The travelin’ man with a game plan
GROWING UP IN MOROCCO, it would have been natural for Mehdi El Mardi to devote his athletic passion to soccer.
After all, the sport is highly popular on the African continent, and Morocco, located on the far upper northwest coast, is no exception. Their national team has been in five World Cup competitions.
“I played soccer for a long time, and I was good at it,” El Mardi said.
But El Mardi’s heart belonged to basketball — and he excelled at that, too. In addition to playing for two of Morocco’s top club teams, he also was on the U-18 national team that played in the 2012 African championships.
For the past two winters, he has put his talents to work for the Seattle Pacific Falcons while pursuing his master’s degree in data analytics.
“I’m telling you, this is a dream, coming and playing basketball, and getting to the regional tournament,” he said of helping the Falcons qualify for the 2020 NCAA postseason. (It ultimately was canceled because of the pandemic.) “Being able to play basketball and go to college at the same time — I’m very thankful.”
El Mardi’s journey to Seattle certainly was a winding one.
Growing up, he attended a Spanish school in Morocco before he started college in Madrid, Spain.
During his second year there, he was approached about the possibility of continuing his studies — and his hoops career — in the United States. El Mardi enthusiastically embraced the idea and moved to Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. He redshirted during the 2016–17 season, then started all 28 games in 2017–18.
“I’m telling you, this is a dream, coming and playing basketball.” — MEHDI EL MARDI
A coaching change caused several TNU players, including El Mardi, to not play in 2018–19. He put that time to optimal use, completing two bachelor’s degrees in business administration and computer science/information technology.
El Mardi wasn’t done studying — or playing basketball. He put his name into the NCAA transfer portal.
“When I looked at the basketball team (at SPU), I said, ‘Whoa, this is a great program. Let’s look at the academic program,’” El Mardi recalled. SPU offered a master’s degree in data analytics, and El Mardi was certain the University was suited for him.
Basketball transcends geographical boundaries, and El Mardi can talk about the game in five different languages.
“Since I was a baby, I’ve been speaking French, Arabic, and Spanish,” he said. “Our dialect back home is kind of a mixture of the three. Then I learned Dutch because I used to spend a lot of summers in Belgium and Holland, where I have family. English was the last one I learned.” (English was the easiest language for him; while he considers French the toughest.)
Even with the challenges of the ongoing pandemic, El Mardi believes he’s fortunate.
“I wouldn’t be here having this conversation if it wasn’t for basketball, so I’m really grateful,” he said. “I’m definitely glad I had the journey that I had and to be where I am right now.”
By the numbers
Team’s free throw percentage
El Mardi’s field goal shooting percentage
Team ranking in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a tie for No. 1 nationally in the NCAA Division II for 2021