FAU Vladislav Goldin Wrestling Center originated in Russia. Now he is in the Final Four

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NEW YORK – The biggest man in Florida Atlantic’s locker room is perhaps the most unlikely hero in the Final Four’s most unlikely story. Vladislav Goldin grew up in Nalchik, Russia, a city in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. He spent six years of his childhood as a competitive wrestler, grappling opponents and training his body. But as that body began to grow—eventually reaching 7-foot-1 in his late teens—Golden realized he was focusing on the wrong sport.

“They started grabbing my leg,” Goldin said. ’ And I said, ‘Well, I peaked here. “”

Goldin switched to basketball at the age of fifteen. And he modeled his game on Timofey Mozgov, the Russian quarterback who won an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Six years later, Goldin helped Florida Atlantic reach the Final Four with 14 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas State at Madison Square Garden, and he clearly made the right decision.

“People are surprised why we are here,” he said afterwards. “But we know why we’re here. Business doesn’t lie.”

The United States still holds off this Owl at Florida Atlantic, 35-3, a deep, disciplined No. 9 seed that eschews individual brilliance for blue-collar balance. Jonelle Davis is the third-year point guard who broke out this season and led the Owls with 13.9 points per game. Another sophomore, Alija Martin, is the high-flying leading scorer with 17 points against Kansas State. The rest of the backcourt is made up of veteran and powerful 3-point shooters. But if you watch Florida Atlantics get off the team bus, the first person you’re likely to notice is Goldin, a towering sophomore with a sense of humor — and the only player to start all 38 games this season.

Goldin averages 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds while leading the Owls with 45 blocks. It’s equal parts safety valve and middle ground, providing balance to a galaxy of sentinels. His college career at Texas Tech began in 2020-21, where special assistant Bob Donewald Jr. drafted him. After spending a season at the Putnam Academy of Sciences in Connecticut. Goldin also spent time playing with the junior team of CSKA Moscow, one of the major professional clubs in Russia. But he wasn’t quite ready to contribute to Texas Tech, playing only 10 games in Chris Beard’s final season.

When Beard left for Texas, Goldin entered the transfer gate. Florida Atlantic coach Dusty Mae and his staff got down to business. To do a full exploration of Goldin, they streamed games from Putnam Science and scoured the internet for highlights from Goldin’s days with CSKA Moscow.

“We’ve studied him very well and know how good he is,” May said last week.

Vladislav Goldin closed out the 7-1 paint against Marquis Noel and Kansas State. (Elsa / Getty Images)

However, it took a while for Goldin to settle down. His work ethic fits well with the environment and culture in Boca Raton, and veterans of the program can see how his size can wreak havoc in practice. But like the program as a whole, Golden didn’t make another jump until this season.

“You could kind of tell: He just needed someone he was willing to spend the time with,” said Michael Forrest, a fifth-year freshman whose career spanned the entirety of May’s tenure. “Just because you could tell he had potential, but he wasn’t really confident. So Coach May did a really good job of motivating him and giving him confidence.”

Confidence was most evident against Kansas State. Goldin opened with eight points in the first half and forced the Wildcats to play more inside. His presence also helped the Owls dominate the Glass, winning the battle on the rebound 44-22. It was Golden’s first game in double digits since the Conference USA quarterfinals, which speaks in part to Om’s overall offensive balance. But in the locker room after the game, Goldin’s teammates knew a big game was coming.

“I think it’s the best five in our league,” Davies said.

Goldin isn’t the first Russian senior to make his mark in the NCAA Tournament; Kansas’ Sasha Kaun was the 6th MVP of the 2008 Championship Team before embarking on a lengthy professional career in Russia and the NBA. But players like Mozgov and Andrei Kirilenko entered the NBA directly from the ranks of Russian professionals, and the list of notable collegiate players from Russia is short. This partly explains why Goldin did not think about the Final Four when he transferred from Texas Tech. First, he didn’t grow up thinking about March Madness, and it wasn’t like Florida Atlantic was a destination for that kind of dream come true.

“Well, I’m not going to lie,” he said Saturday, standing in court at Madison Square Garden. “I didn’t think about the Final Four.”

Goldin, however, was willing to continue working. When he arrived in the United States and settled into school in Connecticut, his English was limited, limited to basketball phrases he had gotten from a coach in Russia. border. a screen. glow. But he learned the language slowly over one year at Putnam Science and another at Texas Tech. This year, he sought to add slang from another language, asking Florida Atlantic on foot and Alejandro Ralat from Puerto Rico for Spanish terms.

“We’re also learning some Russian,” Ralat said. “Unfortunately, it’s mostly the bad words. Obviously, when he’s feeling down, he always shouts in his own language.”

However, these days, there is little to feel let down. Golden and Florida Atlantic meet San Diego State in the Final Four on Saturday. If overlooked before, Goldin said, it only adds fuel. If their faces were unknown and their stories unknown, all of this is beginning to change.

“It’s like nobody loves us,” Goldin said.

Minutes earlier, Goldin was the first owl to climb a ladder in New York and catch the net after winning the regional final. With two more victories, they’ll do it again. When Goldin was rising above his teammates, he only needed two steps to reach the edge.

(Top photo: Albello/Getty Images)

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