Different country, same game

Travelling 9,307 miles from Indonesia and leaving family behind — this is what sophomore Agassi Goantara did to pursue his dream of becoming a professional basketball player.

Goantara was inspired to play basketball at a young age by his father, who used to play as well. Not only that, he emulates his game by following Stephen Curry’s playing style.

“[My dad’s] dream was to play for Indonesia’s national team. He never [did and] was hoping [that I would] do my best to play for Indonesia. My dad always pushes me everyday to practice hard and do my best,” Goantara said.

After hearing about the team from varsity head coach Joseph Khouzam, Goantara’s father’s friend suggested that he move to the United States to play at Walnut to experience the sport more competitively and from a different perspective.

“[Basketball is] the only reason I came to the United States [last] August. I don’t know any other high school basketball teams [here, but] if I got to pick another school, I would still choose Walnut. At first, I started to think it [was] only a hobby, but since I’ve been doing it for years, I feel like I have something special for basketball. I feel like I’m a different person [when I play],” Goantara said.

Due to problems with work and language barriers, Goantara’s parents remained in Indonesia while their son moved to the United States with a guardian. Goantara learned English since he was three and attended an international school in Indonesia.
“I was struggling choosing to come here or not when I [thought] about my parents,” Goantara said. “[Leaving them was] probably the hardest thing to do at first, but since I love basketball, I would do anything to get better at it. I feel blessed because coach gave me [the] opportunity to join varsity.”

Growing up, Goantara played basketball for eight years in Indonesia on an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, the Jetz. His team won the 16 and under (16U) national championship and placed runner-up in both the Asia Pacific Basketball tournament in Singapore and Traill International School Cup in Thailand. Goantara received several awards, including Most Valuable Player in the 16U championships.

At age 15, Goantara also played on Indonesia’s national team in Thailand for the 18U championships and placed third. The team ranked seventh for the three versus three championships in Italy but failed to qualify for the 16U championships in the Philippines.

“He’s trying to get a different opportunity here, playing against better competition in our country. He’s seeing a whole different aspect of the game. It opens his eyes to see bigger and better things when it comes to basketball. Since he’s so young, he’s got a lot to learn, but he is a skilled kid. It’s not easy to get to that next level. It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of dedication [and] it takes a lot of sacrifice,” Khouzam said.

Goantara aims to attend Duke University on a basketball scholarship when he graduates.

“It’s a lot tougher here,” Goantara said. “I need to really focus every practice [and play the way I would play in] a real game. I learn from both the coaches and the players. Coach’s enthusiasm and [the] players’ spirit to get better pushes me to play outside [of] my comfort zone. Sports [are] a lot more competitive here than in Indonesia, and I hope [to] get better. Basketball has taught me to be a more courageous person, and I love that.”