Rod Baker compares it to getting a mail-order bride. Sure, it may seem a compatible match when you're looking at the catalogue, but you never know for sure until she steps off the stagecoach and moves in at the ranch.
No love-starved cowboy was any happier than the Irvine coach is now, though. Jermaine Avie, a power forward from the College of Eastern Utah who arrived sight unseen at UCI, has turned out to be a perfect match for the Anteaters.
Avie, whose letter of intent to Houston became void when he failed to complete academic requirements by the time classes began, wanted to find a Division I school in a hurry. Baker, whose teams had won 13 games in his first two seasons, needed a take-charge rebounder and inside scorer.
"I spoke to the kid once on the phone and spoke to a couple of people in Utah to get a sense of what he was like," Baker said. "We had a scholarship to give and the need for a player like him, so we took a risk. A calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless.
"And, up to this point, it's worked just how I hoped it would, but really better than I could have expected. He's blended in perfectly from the first day."
Avie, who is averaging 10.4 points and 8.6 rebounds, has played more minutes than any Anteaters except guards Lloyd Mumford and Zuri Williams.
And he's a spiritual leader as well as a statistical leader.
"He gets along with everybody and he always seems to try and do what you ask him to," Baker said. "You couldn't ask any more from a guy who's been with you a year, yet alone a few months."
Avie has plenty of experience in making quick adjustments to new environs. His mother is a sergeant in the Army and he has bounced around the globe for most of his life. He played varsity basketball as a freshman in New Jersey; played his sophomore year in the tiny town of Ranger, Tex.; spent his junior year playing in Germany, and his senior season at Jack Yates High in Houston.
"Every couple of years, we moved somewhere new," Avie said, "so it's no big deal for me to move and start over. I'm used to it.
"But it is weird how everything seemed to come together. Now, we're just like a family. And I'm playing a lot of minutes and playing pretty well."
Avie admits that Irvine's reputation for academic excellence initially was cause for concern, but with the help of tutors, he's excelling in the classroom and on the court.
"Things went real smooth this quarter," he said, smiling. "I got through it pretty easily. I didn't just sneak through. At first, I wondered if I could last here. I thought it was a a school where everybody has a 4.0, you know, everybody's a genius.
"But if you go to class and study, school is school. And if you're playing for Coach Baker, you're going to show up for class."
Avie said Baker's work ethic has inspired him and tired him.
"He's a hard coach," he said. "He really wants you to be good. He motivates you to succeed in basketball and life.
"And the conditioning here is something else. I'm in the best shape of my life. It's been tough, but once you reach that point, man, you can run all day."
That suits Avie, who always seems to be having fun on the basketball court. He's smiling. He's back-pedaling down the court with both arms thrust in the air.
"I just love the game of basketball," he said. "I've always been enthusiastic. And I think it helps you win. I score, or somebody else scores, then I'm pumped up and it gets everybody else pumped up. And it gets the crowd into the game.