When Bogdan Bliznyuk tears another hole in his basketball shoes, he humbly approaches his older brother about the obvious solution.
Dima Bliznyuk doesn’t mind buying him new ones. He just wishes those size 141/2 feet would not go through them like Bogdan does a plate of perogies.
“He goes through so many basketball shoes,” Dima said. “Then you have to go online to get them and then they never fit right.”
But if that’s what helps Bogdan continue to average 19.9 points and six rebounds a game as the key player in Todd Beamer High School’s historic boys basketball season, Dima, without complaint, will provide.
Bogdan, The News Tribune’s All-Area boys Player of the Year, looks to lead the fifth-ranked Titans past No. 7 Gonzaga Prep on Thursday at the Tacoma Dome in their second 4A state tournament appearance in school history.
But the 6-foot-5 senior forward knows he might not be here without the unconditional love and support of his brother.
“He has basically taken care of me,” Bogdan said. “I look up to him a lot, and I want him to be proud of me, and I want my family to be proud.”
Dima never played organized basketball past middle school. He attends all of Bogdan’s games, pays for his cell phone, gas money, car insurance and even his monthly membership to the Federal Way Community Center, where Bogdan trains.
It’s as much a fatherly role as it is a relationship between brothers three years apart.
“He’s just my other half,” Dima said. “He’s family. You do that for family. I’d just rather not buy myself something and get him something instead.”
Both were born in Lutsk, Ukraine. Bogdan was less than 2 years old when his father, a truck driver, died in an accident.
Their mother moved them to Federal Way five years later to be closer to family.
Bogdan never picked up basketball in Ukraine, but Phil Burkett took notice of his play one day at the community center. He asked Dima to interpret to the boys’ mother to ask if Bogdan could play for Burkett’s AAU basketball team.
Dima, meanwhile, stopped playing after eighth grade and dropped out of school that same year. He was working full-time in construction by age 16 to provide for the family.
His mom had plenty on her plate raising two boys while also caring for their grandma.
“It was hard for her to always provide for us, and it was a lot of stress on her,” Bogdan said. “(Dima) really helped with that. It’s not his duty, but he treats it like it’s his responsibility since he is the oldest man in the family.
“I know he has put in so much for me to be successful. That just motivates me to work harder, to do everything right and to do enough to where the resources he’s put into me are not wasted.”
Dima has paved a better path for Bogdan. Since basketball here is kind of like backgammon back in Ukraine, their family didn’t comprehend how important it was to them.
“They didn’t understand permission slips and waivers,” Dima said. “I had to beg my mom, and she finally let me play in the seventh grade.”
Added Bogdan: “(Dima) was the first to play and my mom wasn’t always that supportive of it. I remember he had to walk home from practices sometimes. For me, it was easier because he got my family used to it.”
The only thing that has set Bogdan back is his mouth. He was born with a gap in his upper jaw. One of his multiple surgeries after moving to the United States included transferring bone there from his hip.
His most recent jaw surgery kept Bogdan out for half of last summer’s AAU season. The half-season was his first club basketball experience since fifth grade.
“I think it’s a big reason he is so under-recruited,” Burkett said. “This kid is an (NCAA) Division I player. If they don’t get this kid, they missed. Whoever gets him gets a steal.”
After every surgery, Dima was there to motivate Bogdan back into shape and push him to improve.
Bogdan’s goal is to play Div. I basketball.
“I tell (Dima) all the time, ‘I admire so much what you do for your family,’ ” Burkett said. “I think it is extremely unique how close-knit they are.”
Dima’s generosity extends beyond Bogdan to the rest of the Beamer squad. He has bought the players socks over the past two years and treated them to meals at Applebee’s after big games.
“He’s like a brother to us, too,” Beamer guard Trey Burch-Manning said.
Bogdan has upped his scoring after leading the team with 15.1 points a game last season. He refined his ball-handling and has made almost as many 3-pointers this year (53) as he took all of last season (58).
With an even better Bogdan and a solid team around him, the Titans earned their first SPSL South regular-season and West Central/Southwest bidistrict titles this season.
He hopes to bring the school its first state title.
And Dima will be there, like always, to support him.
“I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work to be successful and I feel like I’m reaping the benefits of that,” Bogdan said. “But the route I took to get here, it’s pretty unique. My family and my brother and my mom – it would mean a lot to me to win, especially for them.”
Forward, 6-6, sophomore
Does Anderson even realize how good he can be? When he wants to, the all-3A Narrows League first-teamer (13.0 points, 10.0 rebounds a game) can dominate on both ends. Never mind he equally terrorizes opponents inside and outside – his basketball sense separates him from other big men.
What coach Dave Alwert says: “He is a great kid with great character. And he is a man-child – only a sophomore – but he has great footwork on the perimeter and in the post. He’s a combination of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in the high school game.”
Forward, 6-6, senior
No player shouldered more of his team’s responsibilities than Brown, who not only was the unanimous 4A Narrows League Player of the Year (18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds per game), but he also led the Tigers to their first league title since 1990-91. The team’s best ballhandler, scorer and rebounder.
What coach Doug Cocke’ says: “He is the best passer I have ever coached. He sees the floor very well, and that makes him special to team play. ... His basketball IQ is very high and he has been a great leader this year.”
Forward, 6-7, senior
What more can be said about the 3A Narrows Player of the Year (19.0 points, 10 rebounds, 3.5 blocked shots per game) and McDonald’s All-America nominee? He’s a spectacular playmaker who is almost too selfless. Signed with the University of Washington.
What coach Allen Thomas says: “Donaven is a very rare talent that comes along every once in a while. He has the ability to guard all five positions, score in multiple ways ... but he has always been humble and has the burning desire to improve daily.”
Guard, 6-1, senior
Yes, he missed more than half the season transferring back from Montverde (Fla.) Academy. Even in a reduced role, he was the Abes’ best player – 13.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. One of the area’s all-time greats is headed to California.
What coach Aubrey Shelton says: “Ahmaad has been the ultimate competitor, team player and winner in his two years at Lincoln. ... His unselfishness and relentless drive to make his teammates better has earned the respect and love from the team.”
Guard, 6-3, senior
He is the whiz-pass wizard – and the most electrifying player in the SPSL North, averaging 20.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game. A three-time, all-SPSL North player, he was named the Player of the Year this season. Has 1,306 career points heading into the state tournament.
What coach Dave Jamison says: “Jawan has been a four-year varsity player scoring over 1,300 points. He is dynamic in the open court and an unselfish teammate.”
Player of the year: Bogdan Bliznyuk, Beamer
Coach of the year: Doug Cocke’, Stadium
ALL-AREA SECOND TEAM
TORY CAUSEY, Curtis, G, 5-9, jr.
AR’MOND DAVIS, Foss, G, 6-5, sr.
DAVID JENKINS, Wilson, G, 6-1, so.
JAQUORI McLAUGHLIN, Peninsula, G, 6-3, so.
MALIK MONTOYA, Federal Way, G, 6-2, jr.TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com