It has been an interesting few weeks, to say the least, for Tucsonan Sohaib Fellah.
Consider the weekend he had at the end of February. He spent Saturday afternoon at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale watching the Amphi High School boys' basketball team he helps coach win the school's first-ever state championship in that sport. The next day, he was standing on a street corner near the University of Arizona, megaphone in hand, leading a rally in support of the revolution in Libya.
"Yeah, it was interesting," he says in his calm, understated manner.
Sohaib's older brother, Anas, holds a place of high esteem in the hearts of die-hard Wildcat basketball fans. As a freshman walk-on with the UA team, he was sitting on the bench one night watching the starters dig a 19-point, first-half hole against Pac-10 foe Oregon State. Angry with his starters and feeling a sense of desperation, UA Coach Lute Olson put Anas into the game, and the rest is legend. In a stunning 10-minute stretch, Anas sparked an amazing comeback, and the Cats ended up winning, 93-87. His quickness allowed the Cats to go to a four-guard lineup that used a full-court press to score points in bunches.
This particular story doesn't have a Cinderella ending; Anas went right back to the end of the bench after that Oregon State game. Like a lot of other big-name coaches, Olson was reluctant to give walk-ons any consistent playing time, perhaps out of fear that if the walk-on turned out to be better than the scholarship players, it might call into question the coach's recruiting acumen. Anas now works as a college financial-aid officer in Phoenix.
Sohaib played basketball at Amphi, and after graduation, he returned to help long-time coach Pat Dersken with summer leagues. When Derksen retired, he was replaced by then-junior varsity coach Ben Hurley, who immediately hired Fellah to fill the spot as JV coach and varsity assistant. This season, Sohaib's JV team only lost two games, but it was the spectacular varsity squad that deservedly got all the attention. After suffering a heartbreaking two-point loss in last year's state championship game, Amphi came back with a vengeance this year, marching through the conference season undefeated and then steamrolling four straight opponents in the state tournament.
Like most coaches in a similar situation, Fellah loves the championship, but admits that the sting of last year's loss is more intense than the joy of this year's win. For one thing, it kept his younger brother, Bakeer, from experiencing a state title. (Bakeer now plays on the Pima Community College team.)
"Basketball is great and all," Sohaib says, "but what's going on back home is life and death."
It's somewhat disconcerting how he uses the phrase "back home" when referring to Libya, seeing as how he was born and raised here in Tucson and is an American citizen. (Sorry, Russell Pearce.)
His father, Dr. Abdul Fellah, is a professor of physiology and anatomy at Pima, and his mother, Safinaz Hemdani, teaches at La Cima Middle School in the Amphi School District. Both parents came to Tucson in 1977 on scholarships paid for by the Libyan government. Libya would give students exhaustive aptitude tests to determine what they should study and how that would best fill the needs of the country. However, while they were earning degrees at the University of Arizona, there was turmoil in Libya, and fearing for their lives, they decided to stay and make a life in America.
Relishing their freedom and adopting the ways of their new home, the couple nevertheless took the time to acquaint their children with Libyan culture. (Oldest brother Yamen is a financial adviser who recently found a wife in Libya.) Sohaib and his brothers speak Arabic and enjoy Libyan cuisine, but are also absolute basketball junkies.
When he saw what was going on "back home," he knew that he had to speak out. Though there are some concerns for his safety for doing so, Sohaib feels that "(Moammar) Gadhafi is probably too occupied with what's going on around him right now to be worrying about protests in Tucson."
Still, he says that if it were a few months ago, it would have been dangerous to speak out. "There are snitches everywhere, and Gadhafi (has proven to be) a very vindictive person."
He wouldn't even mind being in Libya right now, although he says he wouldn't be on the front lines with a gun in his hand. "More likely, I'd be helping get humanitarian aid in, bringing food and medical supplies to those who need them."
Right now, he's joining with others who are trying to get the United States to put up a no-fly zone over Libya. "Gadhafi is killing his own people from the air. A no-fly zone would stop a lot of the bloodshed."
He thinks that the time for Gadhafi to have left peacefully on his own has passed, and Libyans may have to wait until the dictator dies before there is any real change.
"I know that Libyans want democracy," Fellah says, "but it's not going to be easy. Democracy isn't going to just spring up overnight. It may take a generation or two for democracy to take hold. I just hope I live long enough to see it."