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LSU brings Voogd some family time.

Byline: Bob Rodman The Register-Guard

C o l l e g e b a s k e t b a l l

No one from the Oregon coastal community of Florence had been a point guard on the Louisiana State basketball team that played in the NCAA Tournament's Final Four as a crowd of nearly 44,000 watched.

But dreams do come true and Ben Voogd's sure did.

"Last year," he said without hesitation, "was a bit overwhelming. You grow up in a small town and dream of playing for a big-time school in places you see on television.

"Then all of a sudden you're looking up into the stands at the Final Four. You realize you really are where you wanted to be."

Voogd played in all of LSU's 36 games as the Tigers won the Southeastern Conference and finished 27-9 after losing to UCLA in the NCAA tournament's semifinals.

Voogd's jaunt down Dream Lane has continued. A week ago, the Tigers were in Houston for a nationally televised game against Texas. They lost in overtime, but the impression on Voogd was lasting.

"I'm sitting there before the game, and ESPN's Dick Vitale comes up and shakes my hand," Voogd said. "I look up in the crowd and there is Dikembe Mutombo of the Houston Rockets."

A 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore who two years ago was playing at such venues as Junction City, Creswell, Cottage Grove and La Pine, Voogd's itinerary now includes Tuscaloosa, Ala., Athens, Ga., Lexington, Ky., and Knoxville, Tenn., and - on this Sunday evening - Corvallis.

He and the Tigers make a stop to play Oregon State at Gill Coliseum, a couple of hours' drive from Florence. It's about as close as it can get to being a real home game for Voogd (pronounced VOOG).

"It's awesome," he said. "It's my homecoming game. I always have wanted to play in front of my family and friends."

Which includes his father, Harry, and mother, Karen, and sisters Melissa and Stacie. And maybe half of Florence. Scheduled for a national telecast on FSN, the game is set to start at 5 p.m.

The 12th-ranked Tigers (5-2) are playing at OSU (6-4) for the first time since 1969. LSU's West Coast tour continues on Wednesday with a game against Washington in Seattle.

The long road trip is part of a deal Louisiana State coach John Brady made when he was recruiting Voogd.

"He said that if Ben would sign, he would schedule a game out here either in Ben's sophomore or junior year," Harry Voogd said. "Coach Brady was true to his word."

While his playing time has diminished a bit, Voogd still recorded a career night in LSU's 91-57 win over McNeese State three weeks ago with 12 points that included 4-of-4 shooting from the field and two three-pointers. In 21 minutes, he also had six assists, two steals and no turnovers.

"I got comfortable," said Voogd, who averaged 22 points his last two seasons as an all-state guard at Siuslaw High. "I felt like I had the confidence I was lacking as a freshman, confidence to run the offense and get the ball to guys."

But the fight continues.

"He has improved," Brady said, "but in two of our biggest games, Texas A&M and Texas, Ben struggled. Hopefully on this road trip, he will learn from his mistakes and give us some positive minutes and make some plays."

Voogd understands.

"Playing college basketball is 95 percent about being mentally strong," he said. "I can't be that little kid from Florence who is not sure he can make it."

Voogd admits to having been caught up in the wonder of being recruited by the Tigers. "I didn't think about living here (in Baton Rouge, La.)," he said. "I saw a football game at Tiger Stadium, and it was unbelievable. There are all the perks, and it all threw me off track.

"I didn't know a whole lot about LSU and had to think twice about just where Louisiana was, but I did know that Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) and Pistol Pete (Maravich) played there."

Voogd made his first official recruiting visit - to LSU - his last, opting for the Tigers in a heartbeat.

"There have been times when Ben said maybe it wasn't as good an idea as he first thought," said Harry Voogd, a driver for the post office in Florence. "He's a long way from home. But he is 20 years old now, and while there still are ups and downs, there are more ups than downs."

Brady is well aware that "the level of play from high school ball in Oregon to LSU was a big change for Ben.

"Being away from home for the first time was tough," the LSU coach said. "He had never been away from his family for more than a three-day stretch before he came here.

"He came to south Louisiana, which is very different lifestyle. He has handled it well and adjusted to it nicely. I am pulling for him to play well when we go to his home state."

So is his home state.

OSU VS. LSU

Sunday: 5 p.m. at Gill Coliseum. TV: FSN. Radio: KKNX-AM (840), KKND-AM (1400).
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Title Annotation:Sports; The ex-Siuslaw all-stater and the 12th-ranked Tigers play Sunday at Oregon State
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 16, 2006
Words:871
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