LAKE STEVENS — All roads lead to Lake Stevens — at least for varsity basketball players CJ Lat and Moussa Sanoh.
Each found his way to Snohomish County from his native Africa, and each has beaten long odds to become a key member of the Vikings’ boys team.
Lat, a junior, arrived in Washington state in 2003. He began his life in Sudan, then moved to Egypt before joining an uncle in Lynnwood and eventually relocating to Lake Stevens.
Sanoh, a senior, was born in Guinea* in west Africa. He moved with his family to Lake Stevens in 2006.
The two Vikings had one thing in common when they first settled in the U.S — they knew almost nothing about basketball.
Sanoh, a 6-foot-4 forward, starts for the Vikings, but just four years ago he had never played competitively. He said he tried out in eighth grade but didn’t survive the cut. A year later, he made the team, though he’s not sure why.
“I didn’t know how to play basketball,” he said, “but they picked me.”
Sanoh was a project, but he learned from his supportive teammates and improved every year.
“He was not very good as a sophomore and I looked at my staff and said, ‘Moussa is going to start for me someday,’” Lake Stevens head coach Mark Hein said. “And they all just kind of looked at me and a couple of them shook their heads, but it’s been kind of cool to see that come to fruition. He’s done very well.”
Sanoh is the Vikings’ third-leading scorer at 6.9 points per game. He’s scored double figures in each of Lake Stevens’ past two games.
“In Moussa’s case, his progress from year to year has just been exponential growth in his game,” Hein said. “Most guys show a new wrinkle or so. Every year he gets a complete overhaul of his game. It’s been fun to see.”
Three years ago, Sanoh said, he “couldn’t make a layup” and his knowledge of the game was minimal.
“I just (knew) that you can shoot the ball and it has to go through the net and that’s basically it.” he said. “I didn’t play any defense and I didn’t know anything about the rules.”
Lat’s story is similar, although he arrived in the United States at a younger age.
“Basically it was the same thing,” said Lat, a 6-foot forward. “I tried it in fifth grade and I didn’t really know what basketball was. The first time a basketball rolled to me, I kicked it. I thought it was soccer. And then the kids got all mad at me and I didn’t really get it. They told me you just dribble and use your hands.”
Lat came to Lake Stevens in the middle of his eighth-grade year, so he didn’t get an opportunity to try out for the team until he was a freshman. Like Sanoh, the Vikings kept Lat on the roster even though his game needed considerable work. By his own admission, he wasn’t very skilled offensively, but there was one area where he excelled.
“I was only basically good at rebounding,” said Lat, who averages 3.1 point per game. “My shot was like, terrible. I was just good at getting the boards and putting it back up every once in a while.”
The rules also were a struggle for Lat, who at times used some of the skills he learned on the football field, where he developed into an All-Wesco linebacker for the Vikings.
“I always got in foul trouble a lot,” Lat said.
His introduction to football was similar to basketball. When he first started, he didn’t know the rules so the coaches kept things simple.
“One of the coaches told me to try out, I didn’t know anything … about football,” Lat said. “They just told me to hit the person and if you see someone holding a ball, you hit them and I just tried that and it worked for me I guess.”
Lat still makes football plays on the basketball court every now and then, but Hein said it’s not because he’s confused.
“Now, it’s not for a lack of knowledge, he’s just aggressive,” Hein said. “He’s the most aggressive guy in our program. He’s our energy guy. CJ’s are guy who there is probably the most noticeable difference when he enters the game in terms of energy level.”
Lat and Sanoh have had to put in a lot of work to get where they are and the work ethic it has taken to get there is evident to Hein and the rest of the team.
“Both of these guys are two of our hardest workers,” Hein said. “They come ready to play every day. They truly work exceptionally hard.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Correction, Dec. 27, 2012: The original article misidentified the country in which Sanoh was born.