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Lobo teammates helped each other with transition to US

October 10, 2018
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In this Jan. 6, 2018 photo, New Mexico's Makuach Maluach dunks the ball during an NCAA college basketball game against San Jose State in Albuquerque, N.M. Maluach was one of the top three freshmen in the Mountain West Conference last season, enjoying a breakout season that even he admits he never saw coming. (Jim Thompson/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — He was behind the curve from the start.

Issues with getting his visa approved one year ago led Vladimir Pinchuk, the 6-foot-11 Ukranian who grew up in Germany, to not arrive in Albuquerque until after classes started in September 2017.

Not only was the newest University of New Mexico Lobo basketball player in a new country living alone for the first time, trying to get through college classes being taught in English for the first time (he can speak four languages, including English, but had never had classes taught in languages other than German) but he knew nobody other than head coach Paul Weir.

Such a transition could have been a deal breaker.

Instead, he found support from an unlikely source.

Only a couple weeks before Pinchuk’s arrival at UNM last summer came the team’s other freshman: Makuach Maluach, the 6-foot-7 Sundanese player who grew up in Australia, who was going through the exact same culture shock.

“We came here, we didn’t know a lot of people,” Pinchuk told the Journal this week as part of a podcast conversation that included Maluach. “Both of us, we didn’t have a lot of friends or other people we know out here. So we had, basically, the same problems in the beginning that students have when they come to another country. . So we basically were trying to help each other out, trying to get along with everything — school, simple things as getting dinner, working out, going to practice, getting rides to class.”

Basketball, even in Weir’s highly demanding system, was at times the easiest part of the transition one year ago for Pinchuk and Maluach.

“For me, I would say (the hardest part of coming to UNM was) living by myself because I never did that in my life,” said Maluach. ”. I don’t know how to cook to this day.”

Luckily, the two had each other, and their other Lobo teammates, and Pinchuk, an ace student majoring in computer science, taught himself how to cook last year.

Now, the two are roommates, along with team manager Andrew Lipin, are just regular UNM students getting ready to begin their second seasons for the Lobos and both players, according to head coach Paul Weir, have took tremendous strides.

“I would say both made significant improvements over the offseason, but especially in the past couple months,” Weir said.

Maluach was one of the top three freshmen in the Mountain West Conference last season, enjoying a breakout season that even he admits he never saw coming. In Mountain West play, the long-armed wing was second on the Lobos roster in scoring (12.7 points per game) while shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 52.3 percent from 3-point range.

“It wasn’t easy,” Maluach said. “To me, coming in, and I don’t think Vlad did, either, we didn’t expect to play. But with coach (Weir), he plays everyone. So if you come into training and play hard, compete, that’s what he cares about. If you do those, then you’re going to play.”

Some missed playing time by senior Sam Logwood in the nonconference schedule made Maluach’s role increase in a hurry in December 2017 and he flourished from then on.

By season’s end, he was on every opposing team’s scouting report and will be again this season.

For Pinchuk, who learned the game from his dad who was a 1990 World Championship silver medalist for the Soviet Union, playing for a professional team in Germany before arriving in the U.S. got him ready for the physicality of Division I basketball, but not the speed.

“They were older already like 27, 28, coming into their 30s,” Pinchuk said. “So the game was already a little bit slowed down. The game here, right now college basketball in general is very quick, very intense, very athletic.”

Maluach says what Pinchuk brought to the team doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

“Fans probably won’t see it, but he does the dirty work for us,” Maluach said. “For me, every time I drive and a big comes and tries to block my shot and I get a free layup, people are going crazy about my layup, but it’s obviously his bucket. Him and Joe (Furstinger) were very good at it.

“This year, I feel like he’s going to be more involved offensively. His moves, back to the rim, and his free throws are getting way better. I feel like he’s going to have a big season.”

ODDS & ENDS: The two Lobos shared with the Journal what they called their guilty pleasures.

For Maluach: “I put tomato sauce, you guys call it ketchup, on everything. I put it on anything.”

For Pinchuk: “I do watch a lot of game shows, I’ll be honest. Probably my favorite one would be Family Feud. I think it’s hilarious for some reason. I don’t know why.”

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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