Tag Archives: Orlando Mendez-Valdez

Orlando Mendez-Valdez still succeeding

Ever since he wowed the country with a 25-point performance against Gonzaga in the 2009 NCAA tournament, Orlando Mendez-Valdez might have Western fans wondering where the former Topper guard went.

For at least a few days, the now-professional Mexican basketball player returned to Bowling Green for the first time as an alumnus — an experience he said brought back both positive memories and feelings.

“I can’t lie — I miss a lot,” he said.

Mendez-Valdez now plays for the Halcones (Falcons) Uv Xalapa, a member of the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto in Mexico.

He said the team is strictly professional, with no scholarships and no classes, but Xalapa, like many Latin American professional teams, is tied directly to the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico.

The Falcons won the league championship on March 10, their third title in a row and fourth since the club’s inception in 2003.

Mendez-Valdez said he signed with the team after following a close friend’s advice, and this season — along with the money that came with it — worked out nicely.

“I already knew what I was getting myself into with that kind of team, but (the championship) was huge,” he said. “All of Latin America was watching.”

Athletics Director Wood Selig said he could see that sort of success coming from a player that “showed nothing” after his freshman season and eventually developed into one of Western’s most memorable faces.

“Some people are just leaders. Some people are just winners. Some people are just competitors and refuse to lose,” Selig said. “Orlando is all of that rolled into a very athletic basketball player.”

Mendez-Valdez averaged 13.0 points in 23.8 minutes a game for Xalapa, enough to earn him an invite back for next year’s team as well as a tryout with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

With all that has changed in less than a year, Mendez-Valdez still has his same sense of fashion. He wore a white T-shirt, worn jeans and fine-tipped gelled hair on his first full day back in Bowling Green.

Mendez-Valdez is also engaged to volleyball player Aquila Orr and has set a June 19 wedding date.

Until then, Mendez-Valdez said he’ll continue to live in his apartment in Mexico, where he relies on a laptop to communicate with his friends and family in the United States, once he leaves the country again on Sunday.

Head Coach Ken McDonald said it’s been difficult but worth it to keep in contact with his former senior leader.

“I told him I disowned him — that he was no longer one of my boys,” McDonald said, laughing. “We were laughing about that, because he doesn’t have a phone, so he said we’d either have to Skype, or I could text him at some random number, and he would get it.”

Mendez-Valdez said he’s not sure where he’ll be playing basketball next year, whether it be for Xalapa or an NBA D-League team. But he’s not looking past the big day or the nerves that come along with getting married.

“It’s just having my family there, having her family there, having alcohol — it’s going to be fun, and I hope in a good way,” he said.

A leading issue

Leadership issues rose within Western’s team before the season even started, then again when the Toppers took their second loss to Indiana State.

And every time it seemed Western lacked a proverbial shirt-grabber, McDonald was reminded of what Mendez-Valdez brought to the Toppers’ 2008-2009 NCAA tournament squad.

“You take a guy like that off a team, and of course you’re going to miss him,” McDonald said. “You hope some of the returning guys can fill that void, and you hope also someone’s going to step up and really take over some of that role. That’s a tough role to fill, though.”

Mendez-Valdez hoped to catch the Toppers’ Jan. 23 contest against Middle Tennessee, one of the lone ESPN-broadcast games of the season. He didn’t see the game, but he ended up hearing about it — mostly from McDonald, senior guard A.J. Slaughter and senior forward Jeremy Evans — the people Mendez-Valdez said he most keeps in contact with.

Western lost that day, 84-74, marking the third game of a season-high five-game losing streak.

Again, McDonald addressed a potential lack of leadership along with effort. Mendez-Valdez, now a self-proclaimed Western “fan,” said those struggles can’t always be measured from an outside perspective.

“A lot of fans don’t see what’s behind closed doors,” Mendez-Valdez said. “I witnessed it first hand and there can be a lot of things going on — a lot of distractions, a lot players not getting along in the lockeroom, so I don’t like to judge.”

But Selig doesn’t mind either judging or measuring the importance of what Mendez-Valdez — or someone with a similar sense competitiveness — could have brought to this season’s Western team.

