FREEPORT – More than 6,000 miles separate Prophetstown and Nazareth, Israel, but Cody Behrens and Magd Owayed have come from those two vastly different places to become teammates.
Behrens is a Prophetstown native and 2009 Newman High School graduate, while Owayed is a Christian Arab from Nazareth Baptist in Israel.
They are two-fifths of the regular starting five for the Sauk Valley Community College men's basketball team, which opened the Region IV postseason tournament with a 82-47 win over Truman College of Chicago, which had just five players, on Saturday afternoon at Highland Community College.
The second-seeded Skyhawks (21-10) advance to a semifinal matchup with Malcolm X of Chicago (20-11) at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Sauk split with Malcolm X this season, winning 77-62 Nov. 17 at home, and losing 75-61 on Jan. 19 in Chicago.
How did Owayed wind up at Sauk?
He was the teammate and roommate of former Skyhawk Heath Hoffman at NCAA Division I Sacramento (Calif.) State before transferring. Former Dixon Duke and Sauk standout Matt Ross was also involved.
"We kind of recruited him sight unseen because of what Heath told us, then Matt Ross went out there for an official visit, and he said Magd was pretty good too," said Sauk coach Russ Damhoff, who said Owayed is his first player from the Middle East.
Owayed, who speaks fluent English, also speaks Arabic and Hebrew.
"That's pretty cool," said Behrens, who has never known anyone from Israel or the Middle East. "I'll ask him sometimes how to say something in Arabic. You wouldn't even know he's from Israel. He's just got a little bit of an accent."
Owayed spent 2 years at Sacramento State, the first as a redshirt. He is long over his initial culture shock to life in the U.S.
"The first few months were really hard, then I got used to it," said Owayed, who returns to Israel each summer. "Everything's different. It's a different culture with different people. The food is different. It's a whole different life."
Owayed thinks many Americans have misconceptions about Israel and the Middle East.
"They think we live in tents and ride camels," he said. "They think we all live in the desert. Where I'm from, we live the modern life. Whatever they have here, we have there."
Though war is all too common in Owayed's part of the world, he has been a bit removed from it.
"Where I live is more calm," he said. "All the fights and wars are about an hour or two away."
Planning on playing three games in three days in the regional tournament, Damhoff limited his starters' minutes in Saturday's blowout.
Reserves David Newton (12 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks), Taivious Ford (11 points, 8 rebounds), and Chris Fritsch (11 points, 6 rebound) led the way for the Skyhawks, who got points from 14 of their 16 available players.
Jamal Akakpo scored a game-high 20 points for Truman (5-26).
Star of the game: David Newton, Sauk, 12 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks
Key performers: Jamal Akakpo, Truman, 20 points; Taivious Ford, Sauk, 11 points, 8 rebounds; Chris Fritsch, Sauk, 11 points, 6 rebounds
Up next: Region IV Tournament semifinal, Sauk vs. Malcolm X, 8 p.m. Sunday