Sunday, February 11, 2001

XU's Sato aims to please




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        Romain Sato is a team player and a team eater. When his American guardian served the fried chicken she had burned beyond recognition, Sato nobly stepped up to the plate.

        “I tried to give it to my dog, but she wouldn't take it,” Tiffany Thompson said Saturday afternoon. “My kids wouldn't touch it. It was like a rock. But Romain, God bless him, he tried to eat it. He didn't want me to feel bad.”

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Sato
        Xavier's freshman guard has a jump shot so pure it seems to have been pasteurized, but equally striking is his selflessness. He is the product of Central African sensibilities rather than the American playgrounds, and is as deferential on the court as he is at the dinner table. At times, Sato must be prodded to fling the basketball toward the basket. Saturday afternoon, for instance.

        The Muskies beat Temple 78-71 and Sato's shooting was the key component. He made five 3-point shots before he finally missed one, finished with a team-high 19 points, and knocked the teeth out of John Chaney's usually tenacious zone defenses.

        “We told Romain his eyes should be lighting up because he's probably going to get some open looks,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser recalled. “And it would be better for us if he knocked them down.”

        Sato's English comprehension remains incomplete — it is, after all, his sixth language — but he always aims to please. He understood that without a productive perimeter game, the Muskies might find the Owls' interior defenses impenetrable. As of Saturday's tipoff, Temple led the Atlantic 10 in both scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense.

        “I was feeling good,” Sato said. “I encouraged my teammates to move the ball. When the (other) team plays zone, the key is to move the ball. I find the spaces open.”

        Eventually, Sato should do much more than that. For now, his game has yet to catch up with his gifts. His vertical leap has been measured at 38 inches, but he will be unable to fully exploit it until he can do more than attain elevation on his jump shot. He needs to acquire the confidence to drive to the basket and the polish to create off the dribble.

        More than 70 percent of Sato's shots have been launched from 3-point territory this season. Such a statistic typically conjures a one-dimensional player with wide range and narrow skills. In Sato's case, it describes someone with more talent than training.

        He has been playing basketball, after all, for only five years. Presumably, as his repertoire expands, so will his reputation.

        “He's just scratching the surface,” Prosser said. “There are a lot of things he can improve on, but he's a bright kid and his teammates have tremendous faith in him.”

Normal — off court
               If Prosser has a complaint about Sato, it is comically mild. Some nights, Sato stays up so late studying that he shows up fatigued the next day for practice. This is a problem an academically attuned coach is loath to correct.

        Thompson is careful to point out that Sato is no candidate for canonization. He has lived in her house in Moraine, Ohio, long enough to establish that he is susceptible to the same temptations as most teen-agers, with the notable exception of pizza.

        “People have painted him to be this saintly-type person, and I think that's unfair,” she said. “That's a lot of pressure to live up to. He's normal. He's no saint.”

        She declined to elaborate. When asked for details of his roommate's deficiencies, Xavier center David West was unable to get off a decent shot.

        “He's quiet,” West said. “You'd never even know he was around unless you knocked on his door.”

        Or unless you'd seen him shoot.

        E-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.
       

       



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Xavier 78, Temple 71
- SULLIVAN: XU's Sato aims to please
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