Cheney Free Press -

By Paul Delaney
Staff Reporter 

The Bliznyuk's brotherly love

 

March 29, 2018

Contributed photo EWU

Dima Bliznyuk, mother Lyudmila Bliznyuk, Bogdan Bliznyuk and girlfriend Ashlee Vaoifi and EWU mascot, Swoop at Senior Day at EWU. It was the completion of one incredible journey for the Eagles and Big Sky Conference's all-time leading scorer.

One of the best basketball stories in recent times at Eastern Washington University might never have happened had it not been for some true brotherly love.

Bogdan Bliznyuk needs no reminders of what brother Dima has sacrificed to see him come from off most everyone's recruiting radar to becoming both EWU's and the Big Sky Conference's all-time leading scorer with 2,169 points.

On the March 5 EWU Coaches Show in Cheney, hosted by broadcaster Larry Weir, Dima Bliznyuk shared a tale that if it did not bring at least some semblance of a tear to one's eye then nothing will.

He not only stole the mic, but the show, detailing the tragic beginnings of the Bliznyuk family's days in Ukraine and taking it to present.

Bogdan was 2 and Dima 5 when their father died.

Dad was a truck driver and would drive all over Europe, Dima explained in solid English, with just a hint of an accent.

"My grandmother lived in the city and one night she was sick - he had just came from a trip and had to deliver medicine - he fell asleep behind the wheel and ran into a tree and died on the spot," Dima recalled.

"It is crazy, I still remember him, Bog doesn't," Dima said.

As is often the case in Salvic culture, the Blizyuk family, led by mother Lyudmila, emigrated to the U.S., specifically the Puget Sound when Bogdan was 7.

Dima attended school until eighth grade, but decided he needed to go to work to help support the family. At 15, Dima Bliznyuk worked in the tile business and has done that ever since, most recently with his uncle.

"I did go back to school sophomore year, but that was just to play basketball," the 6-foot, 2-inch Dima said. "I still have that desire to give it a shot."

But he knew his brother had an even better opportunity. It was one that would take many detours.

The brothers began playing basketball at a nearby community center when Bodgan was in fourth and Dima seventh grade.

Bogdan would later attend Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash. where in the opportunities he had, showed off some impressive numbers, popping for 20 points a game - and a 3.8 grade-point average.

Bliznyuk's beginnings consisted of playing on the C-squad as a freshman. But he put up big numbers - 30 to 40 points a game Dima said - and swish, had a place on varsity.

Following sophomore year Bogdan had an ankle injury that dogged him, his brother said. After a visit to the doctor it was revealed he had been playing on a damaged ligament that required surgery which forced him to miss his junior year.

By junior year he connected with a quality outside program, the Northwest Panthers. But Dima said more medical issues intervened.

As a child, Bogdan had a bone missing in his cheek so that necessitated more surgeries with part of his tailbone transplanted to his jaw. With surgery scheduled months in advance he once again missed valuable time being able to be scouted for college.

"He went into his senior year with no offers, no looks, no nothing," Dima said.

Bogdan was able to play AAU but not when college coaches were allowed to watch so when the top recruits were all being considered, "Bog's nowhere to be found," Dima said.

This despite being named his team's MVP, having solid scoring numbers and going to the state tournament. No one seemed to know the name, Bogdan Bliznyuk.

Except for Eastern Washington and Shantay Legans.

"I'm at work and Shantay calls me," Dima said. He was told that EWU was interested in his brother. Legans saw Bogdan in action and told Dima that depending on schedules, head coach Jim Hayford would try to get a look too.

In the meantime, Bogdan had what his brother called, "The worst performance of his high school career; it was so bad I couldn't watch," Dima said of the game against Richland in the state tournament.

Hayford was there, Dima said, but the fear was the Eagles' coach had not been impressed. Dima chased Hayford down in the parking lot, offering to provide whatever else he needed in order to get his brother a shot at a Division I career.

Dima said Hayford told him he had everything he needed and took it as a "thanks, but no thanks" message.

Time passed and in May Dima's phone rang again. It was Legans who said, "A spot just opened up." They made the trip to Cheney over Mother's Day weekend.

Then Eastern assistant coach Alex Pribble gave Bliznyuk a school shirt and he put it on. "He looked in the mirror and out of nowhere got a smile, took a picture and said, 'That's where I'm going to play,'" Dima said.

And rewrite history along the way.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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