Archdeacon: Finnish Flyer shows family a fine time, including a victory

They wanted to fly home in victory, not defeat.

Mustapha Amzil’s parents — Katri and Brahim — along with his 14-year-old sister Safia, made their first trip ever from Finland to UD Arena last Friday night to see him and his University of Dayton teammates play in person.

The whole experience was enhanced even further for Katri and Safia because they were visiting the United States for the first time.

While they got an electric experience at a rockin’, sold-out Arena, the celebration came to an abrupt halt when the Flyers had a total meltdown against VCU, losing a 16-point lead and then losing the game in the final seconds, 63-62.

Following the game, Amzil admitted he was not the best host:

“When we lose, afterward, I’m not the best person to be around,” said the 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore.

His family had planned to fly back home on Saturday, but they changed their minds after the crushing loss.

“I told him. ‘We’re going to stay here until you win!’” Katri said.

Since it was three days until the Flyers would play again, Amzil said he showed his family around a bit each day once he’d finished practice:

“I showed them the campus. I took them to some food spots — we went to Milano’s, I took them to get moussaka — and they went downtown by themselves.”

“I wanted him to take us to Walmart, too, so we did that,” Katri smiled,

They also got to see their younger son — 17-year-old Abdullah — whose Omnia Academy from Finland had won at Alter High Scholl on Thursday night and then got thumped by mighty AZ Compass Prep in the Flyin’ to the Hoop tournament at Trent Arena.

Then came Tuesday night back at the Arena and a sold-out game against Davidson.

“My parents were in the stands waving Finnish and Moroccan flags,” Amzil said. “My mom’s from Finland and my dad is from Morocco.

“It meant a lot to me for them to be here. They’ve been my biggest supporters since I started playing basketball. Whatever I’ve done in my life, they’ve always been there. I appreciate that a lot.

“I know my dad was up in the stands yelling, but it’s just the gym is bigger and I can’t hear him now.”

Regardless, he gave his family plenty to cheer about Tuesday.

He led the Flyers to a 68-61 victory, scoring a team-high 19 points — he made two of his three three-point attempts and seven of eight free throws — while grabbing four rebounds and blocking two shots.

He’s the Flyers leading free throw shooter and third most prolific scorer (10.7 points per game) and rebounder this season.

After he game, Katri stood with her family on the ramp that leads from Blackburn Court to the team’s locker room in the Donoher Center and was asked what the past few days have been like:

“Actually we just have been talking together about this,” she said nodding toward Safia. “Walking around, seeing everything here, it’s like we’re living in a movie. "

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

‘Dayton has been very good to us’

For Amzil, who joined the Flyers in December of 2020, much of his career here has been like “living in a movie.”

After graduating from Makelanrinteen High School and playing a season for the Helsinki Basketball Academy, where his team had won 21 straight games before the COVID pandemic shut everything down, Amzil came to America in October of 2020 and enrolled at the First Love Academy, a prep school/ basketball clearinghouse in Washington, Pa., with just 45 students, many of them international basketball players.

Although he never played a game for First Love, UD coaches had been tipped about Amzil and built a quick relationship.

Without ever seeing the campus, Amzil, who speaks Finnish, understands Arabic, learned Swedish in school and was mastering English, signed to play for UD on Nov. 16, but didn’t join the team until Dec. 9.

By then other colleges had gotten word and several, including Indiana, Pitt, Illinois, SMU, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Maryland, DePaul, Marquette, wanted him to join their programs.

He said he stuck with Dayton because he believed in the coaches.

After just three practices with the team — and never having been to a class since campus was closed for the Christmas holiday — he made his debut against LaSalle at UD Arena.

COVID restrictions didn’t allow fans into games then and that’s too bad because they missed a show.

Amzil scored a team-high 22 points against La Salle – the second most ever by a UD player making his debut — and during one stretch in the game, he scored 17 points in a row.

And last season, he made one of the most famous shots in Dayton history.

With just four seconds left against No. 3 Kansas, he made a frantic cut across the lane and lofted a floater over the Kansas defense that bounced and bounced and fell in for a stunning 74-73 Dayton victory.

It was a shot heard around the college basketball world and was the Play of the Day on ESPN’s SportCenter. It gave UD its first victory over a top five team in 37 years.

Earlier this season he scored 20 to lead UD to a big victory over SMU.

Now came another showcase game in front of his family.

His dad first visited New York two years ago and then last week he and Abdullah saw Mustapha play at Fordham on Jan. 10.

Abdullah’s team had come over from Finland and played in Monroe, N.Y. before coming to Ohio. And before returning to Helsinki, they went back to New York to play another game.

Although Brahim played soccer when he was young — and Mustapha followed suit when he was a little boy — the family sport is now basketball.

Oldest daughter Latifa is a 6-foot sophomore who plays at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. and is shooting better (field goals 47.4 percent to 44.9; free throws 91.7 percent to 77.9 ) than Mustapha.

Safia said she doesn’t play sports at the moment, but she said she liked being in the crowd at UD Arena.

The whole family did.

“The people are really friendly here,” Brahim said

Katria nodded: “Dayton has been very good to us.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Clean house

After she talked about touring the UD campus, Katri was asked about visiting her son’s Caldwell Street apartment.

So does he keep it all cleaned up?

She smiled: “Wellll ... he paid me to say ‘Yes!’”

Standing there in the tunnel after Tuesday’s game, they met with head coach Anthony Grant, who had just praised Staph, as he calls him, during his postgame media session and talked about the way he has become more of a complete player.

The family planned to have dinner with their son and then they had early flights back to Finland in the morning.

“Now that we saw him win,” Katria said with a laugh, “He wants us to go home.”

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