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One tough hombre

Oklahoma's Najera finally getting well-deserved notice

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Posted: Thursday March 18, 1999 10:27 PM

  The numbers don't lie: Eduardo Najera (right) tallied 37 points and 28 rebounds in Oklahoma's two tournament wins. Brian Bahr/Allsport

ST. LOUIS (CNN/SI) -- As the lowest remaining seed in the NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma certainly qualifies as a Cinderella team.

But in honor of the player most responsible for the 13th-seeded Sooners' two tournament victories, Eduardo Alfonso Najera, you might want to call them something else.

El equipo.

"Nobody believes in the team," Najera said. "Nobody believes that we were going to advance in the first round the second round, now here we are."

The biggest surprise is that Najera's here and talking about it.

Five years ago, he moved from Chihuahua, Mexico to San Antonio for his senior year of high school and knew virtually no English. A year later he was headed for college in the U.S.

"It takes a lot of courage and determination to get where he's from," Oklahoma guard Eric Martin said. "I think it's fascinating coming from another country to another to learn the language within a year and speaking it fluently."

The way he's learned to fit in on the court is equally impressive. In upset victories over Arizona and UNC-Charlotte, the junior forward totaled 37 points, 28 rebounds, four steals, three blocks and an assist.

"It's coming to the end of the season and he's pulling a lot of things out of the hat," Oklahoma guard Michael Johnson said. "He made what second team all conference in the Big 12, I think he deserved to be on the first team so I think he's probably making a statement right now."

Najera made plenty of statements for the Sooners in the regular season, leading them in both scoring (15.5) and rebounding (8.0).

It's just that nobody noticed.

"That's one of my goals, to be recognized on national TV and all that stuff," Najera said. "I mean that's part of the basketball game."

Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson noticed one major flaw in Najera's game when he came to Norman. Sampson thought Najera played too soft and timid.

That's not the case anymore, as Sampson now likes to refer to his team's go-to player as one tough hombre.

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