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Sports >  EWU basketball

Ukrainian-born Bogdan Bliznyuk, the ex-EWU star playing for a team based in Kyiv, was with the national team in Spain when invasion began

Feb. 28, 2022 Updated Mon., Feb. 28, 2022 at 9:01 p.m.

Eastern Washington guard Bogdan Bliznyuk (32) looks to push past Seattle guard Richaud Gittens (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Seattle on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. Seattle won 84-65.   (Seattle Times)
Eastern Washington guard Bogdan Bliznyuk (32) looks to push past Seattle guard Richaud Gittens (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Seattle on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. Seattle won 84-65.  (Seattle Times)
By Dave Cook For The Spokesman-Review

As millions of Ukrainians find themselves under siege in their eastern European country, former Eastern Washington University basketball standout Bogdan Bliznyuk is safely away from the war in his native land.

The former all-time leading scorer in basketball in the Big Sky Conference, was in Spain with the Ukrainian National Team when the Russian military invasion began on Feb. 24, just a week after playing in the Ukrainian SuperLeague (USL) for a team based in the capital city of Kyiv. That city is currently under siege from advancing Russian troops.

“I’m relieved to hear that he is safe right now and representing his country,” said EWU head coach David Riley after having communications with Bliznyuk. Former Eagles head coach Shantay Legans, now at the University of Portland, also has communicated with him via social media, and says he believes Bliznyuk is headed back to the United States if not here already.

Efforts by The Spokesman-Review to reach Bliznyuk directly have been unsuccessful thus far.

Bliznyuk has a past and current connection to Ukraine. He was born in Lutsk, and most recently was playing for Budivelnyk Kyiv in the USL, along with former Gonzaga Prep star Michael Stockton, who reportedly returned to Spokane before the invasion began.

Bliznyuk is a starter for his team, which last played on Feb. 17 in Kyiv when it beat Mykolaiv 75-70. On Feb. 22, he was selected as the USL’s Player of the Week for his efforts; two days later the league suspended its soccer and basketball leagues due to the invasion by Russia and after the imposition of martial law by presidential order.

Shortly before the invasion began on Feb. 24, Bliznyuk and the rest of the Ukrainian National Team traveled to Spain to prepare for a game in pool play in the qualifying rounds for the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) 2023 World Cup.

That Feb. 24 night in Cordoba, Spain, was when Ukraine was scheduled to play the host nation, and despite the dire circumstances back home, the game was played. Spain won 88-74, with Bliznyuk starting the game and finishing with 14 points, four rebounds and a pair of assists.

A second game with Spain was scheduled for Feb. 27 in Kyiv, but that has been postponed indefinitely. The next scheduled qualifying games are not until July 1 (versus Georgia) and July 4 (against North Macedonia), so the team returned to Madrid following the game.

Minutelong moments of silence took place before and after the Ukraine-Spain game. And the Ukrainians were given a standing ovation from the time the game ended to the time they left the floor to their locker room.

While the national team slipped to 1-2 in pool play with the loss, the club team for Bliznyuk and Stockton was 23-8. They were in second place in the USL standings after the Feb. 17 game, in which Bliznyuk scored a team-high 23 points with six rebounds and four assists. Stockton came off the bench to score 10 points and finish with three assists.

Through 31 games, Bliznyuk was averaging 11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Stockton, who played at Westminster College in Utah, and is the son of NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton, was averaging 10.1 points and 6.3 assists in 28 games.

Bliznyuk was born March 31, 1995, in Lutsk, Ukraine, a town of just over 200,000 people in the northwestern portion of the country near Poland and Belarus. He was less than 2 years old when his father, a truck driver, died in an accident. The accident occurred when he had returned from a trip and went to get medicine for Bogdan’s grandmother; he fell asleep at the wheel and hit a tree.

Bliznyuk’s mother moved them to Federal Way, Washington, five years later to be closer to family. His older brother, Dima, and his mother, Lyudmila, helped raise Bogdan, while also caring for his grandmother.

Besides all that, Bliznyuk was born with a gap in his upper jaw, and he had multiple surgeries after moving to the United States, included transferring bone from his hip. Bogdan graduated from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way in 2014.

Dima, three years older than Bogdan, actually dropped out of school to help support the family, as well as Bogdan’s budding basketball career. Although recruiting interest from colleges was light, he earned All-State honors in high school and averaged 19.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a senior before deciding to join the EWU program.

Bliznyuk, who would become an All-American and score 2,169 points in his career, was the winningest player in school history in helping EWU to 86 wins overall and 50 in the Big Sky Conference in four seasons in 2014-18.

He set an NCAA Division I record by making 77 consecutive free throws in the 2017-18 season. In addition, Bliznyuk had 11 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against Northern Arizona on Jan. 16, 2016, for the first triple-double in school history.

His honors included Big Sky Conference MVP and first team all-league as a senior, a second team all-league honor as a junior and Big Sky Freshman of the Year accolades in the 2014-15 season, to go along with four selections to the Big Sky All-Academic team.

After his EWU career concluded, he started and scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the Reese’s College All-Star Game on March 30, 2018. He was one of just 20 players in the nation invited to play in the prestigious game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas – site of the NCAA Division I “Final Four.”

He then averaged 15.3 points and made half his shots in three games at the well-known Portsmouth Invitational Basketball Tournament on April 12-14. Although he wasn’t chosen to the all-tournament team, he sank 18-of-36 shots from the field and scored a total of 46 points to rank 11th in the tournament.

Bliznyuk trained in Los Angeles and had workouts with the Detroit Pistons and the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. Bypassed in the NBA draft on June 21, 2018, he went through EWU commencement exercises on June 16 after receiving his bachelor’s degree in management with a 3.31 grade point average.

He eventually agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Clippers and represented the team in the NBA’s 2018 Summer League in Las Vegas in July. He played in three games and averaged 8.3 minutes and had a total of three points (1-of-3 shooting) with three rebounds, an assist and a steal. He scored his lone basket against the Los Angeles Lakers on July 12.

He did not make the team’s regular season roster, and then played 31 games for Bnei Hertzeliya in Israel in the 2018-19 season. He averaged 6.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists and made 36-of-46 free throws for 78.3 percent.

He joined the Ukranian National Team in 2018, and in 2019 joined Kyiv-Basket of the USL. In the 2020-21 season, he averaged 12.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. On September 16, 2021, he signed with Budivelnyk.

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