Quick quiz: What university’s sports teams are uniquely nicknamed the Vandals? Hint: The team plays in the city of Moscow.
Still stumped? It’s the University of Idaho, where Highland School (Warrenton) boys basketball player Yusef Salih has accepted an NCAA Division I athletic scholarship offer.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior signed during the early signing period last week. “They were the first school to take a chance on me. I’m big on loyalty, and they were the first ones to believe in me,” said Salih, who announced his decision on Twitter in late September.
“We are thrilled to welcome Yusef to our program. He is a terrific young man with a wonderful maturity about him that was readily apparent in our recruitment of him," said Idaho coach Zac Claus. "Yusef is incredibly driven and we are confident that he will have a meaningful impact here at Idaho."
“Yusef is laser-focused on basketball and has wanted to be a Division I player for a long time. He’s goal-driven, and I’m proud of him and excited for him,” said Hawks coach Brian Hooker.
Salih, who grew up in Gainesville, transferred from Patriot High after his junior year, and emerged as a standout. Reclassified as a junior, he averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists and helped the Hawks go 23-3 and make the VISAA Division II semifinals.
Salih, who worked out diligently with a trainer during the pandemic, is described as an all-around guard with an excellent jump shot, court vision, passing ability and driving skills. He was a first team all-Delaney Athletic Conference selection.
“He’s a strong guard so he doesn’t get bumped off the ball,” said Hooker. “He maintains his composure and balance and finds a way to get into the paint and into playmaking spots. He’s an all-around player and good defender. He’s a kid that makes winning plays.”
It seems a little unusual that Salih would attend a Big Sky Conference school located 2,500 miles away, but Idaho liked his tape and developed a relationship during the pandemic, a time when colleges had tough decisions to make when they could not see players in person.
Due to COVID-19, the NCAA suspended in-person recruiting and wiped out the usual summer tournaments. Virtual visits, Zoom meetings, FaceTime calls and video evaluation replaced in-person evaluation and campus visits.
Salih and Idaho coaches chatted regularly for about a month before the school offered him a spot, Hooker said. “The coaches have been talking to me since late July, and they were genuine,” said Salih. “Besides basketball, they took the time to get to know me and my family for who we are.”
Salih has never been to Idaho but said a family friend went to the school.
With a population of 23,800, Moscow is located in the chimney-shaped northern part of Idaho tucked against the border with eastern Washington, not too far from Top 25 powerhouse Gonzaga University.
Asked if he’s wearing any Idaho gear these days, Salih said, “I’m trying to buy some.”
He hopes to take an official visit in January.
Idaho went 8-24 last year, losing in the Big Sky Conference first round to Southern Utah 75-69 on March 11, shortly before the pandemic hit.