Albanian-born US volleyballer sets up teammates
By BETSY BLANEY,
Updated August 4, 2012
LONDON (AP) American volleyball player Donald Suxho has it all mapped out. Should he ever win the lottery, his plan is clear: He'll buy his parents all they want, open a savings account for his son and party around the world with friends.
As for what celebration awaits should the U.S. win a second straight Olympic gold medal, he's not saying. That's a little too close to home, also a whole lot more realistic than a lottery bonanza.
There are still games to play, and right now the 36-year-old Albanian-born father is sticking to the matter at hand. His team is already assured a spot in the quarterfinals, with Russia up next on Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 Suxho enters the match as the third best setter in the competition, averaging 11.1 sets a game over three matches. He is a key component in the Americans' pursuit of a gold medal.
"That's my job, right?" he said. "I'm a setter, so thank God I was able to set well. Our passers did a great job passing the ball to give me a chance to move around, so I thank my passers and my big guys hitting them."
The fifth-ranked Americans (3-0) upset No. 1 Brazil 3-1 on Thursday in a rematch of the Beijing final. Suxho helped captain Clay Stanley score 19 points and Reid Priddy 17.
Suxho, a two-time Olympian, has seen the U.S. team mature.
"We are a bit older, a little bit more experienced," he said. "Before this group came together in 2001 we were all young boys. We were tying to get to know the game, get better. In the U.S. we don't have a professional league, so for us it takes a little bit longer."
Suxho and his family came to the U.S. in 1996 and settled in Massachusetts, where he learned English and studied for college entrance exams. He decided he wanted to play volleyball for Southern California - a choice he calls a defining moment - and became one of the bright lights at a school with a long history of volleyball success.
In his freshman year Suxho set a then-NCAA single-match record for assists (129 against Ohio State). He finished that year with 1,585 assists, 220 digs, 93 kills and 63 blocks. In 2000, a year before he joined the U.S team, the American Volleyball Coaches Association honored him as player of the year.
After graduation, Suxho played beach volleyball professionally in Poland for a year. He then joined the U.S. national indoor team. He has an 11-year-old son, Shane, and in 2011 Suxho married Ukrainian volleyball player Eleni Gkortsaniouk.
His wife finally arrived in London in time for the match against Russia after visa problems kept her from traveling from Kiev. Also in London are Shane and Suxho's parents and brother.
"They denied her visa first but with the help of USA Olympic Committee and friends, all is good now," Suxho said in an email through a USA Volleyball spokeswoman.
Early Friday, Suxho posted on his Facebook page how happy he was to have his loved ones nearby: "family time always helps :)."
Suxho played on the 2004 Olympic team in Athens that finished fourth, losing to Russia 3-0 in the bronze-medal match. The 2008 team went to China without him.
In 2007, he partially ruptured his left Achilles tendon while playing for a team in Italy. He had surgery before returning to the U.S. for rehabilitation. He watched from afar as his teammates beat Brazil for the gold in four sets.
Former U.S. men's coach Hugh McCutcheon, who became coach of the U.S. women's team after his team won the gold in Beijing, has seen Suxho blossom.
"I'm really proud of the player and the person that Donnie's become," he said. "I think he's come a long way as a setter, just as a volleyball player. He makes good choices, and so I'm just happy for him because he's having such a great Olympic experience."