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LEONARD ORTIZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Los Alamitos' Eyassu Worku has set the school record for career points and is on the verge of breaking the single-season mark.

Miller: Los Alamitos' Worku makes a name for himself

STAFF COLUMNIST

LOS ALAMITOS – His game is effortless. His name, well, that can require a little sweat.

All together now, nice and slow: “EE-ah-soo.”

The parents of Eyassu Worku, a couple who had immigrated to the United States two years earlier, turned to the Bible when naming their first-born child, deciding to go with the Ethiopian equivalent of Joshua.

“Josh” is what Worku decided to go with early in school – making it easier for his teachers – and that’s the name he still uses today when ordering at Starbucks – making it easier for employees who, on the side of my Grande Frappuccino cup, routinely write “Jed.”

“When I got to high school,” Worku explains now, “there were so many kids named Josh or Joshua that I chose to go back to Eyassu.”

Approaching four years later, the name isn’t mispronounced anywhere near as frequently as it once was at Los Alamitos High, even as Worku’s basketball teammates prefer to call him simply “E.”

The kid hasn’t just established his name here; he’s written it into the school’s history, perhaps even fulfilling the soaring potential his coach once laid out for him.

“I told him as a freshman, ‘If you stay here four years, you’re going to be the greatest Los Al basketball player yet,’” Eddie Courtemarche says. “I knew he was special.”

Worku already has set the school record for career points and is on the verge of breaking the single-season mark set by future NBA starter Landry Fields, whose Los Al jersey was retired last month.

In fact, Worku, a 6-foot-2 guard, had his first chance to set the record Tuesday against Huntington Beach. Unfortunately for him, he struggled all night to find his shot.

So, instead, as a testament to his overall skills, as the Griffins were marking Senior Night with an 83-60 victory, Worku set a different record completely, a career high in assists with 14.

“What makes him special is not just his innate ability to play basketball,” Courtemarche says. “But he also has a motor that never quits. I’ve never coached a kid quite like him.”

Maybe it’s the non-stop legs that allow Worku to weave around the court at varying speeds, eyes almost always up, not unlike a soccer player, which is precisely what his dad, Worku Shibeshi, was in Ethiopia.

OK, back to the name for a second. According to Ethiopian custom, sons typically take their father’s given name as their family name. So, if he ever has a son and decides to adhere to tradition, Eyassu Worku would give his boy the last name Eyassu.

Shibeshi, before his son began playing basketball at age 6, knew nothing about the sport other than the fact it was the game that made Michael Jordan famous.

Now, more than 10 years later, basketball is presenting his son with the exact sort of opportunities that lured Shibeshi and his wife, Yodit Berhanu, to the U.S. in the first place.

In the fall, Worku will continue his career – and his education – at UC Irvine. And isn’t that what this country is all about, a first-generation American, the son of an accountant and a secretary, pursuing the best life possible?

Sure it is, America the one place in the world where every young man and woman can dream of growing up to one day to be an Anteater.

“Him playing college basketball, I never thought like that,” Shibeshi says. “But the more he’s played the more improvement we’ve seen. Watching him now, you can tell he’s going to be pretty good.”

Courtemarche was convinced after watching only one sequence during a tryout for freshmen. Worku grabbed a rebound, dribbled the length of the floor and no-looked to a teammate for a layup. He then stole the inbounds pass and made a 3-pointer.

After roughly five seconds, Courtemarche knew Worku would be a four-year varsity player as long as he remained at Los Al and didn’t transfer to any of the private schools that inevitably would show interest.

It was during one of those early periods when Worku was wavering about his future that Courtemarche mentioned the prospect of him becoming the school’s all-time top player.

“When he told me that, it kind of opened my eyes,” Worku says. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ After he said that, I decided I wanted to leave a legacy here. I want people to remember me at this school.”

They’ll remember him, maybe for his 51-point game in a holiday tournament this season, maybe for the “M-V-P” chants coming from the student section when he shoots free throws, maybe for the entire four years of points and victories and moments.

Or maybe they’ll remember Worku for all that, plus something that really matters.

“If I could be on the team just to be one of his teammates, I think I would,” Courtemarche says. “Really, I mean that. He includes everybody. He’s not bigger than anyone else. He calls these guys his family and he treats them like that.”

And the Griffins call Worku family, too, whether it’s Eyassu, Josh or just “E.”

Contact the writer: jmiller@ocregister.com


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