'Coach Vando' brings wealth of experience
When Adjalma Vanderlei Becheli took some time to celebrate his 43rd birthday last Monday evening, he expected to spend the evening with his wife and a group of USU Eastern basketball players just laughing and enjoying a nice low-key birthday celebration. But little did the USU Eastern women's assistant coach know, he was about to find out this birthday, and his future, was going to be anything but low-key.
Becheli, 43, was one of 157 applicants from all over the country vying for the head coaching position with the USU Eastern men's basketball team. After an exhaustive search, a committee created to find a new head coach whittled down the list of applicants to a final three.
While enjoying his birthday, Becheli was called to speak with Brad King, USU Eastern vice chancellor for administration and advancement, in private. The first thing running through Becheli's mind while walking to a quiet place with King was that he must have come up just short for the head coaching job.
"The first thing I thought was 'Oh no, I didn't get the job,'" Becheli explained.
But he was wrong. King pulled Becheli aside to inform him the committee chose him to be the new head coach. After four years of serving as an assistant for both the men's and women's teams, Becheli's journey taking him from Brazil to Price came full circle.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said. "I'm honored to be the head coach for the USU Eastern men's team."
For Becheli, a tireless work ethic, desire to succeed and a passion for helping athletes achieve their dreams are just some of the traits that have helped carry him along his long journey dating back to his roots in Brazil to his new life as head coach at USU Eastern.
"I hated it at first"
As a child growing up in Brazil, Becheli was expected to play soccer. In a soccer crazed country like Brazil, there aren't many other sports to choose from. After playing the game for years as a youth, Becheli wanted to find something else to spend his time doing. He didn't have to wait very long. Becheli's physical education teacher in school asked him, or in Becheli's mind forced him to start participating in basketball. Becheli agreed to play the game just once to appease his teacher.
"I hated it (basketball) at first," Becheli admitted. "I just wasn't very good at it. I played to make my teacher happy."
Little did Becheli know then that the game of basketball would shape the course of his life over the next 30 years.
After playing that one game of basketball, Becheli went on to play as a shooting guard with professional club teams in Brazil for seven years from 1987-1994. While he enjoyed success on the court and being involved with the game of basketball, Becheli looked more at the possibility of walking away as a player.
"After awhile I just didn't have the desire to play any more," he said.
Becheli talked about the situation with his coach who gave him some sage advice. If the desire inside of you to play dies down, become a coach and teach the game of basketball to the youth.
Since then, it's been one of the greatest loves of his life.
"I loved getting involved with coaching basketball and helping out kids," he said.
Teaching a love and respect for the game
Becheli quickly moved into the coaching ranks in Brazil with club teams and coached professionally for 12 years. He served as the head men's basketball coach for Blumenau, SC; Brazil where his Under 21 teams finished as State Champions (2004, 2006). In 2002, his team capped off an undefeated season by winning the Champions of the Millennium Cup for the Sao Jose do Rio Pardo professional team. During this time, Becheli was honored as a Coach of the Year, becoming the youngest to receive the award in Brazilian basketball history, he said.
"Since becoming a coach, I've always wanted to become better not only as a coach, but as a role model to the players," Becheli explained.
With soccer serving as the main sport for youth in Brazil, Becheli said he often found himself running into potential athletes while at the supermarket. Just as it was when he was younger, Becheli had to convince these kids that basketball can not only be a fun sport to play, but it can also help lead to a better life.
While Becheli is proud of his hard work while guiding his professional teams to success, he said he is more proud of the role he has played in helping athletes get opportunities to play in the United States. While he has worked with current NBA players such as Nene Hilario and Leandro Barbosa, Becheli can tell the story of success with former BYU player Rafael Araujo.
Araujo always had the look of someone who could make it big. Standing at 6-foot-11 and weighing over 275 lbs, with long arms covered with tattoos, Araujo caught Becheli's eyes as a special talent. However, one problem stood in the way. Araujo, like many other youth in Brazil, came from a poor family who didn't have the funds necessary to help him play basketball. So with the blessing of Araujo's family, Becheli became like a father to Araujo, inviting him into his home and helping him work towards achieving his dream of playing in the United States.
After graduating from high school, Araujo got his chance in the U.S. attending Arizona Western College in Yuma, Ariz. He averaged 15 points and 9.55 rebounds per game over his two seasons in the NJCAA ranks. From there Araujo took a scholarship to play at BYU from 2002-04 where he helped lead the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 after a senior season where he averaged a double-double with 18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Becheli watched as Araujo achieved his dream of being drafted in the NBA as the Toronto Raptors took him with the eighth pick. While his career in the NBA lasted only three seasons, Araujo played in the Euro Professional Leagues and later in Brazil to round out his playing career.
