Former Warriors pledge support
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Yesterday, after it was announced he was never eligible during his four-season UH career that ended in May, Theocharidis was embraced by his former teammates.
"I fully support him," said Dejan Miladinovic, the middle blocker in the Warriors' four-game victory over Pepperdine in the title match of the NCAA final four. Theocharidis' ineligibility, for playing on a professional team before enrolling at UH in August 1999, will cost the Warriors' the 2002 national title.
"We were a team," Miladinovic said. "I would never blame anyone for anything."
Theocharidis and outside hitter Tony Ching were teammates for four seasons. Although they grew up two oceans apart Theocharidis in Greece, Ching in Honolulu they are close friends.
"He took care of me when I was at my worst," Ching said. "I'll take care of him. He's my friend."
Miladinovic, who was raised in Serbia, said Theocharidis was snagged in a rule that is difficult to interpret. Miladinovic played on an amateur club team in Serbia. But in Greece, there are no organized youth or high school volleyball leagues.
Like many "young guys over there, Costas practiced with a club," former Punahou School standout Mike Lambert told The Advertiser in July. "That's the way it is in all of Europe. They don't have university teams."
Lambert had said Theocharidis probably did not receive anything more than a uniform and travel expenses for road matches.
"When you're that young, you're not making any money at all," Lambert had said.
Theocharidis had asked Lambert for help in playing for a university team in the United States. Lambert recommended Theocharidis to the UH coaching staff.
The videotape of Theocharidis was grainy and the uniforms did not have numbers. But the UH coaches were able to identify Theocharidis because of his powerful swings and jumping ability.
NCAA men's volleyball teams are restricted to the financial equivalent of 4.5 scholarships. But Theochar-idis received a full scholarship. The investment paid off. Theocharidis was named to the All-America first team four times, and was selected as the national Player of the Year in 2001 and 2003. In May, he was named winner of the Jack Bonham Award as the school's top scholar-athlete.
Theocharidis is enrolled at UH this semester, and is expected to earn a bachelor's degree in December.