“Our run in the NCAA Tournament with his leadership during Ken McDonald’s first year, much of it was due to outstanding senior leadership by OMV,” Selig said. “I don’t mean to discount any of our seniors this year … but I think the intangibles that Orlando brought to our program were dramatically missing from our squad this year.”

The professional ranks

He gets paid. His personal life is in line. And he’s living the good life in Mexico, playing professional basketball for the country’s top league.

But winning championships in Mexico for Xalapa still isn’t college, where Mendez-Valdez “grew up” and became who he is today.

“I miss getting ready for games. I miss hyping each other up and playing to go to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Now being professional, it’s a little bit different. Most guys would rather have a bonus check than a ring.”

Before he was able to miss college, Mendez-Valdez missed out on some opportunity. The same knee he had surgically repaired before his senior season needed more work after his Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year run, when he averaged 14.2 points per game.

So he said there were few opportunities to perform in front of scouts after nearly carrying Western to the Sweet 16 for the second season in a row while recovering again. He made it on a professional roster anyway, and McDonald said Mendez-Valdez’s climb back is both a testament to his work ethic and his natural athleticism.

“He’s a special kid now,” McDonald said. “First of all, he’s a complete player, and he’s one of the better players I’ve ever been around. I’ve been around some pretty good guys, but he’s right up there.”

Although he’s playing more basketball than ever now, Mendez-Valdez insists he could be better by combining his knowledge of the game now with his physical fitness at Western.

“I think in college I was in the best shape (of my life), but I think I’m a lot smarter as far as the game goes,” he said. “I’m a lot better shooter and my skills have increased just because of the time I’ve put in the gym and as many games as we play.”

Mendez-Valdez’s quick-earned success didn’t come without some positive repercussions, either. In addition to working out an NBA tryout with the Spurs, the former Topper said he spent some time with the Mexican national team and may try to earn a spot on the nation’s 2012 Olympic team.

“I was there to experience being with them for a couple of weeks, and to be honest, I didn’t like the feeling I was getting from it,” Mendez-Valdez said. “I wouldn’t mind playing and representing Mexico if I had the right players and the right teammates having my back.”

Life in Mexico

Mendez-Valdez is in a different place now, but he said his lifestyle hasn’t changed as much as he anticipated with a move to Xalapa, Mexico.

“I think a lot of people are closed-minded. I was one of them as well,” he said. “I’ve been there with my family, but I always went into the lower end of Mexico. Coming to this team in that state, I was exposed to a high society. I think in Mexico there’s just no in between.

“You’re either rich or you’re poor, and I’m just lucky to be around people in a high society.”

Xalapa, a city in the state of Veracruz, sits in the southern half of Mexico. Mendez-Valdez’s Halcones Uv Xalapa is the only professional team in the city.

McDonald said he’s glad the Xalapa didn’t judge after they looked at Mendez-Valdez’s 6-1, 180-pound frame and unique fashion sense like some did in the college ranks.

“They saw how he dressed off the court and stuff,” McDonald said. “He probably gets a bad rap for the gelled hair and maybe the look he has, but he’s a very good athlete. He’s faster than you think, and he’s more athletic than you think.”

Mendez-Valdez now has to ponder what he’ll do next season — either return to play for Xalapa, where he’s earned a spot on the roster, or attempt to live the dream and shoot for an NBA D-League roster.

Whichever path, Mendez-Valdez said his soon-to-be wife, Orr, will follow him.

Jonathan Lintner

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McDonald rides confidence into UofL

Just got in from WKU’s press conference going into the Toppers’ game at Louisville on Saturday. Head coach Ken McDonald had a few interesting points, and players Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch provided insight as well.

The Toppers are seemingly hitting their stride going into this contest and have history on their side. After their 76-69 victory over then-no.24 ranked Vanderbilt on Friday night at the Sommet Center in Nashville and considering last season’s 68-54 win over then-No.3 Louisville (also in the Sommet Center), WKU has the motivation to play the Cardinals, who are on a two-game home losing skid right now going into a game at home against Oral Roberts tonight.

