Australian prep basketball team plays in Henrietta as part of U.S. tour
The towns of Henrietta, North Carolina and Brisbane, Australia are separated by two oceans, three continents, and 9,308 miles.
On Wednesday night, however, the game of basketball brought them together when the Chase Trojans and the Brisbane Boomerangs’ met on the hardwood.
“What a great experience for everybody involved,” said Lady Trojans head coach Todd Davis, who helped add Chase to the Boomerangs U.S. tour. “I think the players got to see that even though they are from different countries, basketball is not that different and neither are they. That’s a valuable lesson.”
While the Boomerangs also enjoy the different cultural experiences, tour organizer and women’s coach Trevor Cook admits that the main focus is basketball.
“There are five reasons we came to the States and they are basketball, basketball, basketball, basketball and basketball,” he said. “We came here to work and win. If kids aren’t interested in that, then I don’t want them on my team. This isn’t a sightseeing trip.”
The trip is in fact a three week showcase tour designed to catch the eye of college recruiters.
“This isn’t an All-Star team or a club team,” said Cook. “This is a team that is made up of high school age kids who are passionate about basketball, can play at a high level, that want to be recruited, and can of course afford to come play.”
Cook’s players seem to embody their coach’s attitude.
“This trip is all about basketball,” said Lady Boomerang guard Georgie Hunt Bain. “My goal is to play in college so when I got the chance to come on tour I said yes straight away.”
Cook says that while most of these players come from Brisbane, a city on the southeastern coast of Queensland, some come from as far as 10 hours away to participate in the program.
“That just shows the dedication to the game that these kids have,” said Cook. “They have to pay a lot of money and make sacrifices to come play. I want them to get as much game experience as possible. They deserve it.”
To that end, Cook has filled the Boomerangs itinerary with wall to wall basketball. For example, on Dec. 9, their first day in the U.S., the team flew into Washington D.C. to train with legendary DeMatha High School. They also visited Georgetown University and attended a Washington Wizards game that night. Other stops on the tour between games have included Duke, Carolina, Wake Forest, Davidson, and Landrum.
“These kids want to play college basketball in the States,” said Cook. “I wanted to get them exposure at a lot of different colleges, at the Division I and II levels. “I want them to interact with the staffs and see what basketball is like in America.”
Brisbane forward, Marcus Holmquist-Pollock, who was the team’s leading scorer against Chase with 15 points, is grateful for the opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to come to America and play,” he said. “Now I realize that it’s achievable. I’ve seen what it takes to be a player on the Division I level and even the NBA. Now that I know what basketball at its highest level looks like, I know what I have to work on to get better.”
One of the first things Pollock, Bain, and other players had to work on was the different rules and style of play in America.
“In Australia, we play by FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) rules,” said Cook. “We have a 24-second shot clock for this age, you don’t. We have eight seconds to get the ball across midcourt, instead of 10 and we don’t have the five second guarding call on the dribbler. There are also no one-and-one foul shots. So yes, it did take some time to adjust.”
While the rules between the countries may be different, Cook shares a frustration with officials that rivals his American counterparts.
“The officials in this country are very inconsistent,” he said. “Kids can get hammered on one play with nothing called, and on the next play they get called for a touch foul. You can’t have it both ways.”
For players, however, the biggest difference is not the officials or the rules, but the style of play.
“The game is a lot more physical in the United States,” said Pollock. “Players are more athletic here and the competition is much tougher. In Australia, players are soft. I’m a physical player so I love the American game.”
Like any team, the Boomerangs’ goal is winning, but they don’t keep stats or records.
“We want to win and that’s our focus, but we also want to do that as a team,” said Cook. “We don’t keep stats or records. Even though this is a showcase tour, we don’t emphasis one player over another. Everybody gets a chance to play and everybody starts at least once.”
That philosophy was on full display against Chase. The Australians had balanced scoring in both contests and proved to be well adjusted to American basketball. The Lady Boomerangs employed a full-court press against the Lady Trojans, earning several 5-second calls. On the men’s side, the Boomerangs were every bit the match for the Trojans in the paint, as they continually banged bodies with the Chase big men. Their play earned the respect of Chase coach Joe Jessen.
“They are a great team who are tough and fundamentally sound,” he said. “They don’t make mistakes. It was a challenge that I think we can learn from.”
After the final whistle, however, basketball was put on the backburner. All four teams gathered at midcourt for a group picture, while they exchanged Facebook and other contact information.
“Besides basketball, that’s my favorite part of the tour,” said Bain. “I love meeting new people and making friends. Before I came on tour, I didn’t really know anybody. Now I have friends in two countries.”
The focus turned back to basketball quickly though as the teams left the gym. The Boomerangs had to prepare for a weekend tournament in Rock Hill, S.C. which began on Thursday.
No sightseeing for this group of athletes. It was back to work playing basketball, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.