of the best parts of being on the basketball team is getting to travel and see all the different states and cultures in America. "That's another really good thing about traveling with the team - eating." Surov says his favorite restaurant that he's been to so far is the Old Homestead in New York City where he tackled a five-pound lobster.
Although Surov has embraced America and its culture - he was once spotted in a Bruce Springsteen concert T-short singing along to "The Rising" - he still feels strong ties to his culture. Aside from the traditional food he cooks he also listens to Finnish rock bands as well as other European acts like the industrial rock band Rammstein. "I haven't really tried to expose my teammates to too much Finnish stuff, I'm usually too busy trying to take in all the American culture going on around me."
Currently, this basketball role player has lofty expectations for the future though he's not entirely sure what he intends to do. He is debating whether to add another minor in business and whether to continue his studies or enter the "real world" after graduation in 2007. "I might continue my education here at St. Joe's in graduate school but I also think I want to play basketball for a couple of years in Europe."
Whatever avenue this well-traveled Hawk chooses to pursue, it's a good chance he'll be successful.