Talk with Georgi Funtarov.
Whether it’s a hard-fought setback or 10-point victory …
Whether it’s finals week or the middle of summer vacation …
It’s always a sunny day in Georgi’s World.
“It’s a dream of mine to play college basketball,” said the 6-foot-8 UC Davis freshman forward from Bulgaria. “And here? We have a beautiful campus. I love our campus.
“We have good weather. Even during the winter I can’t complain, compared to the winter in Bulgaria.
“For me, everything is perfect.”
Mild-mannered off the court, Funtarov has recently demonstrated his competitive nature on the court.
Back-to-back 13-point games have shown local fans what drew the Aggie coaching staff to Funtarov during his two seasons in American prep schools.
“He’s a talented, skilled young man,” third-year UCD coach Jim Les told The Enterprise. “What you’re seeing is he’s starting to understand the mental side of the game, really getting involved defensively and getting engaged in our schemes and feeling comfortable.”
Les thinks Funtarov’s natural instincts are taking over now that the Aggie schemes are second nature to the Black Sea Board Buster.
“He’s long and he gives us a presence on the backboards … he’s one of those guys that has a natural nose for the ball. And he has really good hands.”
In the past two games, in addition to his 26 points, Funtarov had pulled down 12 rebounds. He’s played solid defense and been seen positioning himself all over the court on offense.
But it was the first play of the game at Stanford on Saturday (an 83-56 UCD loss) that raised eyebrows.
Les designed the initial play to go inside to his much-traveled freshman.
Funtarov shook loose down low, took at pass at the basket and elevated for what Aggie Nation thought would be a slam dunk.
“(Stanford’s Josh) Huestis came out of nowhere (to block the shot), but I told Georgi later ‘That was a great move,’ ” Les explained. “It’s a credit to him that we drew that first play up for him and that the block didn’t deter him.
“If anything, he got a little more aggressive after that.”
“Offensively, he’s supremely confident in his abilities, which he should be. He’s a guy who’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Funtarov’s parents Blagovest and Daniela still live in Sofia, Bulgaria, where they run their 20-year-old furniture business.
His sister, Diliana, is a Dickson (Pennsylvania) College grad who is in marketing in New York City.
Funtarov says being in the United States has been terrific. He prepped at both Bishop Seabury Academy (Kansas) and Vermont Academy, where he completed his high school work and played more basketball.
Georgi’s World off the court includes cooking lamb, chicken and stuffed peppers “like my mom used to make” and an affinity for Formula I racing — a sport he says isn’t covered well by American media.
Would NASCAR fill the void, he’s asked?
“No! No, NASCAR, thank you,” he said with a laugh.
So why UC Davis?
“It is a perfect mix of a really good school academically — which is really important to me — and the (basketball) program is on the rise right now … and I really like the coaching staff. I knew coming here I’d have the chance to play early and I like the way they coach me.”
Funtarov says the folks around him are quick to help whoever they can: “If you need help, you can find it.” He says his teammates have been welcoming and the environment is, well, “perfect.”
Les sees the Aggie team as Funtarov’s second family …
“We have a great understanding with him,” the coach explained. “His family is a long way away. We make sure he’s doing OK. It’s one of the things I love about this team — we’re a family, pretty close-knit group.”
And Funtarov wants to help make sure the team is doing OK, too.
“I think we’re on the right track now,” the 20-year-old Funtarov said, even with his Aggies on a six-game losing streak and now 3-8. “We’re figuring out some things we didn’t do well early. We have to play harder in the games, be more consistent as the game goes on.
“We’ve been playing good for five minutes, then we have a five-minute period where we just break and (other) people are going to make a run.
“We can’t afford that.”
Notes: With forward-center Josh Ritchart (leg) still out of the lineup, Funtarov is expected to get more and more playing time. If Funtarov continues his strong play as Ritchart returns, Aggie coaches expect their Bulgarian freshman to still be on the court somewhere, thanks to his (and Ritchart’s) versatility. … Funtarov has not declared a major, but says he will explore economics classes. … Funtarov played for the Bulgarian U16 national team which captured the European championship in 2009. … He averaged 21 points and nine boards a game at Seabury Academy and 13 ppg and seven rebounds at Vermont. …UCD plays at San Jose State Wednesday at 7 p.m., then returns home for a 2:30 p.m. contest Saturday with Air Force at The Pavilion. The Falcons’ game is part of a doubleheader with the Aggie women, who will face Houston Baptist at noon.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.