But that is what McDonald believes is just one of the factors in getting the team ready for peak performance:

“It starts with our defense and our rebounding,” he said. “Once again, it takes a lot of pressure off our offense. Every possession, when you get down eight to 10 points, double digits, you start to feel a pressure that you have to take over the game and you have to make shots, and you can lose confidence in a hurry on the offensive end and it snowballs. So I think we’ve done a good job with that, turning that around and understanding that each four minutes, if we take care of the defense and rebounding, we’re going to have a lot more confidence on the offensive end.”

A game like this could also be a trap game for the Toppers going down the road. WKU followed its win over Louisville last season with a 72-40 loss at Evansville two games later. It was the Toppers lowest point total all season and the worst game offensively by far on the year. But McDonald isn’t expecting a drop-off in this type of game.

“If you can’t get excited and be intense going into Louisville, with one of the great venues in the country with an unbelievable environment,” McDonald said. “First of all, we’ve got to go in with an ‘us against the world’ mentality, because we haven’t been in this environment yet. It’ll be louder than we’re used to. We’ve got a chance to do something special with our team and with all that said, continue to build toward our goals of being a good basketball team at the end of the year.”

On the court, these teams couldn’t be going in more different directions. WKU’s win over Vandy, coupled with UofL’s two-game losing streak, could spell a second-straight victory over the Cardinals for the Toppers. A great majority of this team’s nucleus is back from last season’s win — most importantly, senior forward Jeremy Evans and junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew, who were instrumental in shutting down Louisville’s marquee forwards, Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark, in last year’s game. Clark is gone, replaced primarily by sophomore Terrence Jennings, but Samuels still remains. It will be up to those two again to make sure he doesn’t get many touches.

Added motivation comes from the Kentucky kids like Pettigrew, senior guard A.J. Slaughter and freshman guard Jamal Crook, who played in the state but were recruited lightly or not at all by Louisville.

“Every time you play a Kentucky school, you go in there and you play as hard as you can and play the best game you have,” Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew also added that the team will be focusing on the Cardinals’ 2-3 zone that has become, along with the full court press, one of UofL head coach Rick Pitino’s staples as of late. The zone definitely has holes, especially on the perimeter, which can lead to a number of good looks from three-point range if the Cardinals don’t close out. And with the quick trigger on players like Slaughter, Kerusch and freshman guards Caden Dickerson and Jameson Tipping, if the looks fall, it could get interesting.

“I think last year was last year,” Kerusch said. “And I think that (Louisville) can draw more motivation than we can because we won. Their coach can be telling them, ‘We underestimated them last year. We’re not doing that this year.’ It’s a big game, winning against Vanderbilt. We’ve got a great confidence, and I think we found our chemistry.”

On the guard end of the spectrum, Kerusch and Slaughter will be the ones asked to control the tempo. The loss of Orlando Mendez-Valdez shouldn’t factor too much. Mendez-Valdez only scored five points in last year’s game, while Slaughter dropped in a game-high 25. Kerusch will likely be the man counted on in this game to back up Slaughter. Kerusch only scored five points on 1-for-10 shooting last time out against the Cardinals.

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Banquet and thoughts

Just got back from WKU men’s basketball awards banquet, and the mood was probably the lightest I have seen all season (after a season of lowered expectations being met with amazing results, I guess I can see why). A few awards and some thoughts:

E.A. Diddle Leadership Award: Orlando Mendez-Valdez

John Oldham Most Improved: Anthony Sally

Dwight Smith Playmaker Award: A.J. Slaughter

Clem Haskins Team M.V.P.: Orlando Mendez-Valdez

Another nice tidbit is that coach Ken McDonald announced at the end of the festivities and food (decent spaghetti and salad, all while the forensics team banquet apparently was having steak down the street) that he would be creating a $1,000 scholarship in Mendez-Valdez’s named for one child from the San Antonio-area, giving them the chance to go to college. McDonald said in his 15 years of coaching that he had “never been more impressed with a player” than Mendez-Valdez and after seeing the situation he came from, McDonald felt compelled to put this scholarship together. It’s a fitting end to the career of a player who made a name for himself this season.

