Penguin recruits have a history with Swiss U-20 national team

Jason Slay picked up a recruit from the airport, like he’s done many times before.

His name was Noe Anabir, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward coming in from Mesa (Arizona) Community College.

Anabir speaks English with a heavy accent, which derives from his home in Geneva, Switzerland.

Slay, a Youngstown State University men’s basketball assistant coach, told Anabir he was driving 45 minutes to pick up another recruit.

This other recruit was scheduled to come in a couple of days later, but instead flew in from California — canceling another trip to Cal-Bakersfield. YSU intrigued him.

Slay let Anabir know he was picking up another big man like himself, one from California, specifically San Diego Community College.

Anabir perked up and asked if the recruit in question was skinny.

Slay said he was very skinny.

Anabir wondered if he’s name was Alex. Slay said it was.

Anabir said he had played with the other recruit on the Swiss U20 national basketball team in the summer of 2015. Alex Wilbourn (6-11, 205) played on that team because his mother was born in Switzerland and has dual citizenship.

“This is such a coincidence that we both came to visit the same school on the same day,” Anabir said. “I was really happy to see him again. This is a small world.”

Wilbourn didn’t know what awaited him as he got into the car headed for YSU.

He saw his friend Anabir. The two spent two months together, training and playing for the Swiss U20 team. It became a great relationship.

“I had no idea that he was talking to Youngstown or even considering them,” Wilbourn said. “When I got off the plane, when I arrived on my visit, the coach told me they had a special surprise and he was outside sitting in the car.”

Slay said the two were hugging, jumping up and down.

“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever witnessed in my nine years of coaching. They see each other and couldn’t believe it,” Slay said.

YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun couldn’t believe it himself, but even more how the Penguins were able to secure two quality big men in the middle of May.

Calhoun likes Wilbourn’s shot-blocking abilities, passing and efficiency in the post — a benefit to YSU’s up-tempo offense and defense. His San Diego team averaged 81 points a game.

“We felt when we watched him on tape he was a no brainer,” Calhoun said. “We were shocked he was still available.”

Anabir is your prototypical power forward, physical and strong. Calhoun said he’s good with both hands, and can go inside and out. Mesa averaged 85.2 points per game.

Getting both to come to YSU for next season is amazing to Calhoun.

“The connection with one another, it helped us get both of them,” he said.

Getting these last three scholarships filled is essential to the Penguins’ success this season. Both Anabir and Wilbourn come in as juniors and have two years of eligibility with YSU. Slay said they fit what the Penguins are trying to do.

YSU has one scholarship remaining, but doesn’t want to get just anyone to fill that vacancy. This staff hasn’t done so with any of their seven other scholarship players.

“The biggest thing about finding kids is they’re great kids,” Slay said. “They’re good students. They’re good people and come from good backgrounds. That’s the most surprising part. You don’t find a lot of that this late.

“Usually you have a couple of knuckleheads that you have to deal with or whatever. We’re fortunate to have so many good kids. The chemistry will be really good with what we have coming back for what we have coming in.”

Anabir liked that YSU is one of a quarter of the schools in the country which are certified by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which fits into his major.

Wilbourn said coming to YSU means another chance to hang around Anabir once again. It all started when Slay picked up Wilbourn at the airport, in a car in which his friend was sitting.

“I didn’t know when I was gonna get the chance to see him or even play with him again,” Wilbourn said.