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Exchange program steers Russian student to Jessup

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When Russian native Nikita Evdokimov first came to the U.S., he never really considered playing basketball at all. At 6 feet 1 inches tall at age 15, the Russian exchange student primarily left his hometown of Novy Urengoy to learn English and experience American culture. In 2004, he settled in at Hercules Middle/High School, one of the top-performing schools in West Contra Costa County. “When I first came to this country, I only knew a few words such as ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘hello’ so it was a real challenge to communicate with anyone,” Evdokimov said. Fast forward to present day and one wouldn’t even detect that he struggled when speaking. The English Literature major is now on an academic and athletic scholarship at William Jessup University in Rocklin. Within just a few weeks of starting the exchange program, Evdokimov began to experience severe pain in his knee that continued to persist and intensify. Finally, doctors scheduled an MRI that revealed a serious, life-threatening knee infection. “They never told me that I could have lost my leg or die from the infection,” Evdokimov said. “But it was a distinct possibility.” Surgery was performed immediately, drilling the bone in his knee from both sides, the doctors were successful at eradicating the infection. After a two-week hospital stay, Evdokimov was on the road to recovery. During his illness and recovery, Evdokimov formed a strong bond with his American mom, Rorrie Tiniakoff. “She took care of me and made sure that life went on as usual,” he said. “She arranged a tutor for me until I was well enough to return to school and finish out the year at Hercules High.” After an emotional year, it was hard for Tiniakoff to consider that the exchange student who lived in her home for a year would soon be gone. Evdokimov returned to Russia, skipped two grades in a year and earned his high school diploma by the age of 17. In the spring of 2007 he returned to the U.S., this time on a more permanent basis because Tiniakoff had decided to sponsor the young graduate. When he returned, he enrolled at Contra Costa College where he was in the ESL program for three semesters until he completed the program and began his General Education coursework. It was Tiniakoff who encouraged Evdokimov to play basketball and enrolled him in a basketball class during his first semester at CCC. “Prior to this, I’d never played basketball,” he said. “I played volleyball, soccer, judo, swam and lifted weights, but never basketball.” The class paid off and later, Evdokimov landed a basketball scholarship that helped to ease the demands of paying for his college education. Quite remarkable to consider, the 6 foot 9 inches tall center finished his sophomore season by averaging 5.1 points and 3.2 rebounds. Contra Costa finished the season 13-14 overall and 8-8 in the Bay Valley Conference. He received the student athlete academic award in both seasons at Contra Costa and graduated with two associate’s degrees, one in English, and another in Liberal Studies. While at Contra Costa, he made the dean’s list every semester and graduated with honors. In addition, Evdokimov also managed to work two part-time jobs, one as a lifeguard and another as a police aide at the college. While at Contra Costa, William Jessup University’s Head Men’s Basketball Coach Aaron Muhic scouted Evdokimov and decided to recruit him for the 2010-11 season. “Nikita really wanted to be a student here at Jessup,” Muhic said. “He is what I would call a triple-threat recruit. Not only is he a strong player, he is a good student that has a deep Christian faith.” Evdokimov is one of 71 athletes new to William Jessup University this year. The CALPAC Champion Warriors men’s basketball team begin their preseason Nov. 5. ~Staff report