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It took little time with the Penn men’s soccer team to uncover the strange source of inspiration for senior scoring leader Alex Takakuwa.

“I follow Vlade Divac pretty religiously,” Takakuwa admits.

Though a retired 7-foot-1 NBA center might be a strange idol for a collegiate soccer player, the parallels are practically overwhelming.

Firstly, Divac benefited greatly from a change of scenery, improving after a mid-career move from the Charlotte Hornets to the Sacramento Kings.

“Taka” — as his teammates call him — has been similarly rejuvenated on his collegiate journey. Though he attended the University of Chicago his freshman year and actually was the Phoenix’s second-leading scorer as a walk-on, he transferred to Penn after just one season.

“Chicago was pretty boring,” Takakuwa said. “I still have a [U of Chicago] shirt. It says ‘Where fun goes to die’ on the back of it.”

Though Taka arrived at Penn as a sophomore, coach Rudy Fuller couldn’t find him a spot on the team until junior year. Even then, he appeared in just two games and totaled a single shot.

His senior campaign, however, has been an entirely different story. Takakuwa has emerged as a deadly sniper; he and Christian Barreiro lead the Quakers with six goals apiece.

“He’s been a bit of a revelation for us,” Fuller said. “He’s stepped into a more critical role, and he’s done a very good job putting some goals on the board.”

Secondly, Divac was a clutch performer, and like his idol, Takakuwa steps up under pressure.

“He’s got a finisher’s confidence. Right now, if we had an opportunity in front of the goal, there’s not another guy on the team I’d rather have in that spot,” Fuller said.

Though he’s still hunting for his first game winner of the season, Penn has needed each and every of Takakuwa’s scores thus far, and will need him to continue putting up points if the Quakers have any hopes of making the NCAA tournament.

“He’s just the guy that gets the job done,” junior Steven Schlaefer said. “You never know how it’s going to happen, but you know at some point he’s going to come up with something that makes you say: ‘How the hell did he do that?’”

Lastly, Divac was beloved by Kings fans for his jovial demeanor. In the same way, Takakuwa will always remain that goofy California kid to the rest of his team.

“He’s a different bird that walks to his own beat,” Fuller said. “He adds some spice to the team, brings some swagger to our group, and I think that’s a good thing to have.”

That swagger might be on display the next time he scores.

“Oh yeah, I’ve got a celebration dance,” Takakuwa said. “Me and Barreiro have got one lined up, a little shake n’ bake.”

On top of everything though, Fuller and his players agree that Taka is a true leader.

“I think he’s a great teammate,” midfielder Eric Guo said. “Most of all, he’s a loving person, and he cares about everyone.” After a pause, he then added:

“Maybe as much as he cares about Vlade Divac.”

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