The coming season brings more promise with the signing of the six incoming players, as well as what McDonald said might be “more on the way”. I’m not sure how that is possible with all scholarships given out currently, so that’ll be something to watch for. It will also be hard for Mac to top what he has gotten himself into, but he seems confident he can.

Time to sit back and watch it all play out this summer.

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Halftime thoughts

At halftime, WKU has yet another lead on a big-time opponent. Now, a few thoughts and stats.

  • Orlando Mendez-Valdez deserves full credit for the position WKU sits in. His 17 first-half points got it all started, especially his going 4-5 from three. He had no points in the final 10 minutes, but that may turn out to be good, since no one person can carry a team in this tournament. Even Stephen Curry had Jason Roberts and Co. last season.
  • WKU shot 50 percent (6-for-12) from three. Gonzaga, after starting hot, went cold late, going 4-for-10 (40 percent). This has to stay intact if WKU wants the win.
  • Another big factor was half-court defense. WKU did a good job of collapsing on defense in the half court, and it will be important to keep it that way.

Second half is about to start, so check back for more after the game.

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Halftime: WKU 37, Illinois 29

So as you’ve probably seen, WKU is on fire in all aspects of the offense (except maybe free throw shooting). That 17-4 run in a 5:19 span in the middle of the half gave them the cushion they needed. But remember that this is Illinois, and as they showed in spurts in the first half, if they can successfully slow the pace to a grinding hault, they can lull WKU into submission. There’s still a long way to go, but the Toppers are at full bore and making all the pundits look very smart for picking them to win this one.

Despite all the talk about Illinois’ size, WKU is outrebounding the Fighting Illini 23-15, though that can be credited mostly to Illinois’ 1-for-9 shooting from three point range. Their deep clangers have forced long rebounds that the WKU guards have retrieved while Illinois’ big men are below the basket. Orlando Mendez-Valdez has five rebounds of his own, and Kerusch has eight.

WKU shot 45.5 percent (15-for-33) in the half, including 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) form three. Illinois shot 38.7 percent (12-for-31).

Jeremy Evans’ block on Demetri McCamey really set the tone for the first half. The block had the look of the one Evans had on Louisville’s Samardo Samuels this season.

Steffphon Pettigrew had seven points in the first eight minutes of the half, reminiscent of his performance in the Sun Belt Conference tournament against South Alabama in the finals, when he had nine early points to help set the pace for WKU. He’s tied for the lead among scorers in this game with seven.

The second half is moments away. Stay tuned postgame for thoughts and reaction, and be sure to go to WKUHerald.com for the postgame coverage.

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12th-seeded Toppers to play Illinois in first round

Western earned a 12-seed in the NCAA tournament and will play fifth-seeded Illinois in Portland, Ore., on Thursday in the South Region.

Fans gathered with the team Sunday night in Diddle Arena to watch the selection show.

“It’s a great match-up for us,” coach Ken McDonald said. “We’re excited. It’s an exciting time right now. Now it’s time to prepare — quick turnaround, long trip and get ready for the next one, which is all we have left right now.”

The Toppers (24-8) were seeded 12th last season in their run to the Sweet Sixteen. There are eight players remaining from last season’s squa

Illinois (24-9) makes the tournament as an at-large selection out of the Big Ten Conference. They lost to eventual-Big Ten champion Purdue in the conference semifinals this week. They’re led by leading scorer Demetrius McCamey at 11.5 points per game.

It was a match-up that McDonald apparently saw coming. “He predicted the team,” senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez said. “He got the location wrong, I think. But he predicted the team, before they got to the region.”

Check WKUHerald.com and chhtoppertalk.wordpress.com for the latest on the Toppers’ run through the NCAA tournament.

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First half, 11:57 to go: WKU 19, USA 6

USA stopped the bleeding with a bucket at the 15:30 mark from DeAndre Coleman. Another good sign for WKU: D.J. Magley came into the game and right off the bat put back a Pettigrew miss. But Pettigrew isn’t done — he hit a three to give him 12 of WKU’s first 16 points. He’s on fire, going 5-for-6 from the field so far. Mendez-Valdez followed up with a three from the left wing over Tilford off an Evans steal, and Arrow must call a 30-second timeout.

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