"You have to want it," Becheli said of wanting to play basketball for a living. "Every player needs to look at this as an opportunity to help make a better life for themselves and their families."
Not only do players sacrifice, but coaches do as well. Becheli took a chance in 2008 coming to the U.S. and so far the results are beginning to show.
Giving up everything for a chance
In August 2008, Becheli was asked by former USU Eastern head men's basketball coach Chris Craig to join his staff as an assistant. Becheli first met Craig while he was a player at Arizona Western College when Araujo was on the team. The two kept in contact after parting ways and when a spot opened on Craig's staff, Becheli jumped at the opportunity.
It wasn't the easiest situation for Becheli. The language barrier, which can be one of the toughest issues for a foreigner to overcome, was just one issue. Six months prior to coming to Price, Becheli married his current wife, the former Mariana Gornati. He contemplated all of the other issues, including leaving Brazil, his family and friends, the food and everything else imaginable behind.
"It was really tough at first for me," Becheli said. He moved into suite, if it could be called that, 18B at the Burtenshaw Dormitory. Dave Paur, USU Eastern women's basketball head coach, said Becheli worked for "peanuts", sacrificing a lot along the way while working as an assistant for the men's team.
"If you want something good in life, then you have to pursue it all the way," Becheli explained. "It's really hard though."
During his two seasons on the bench with Craig, the Golden Eagles finished two winning seasons including the 2009-10 season where the team took third place in the NJCAA National Tournament. He also helped recruit and develop another foreigner on the team as Vander Joaquim, from Angola, came to USU Eastern for the championship run before leaving for the University of Hawaii. From there he started working as an assistant Paur where he has been for the past two seasons. As the offensive coordinator, Becheli helped create an offensive led by sophomore All-American Priscila Santos, a fellow Brazilian, who led the NJCAA in scoring and broke numerous school scoring records.
"I really enjoyed working with the women's team," Becheli said. "The girls were very coachable and they worked extremely hard."
While Santos is another success story of a player from Brazil succeeding in the U.S., Becheli didn't make things easy for her at all.
"Priscila had to work hard for everything," he said noting she received no special treatment from him. "I'm probably a lot harder on foreign players than the others."
Now the real work begins
Since being selected as the new head men's basketball coach, Becheli's cell phone has been ringing with calls and beeping with text messages all day long. People have been calling to congratulate him on his new job and give him pointers on players to start looking at recruiting.
Even before he was notified of receiving the head coaching position, Becheli was out hitting the roads recruiting and meeting with coaches in Los Angeles. He has also been to Las Vegas and has plans to visit a number of other cities in the U.S. and also Jamaica and Brazil to watch players he is looking to recruit.
The search committee chose him for a number of reasons including the fact he has worked hard in his time here in Price developing relationships with coaches nationally and internationally, Paur said.
Becheli, whose players and friends simply call him Coach Vando, has his work cut out for him. After the tragic death of previous coach Brad Barton before the start of the season, Becheli must build up a roster that is nearly bare. Freshman All-American Chase Flint is heading to Loyola Marymount (CA) and Maxim Zakharov, who was suspended all of last season for violating NJCAA rules, is headed to the University of Hawaii. While some players are still undecided on what they will do, Becheli said he will support them with their decision to stay or leave.
Becheli said he is hoping to bring in three foreign big men for next season. With each player listed at over 6-foot-8, he is looking to tackle one of the biggest problems that plagued the Golden Eagles last season. Becheli is also looking at potential applicants to fill out his coaching staff which he hopes to have completed as soon as possible.
While he wants to have successful teams, Becheli also wants his players to become part of the community and be good representatives of the college.
"I want to hear people say they are proud of the players, the program and the coaching staff for working hard," he said.
Now after four years here, Becheli and his wife Mariana have grown to love Price, the mountains and the natural beauty of the area, despite having lived in much larger cities back in Brazil.
While there is a lot of work to be done, Becheli's journey from Brazil to Price and everything in between has certainly provided him with plenty of experiences to draw from as he steps into the spot as head coach.
"It's an honor to be a coach in the SWAC with the other good coaches and players," he said. "The administration here has shown trust in me to be the head coach and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to coach here for a long time."