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Nino Etienne, a true freshman who transferred to Baylor University in early January, goes through his paces during a recent practice at the Waco, Texas, campus.
Nino Etienne, a true freshman who transferred to Baylor University in early January, goes through his paces during a recent practice at the Waco, Texas, campus. (Special to Stars and Stripes)

WACO, Texas — Nino Etienne has achieved his dream of playing NCAA Division I college basketball.

The former two-time All-Far East basketball player from Seoul American has transferred to Baylor after spending the first half of the school year at the U.S. Military Academy prep school in Fort Monmouth, N.J.

“When they gave me the opportunity, I took it,” Etienne said. “I can go home on weekends. My mother comes up all the time, and so can my little brother and my friends.”

Etienne has already seen action, albeit briefly, for the Bears. He played the final five seconds of Baylor’s 75-66 loss to Texas Tech on Jan. 17. He made the team’s road trip to Nebraska on Wednesday but didn’t play.

“He’s athletic. He can score,” Bears coach Scott Drew said by telephone from the Baylor campus at Waco, Texas. “He just needs to polish his game, his ballhandling and his outside shot. Anybody out of high school can continue to improve his game.”

Etienne, a walk-on, can earn a scholarship for the 2004-05 season “if he were to get into the rotation and play regularly,” said Drew, the first-year coach of the Bears (5-10 overall, 0-2 Big 12).

“Any time you add somebody, you want a quality person,” Drew said. “He comes from a good family, academically he’s a good person. He’s a good fit.”

Earmarked to play for West Point next year, Etienne said Fort Monmouth simply wasn’t a good fit and expressed a desire to play closer to home in Texas. Baylor was one of seven Texas schools Etienne visited last spring and summer before settling on Army prep.

Army prep “was a good school, but it just wasn’t for me,” said Etienne by phone from Waco, adding his older brother, Luis, who will graduate West Point this summer, told Nino that “I probably wouldn’t enjoy myself” at the U.S. Military Academy.

“The whole military structure. It wasn’t going to be a normal school life,” said Nino. “There’s a lot more to West Point than school life.”

Just a 45-minute drive from his native Killeen, near Fort Hood, home station for his father, Sgt. Maj. Luis Etienne, Baylor met his requirements, Etienne said. His father is deployed to Iraq.

“This is an opportunity for him to achieve his goal, which is to get a good education, and his dream, which is to play basketball,” said Etienne’s mother, Alcira, by phone from Killeen.

In two seasons with Seoul American, Etienne was twice selected All-Far East and was MVP of last year’s Far East Class AA tournament, won by Etienne’s Falcons. In 10 games for Army Prep, he averaged 33 points and 11 rebounds.

Baylor was rocked by scandal last summer with the slaying of Patrick Dennehy, murder charges against former teammate Carlton Dotson, and the resignation of coach Dave Bliss. The team had only nine players at the start of the season after two players were ruled academically ineligible. R.T. Guinn and Terrance Thomas were reinstated to the team last week.

The scandal was the main reason Etienne initially declined to go to Baylor, which is serving two years of self-imposed probation.

“I didn’t agree with what they were doing and the way they were doing it,” Etienne said of Baylor under Bliss. “Coach Drew is running a good program. I like what they are doing here at Baylor. They have a chance to be successful.”

His former high school coach, Steve Boyd, expressed confidence Etienne can be a part of that success.

“There’s no doubt … in my mind that Nino can achieve and have a successful career” at Baylor, Boyd said.

Etienne averaged 27 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in his senior year, leading Seoul American to its second Class AA championship and Boyd’s first.

“It’s exciting and certainly needed information to motivate my players, as well as all DODDS kids, that a dream of graduating from a DODDS school and playing Division I men’s basketball is indeed a possible dream come true,” Boyd said.

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