Kids who have never seen the 1994 documentary film by that title have them. Ludovic Kader’s story is a stark departure from the norm.
“Everybody played soccer where I grew up,” Kader said with a heavy French accent. “I wanted something that was mine, so I played basketball. I started when I was about 4 or 5. I loved the NBA. The more I watched it, the more I wanted to play.”
The 6-foot senior guard never knew where those dreams would take him or his friend, Francois-Xavier Roges. The duo from the French Caribbean island of Martinique knew little about Baton Rouge when they enrolled at Christian Life Academy in December 2013.
Now they’re part of a Class 2A CLA team that is 15-2 going into nondistrict game at 5A St. Amant on Friday.
Skeptics will peg the Kader and Roges as “hired guns” brought in to bolster the Crusaders. Consider this fact — the duo was part of last year’s Christian Life team that finished 14-17. The same squad, minus one graduated senior, is one of the area’s pleasant surprises in 2015-16.
Kader averages 18 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. The 6-4 Roges adds six points and six rebounds a game. He’s grown two inches and added 50 pounds. The duo also played football — a sport they knew little about two years ago.
“Christian Life has a number of students from other countries and has had for years,” CLA coach Stephen Dale said. “Almost 20 percent of our student population is foreign students.
“It’s part of the mission of the church and the school and they’re not all involved in sports. These guys aren’t the only non-American kids. I think that’s important.”
Kader got Roges to play basketball when the two were 12-year-olds.
“I loved soccer and I saw myself as a soccer player,” Roges said. “The more I played basketball, the more I liked it.”
Kader went to school in northern France and played on a club team during his freshman year of high school, leaving Roges behind temporarily. The teens attended a basketball camp that summer and were part of a group of players asked if they were interested in playing in the United States.
Instead of relying on a basketball coach or placement service, their families contacted schools in the U.S. on their own. Kader, 18, is the youngest of four children and Roges, 17, is the eighth of nine siblings.
“It was by chance,” Roges said. “We applied and got accepted here. All we knew was the school that accepted foreign students had a team.”
Most foreign students have a knowledge of English, are part of exchange program and are enrolled for one year. CLA’s foreign students come with a limited knowledge of English and stay longer with host families. Roges and Kader have had two host families and had to sit out their first year based on LHSAA rules.
“It was actually good they had to sit out because they were able focus on academics, learning the language and becoming American teenagers,” Dale said. “They didn’t have to worry about the pressure of playing. That was the year we went to the quarterfinals with Johnathan Stove (now at Louisiana-Lafayette) and they were part of the scout team.”
History and English courses were initially tough hurdles and so was basketball.
“The game we play is much more physical,” Dale said. “It was hard for Ludovic to understand that other players draw charging fouls. He’d pick up three or four charges a game. Now he’s down to one or two.”
Host families have taken the duo to Pelicans games, a Saints game, several LSU football games and LSU baseball games, providing lessons about football and baseball.
It’s left an impression. Roges, a defensive lineman last fall, loves JJ Watt. Kader, a receiver, channels his inner Odell Beckham Jr.
Typical teens, Dale notes.
“They have great personalities. Ludovic was homecoming king and everybody loves FX … he’s a gentle soul and just a big teddy bear,” Dale said. “They came here as shy kids who were intimidated. They’ve come into their own.”