Cal State East Bay Makes French Connection

Rodrigo Maza, a 19 year-old French native who came to CSU East Bay this year to play basketball, towers over students as he walks by them on campus.

“I’m used to it,” said Maza, who, at a height of 6 feet 9 inches, is easily the tallest player on CSUEB’s basketball team.

Maza, who will play forward this season, doesn’t credit his physical frame as his sole reason for playing.

“I play basketball because my father played basketball,” he said. “He is my model in life, as everybody’s father is a model. I try to be a better player than he was.”

Basketball was the only sport Maza was ever interested in playing.

His favorite part of the sport is how quickly a game can change from a blowout to a nail-biter.

“One time you can be 20 points back and don’t play good,” said Maza, “and two minutes after, you are only ten points down and you think nobody can stop your team.”

Maza was born in France, but he and his family moved to Switzerland four years ago where he played for the French Cup, a professional basketball league.

It may seem odd for students here to think that a professional European player would want to come and play for CSUEB, a Division II team that was 6-21 last season.

“I prefer it here,” said Maza. “At a D-1 school, I don’t know if I will play. So I will take my chances here, rather than in a D-1 school. And also, I had a very good feeling with the campus and the coaches.”

A player he knew from the French Cup was an acquaintance of CSUEB’s assistant coach, Darren French.

This player helped Maza get connected with CSUEB, though he had already been in contact with head coach, Will Biggs.

Biggs calls the interaction “blind luck” and thinks it is fortunate that Maza chose East Bay as one of his prospective schools.

“I researched on the Internet and sent him my tapes, and he said he was interested,” said Maza of coach Biggs.

Not surprising.

A 6-foot-9-inch French basketball player with professional experience seems like a pretty good addition to the team.

“It’s hard to tell from a YouTube video if someone can play,” said Biggs. “But he was long, looked pretty athletic and could shoot.”

Though Maza played professionally in Europe, Biggs thinks he will have to work hard to play at the level players do in the US because games are faster paced.

“We’re pleased with his progress,” added Biggs, “but he definitely needs to be much more of a defensive player. It requires concentration.”

“The coaches want me to improve,” said Maza, “and do all they can to make me improve, so I try every time to push myself. I don’t have a routine, but before each practice and each game, I motivate myself.

I try to shoot starting close to the basket, make ten shots, and get further from the basket until the three-point line and finish with ten from there.”

Biggs is confident that Maza will be a good addition to the team, which only has four returning players and eight freshmen.

“If he continues to improve, he’s going to help us win,” said Biggs.

Because of the time Maza played professional basketball in Europe, he is ineligible to play for the first six games of CSUEB’s season. His first game will be against UC San Diego on December 14.

Though there are numerous schools in the US that have great basketball programs, Maza said he wanted to come to the Bay Area because he likes the weather here.

“When I was a kid, I traveled a lot,” said Maza. “I have been to a lot of places in Europe—Italy, Spain, Austria—and in the USA I have visited a lot of places. America is a huge country that I can’t wait to visit more.”

Maza also prefers the living options that CSUEB offers rather than that of other schools he was accepted to, finding that a school he was considering in Pennsylvania had cramped living quarters and was not very clean.

“California is a such great state to live,” he added. “I have a lot of references about California. ‘The Big Lebowski,’ my favorite film, is set in L.A, the huge number of rock groups from California—the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, the Eagles, Carlos Santana—that I used to listen when I was young.”

In four years, Maza’s student visa will expire and choices about his next step will have to be made.

He’s unsure if he will he stay here and get a job, return to Switzerland or France, join a European league or possibly apply for grad school, though he’s still excited to be spending his first year playing basketball in the states.

“It’s very cool, you know?” said Maza. “I’m living a dream. I thought it would be impossible to come here. So living here is a dream come true.”