Borin Lach strung together four tough games in the State B Tournament, picking up steam as he slogged from Wednesday at noon through late Saturday night.
It wasn’t as easy as he made it look.
Lach stepped up this week when what he really wanted to do was lie down.
While the Chief Leschi Warriors dressed and quickly slipped out of their Arena locker room after their Friday night game, their 5-foot-8 senior co-captain hung back, rooted to his chair, his head covered by a towel.
“Stomach flu,” Lach explained.
He would ignore the dizziness and nausea one more night to play for a championship.
Lach is mentally tougher than the typical high school point guard, but then he had to be. Nearly every kid who reaches the finals grew up with a basketball.
Not Lach. He picked it up late.
He’s Cambodian. Elementary school basketball in Cambodia is rare. So are elementary schools in parts of the country. Only about half the population above the age of 15 can read and write.
Lach and his family left the Southeast Asian country a dozen years ago (“in ‘85 or ‘86,” he says) when he was 5 or 6.
“We were sponsored by another Asian family,” he said.
Lach spent his formative years in Battambang, in northwestern Cambodia, a town on the country’s major north-south highway linking Phnom Penh, the capital, with Bangkok.
“We left when the Khmer Rouge, like, started to take over,” he said.
The communist Khmer Rouge and two non-communist groups each gained control of a part of the country in the early 1980s. By 1982, as invading Vietnamese troops began a slow withdrawal from Cambodia, the three groups formed a coalition under Norodom Sihanouk.
In the midst of that turmoil Lach and his family emigrated, eventually settling in Tacoma.
His grasp of English made for an easier adjustment. “I was taught by French missionaries” he said. “I follow some of what’s going on back there, but I’ve tried to leave that behind me.”
He does carry his native country’s taste for rice, which brings up his beef of the week.
“I usually try to eat a lot of rice, like every day, but out here it’s hard to find an Asian restaurant,” he said.
His family, he says, lives in a Tacoma housing project. It’s not exactly life in the suburbs, but Lach insists, “They’re trying to fix it up.
“Is it a tough place? Not really. I get along with everybody. Everybody knows who I am. I was taught by my mom to try to learn different cultures - and never to make fun of other people’s culture. I’ve kept an eye open for that, an ear open for that.”
He started school at Lincoln High in Tacoma, he said, but, “I wanted to play for coach (Michael) Bradley, so I went to Leschi.”
Good choice, given the attention he’s generated this week.
“We wanted to send a message that we deserved to be here,” Lach said. “It means a lot to be in the championship game. I never thought I’d play basketball.”
He’s unsure of the next step, although he’s got some options.
“I’ll go anywhere they’ll take me, but I’ll probably try to stay close,” he said. “I work as an intern with Seafirst. They’ll give me $10,000 but only for a school in the state of Washington.”
Lach’s grades aren’t great but he says they’re improving.
“Accumulative, I’m about a 2.5 or 2.6 - and working on it right now,” he said.
With his long arms he played taller than his listed height of 5-8. He says he can dunk. “That’s on a good day, if I want to, if my friends keep making fun of me,” he said.
Making fun? What? Cambodians can’t jump?
This one can. Queasy stomach and all.
“He knew where we were at, and how much we needed him,” Warriors coach Bradley said. “We started dreaming about this three months ago.”
They went a long way in three months. Borin Lach went a long way in 12 years.
Nobody had to come as far as he did.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo