Game On, in Europe

Jan. 16, 2019 — On Christmas Day, most NMH students were taking it easy, whether they were celebrating the holiday or not. Members of the boys’ varsity basketball team, however, were boarding a plane.

Their destination: Belgium, and the International Xmas Basketball Tournament that took place in Kortrijk, a city west of Brussels. Nearly 170 youth teams from across Europe and Israel competed; NMH was one of only two American high school teams participating. “To go overseas, have this experience with the guys, and play a sport we love — it was pretty amazing,” says team captain Greg Dolan ’19.

Over several days of play, NMH won four games before losing in the men’s under-19 final to the defending champion Oostende, a junior team for the professional Filou Oostende team of Belgium. NMH’s Chris Ledlum ’19 was the tournament’s top scorer with 115 points, and Max Lorca-Lloyd ’19 was the top shot-blocker. 

The trip wasn’t all basketball — though after Belgium, the team went on to London to play two games against the Barking Abbey Basketball Academy, which is the number-one school team in England. The 20 NMH athletes, three coaches, and one trainer also played tourist, visiting two traditional European Christmas markets; taking a boat tour in Ghent, Belgium; attending a pro-basketball all-star game in Belgium and a Premier League soccer game in London; and celebrating New Year’s Eve on the banks of the River Thames. “We got to learn a lot about the different places we were in,” says Lorca. “The highlight was being in London for new year’s, watching fireworks at the river — it’s something I never thought I’d be doing because of basketball.”

The trip was designed to be a broad experience — “cultural as well as about athletics,” says head coach John Carroll. “For some of our guys, this was the first time they’ve left New England, the first time they’ve been on a plane.”

There was a learning curve on the tournament court as well. Ledlum says, “There were a lot of different rules that we had to get used to early on, and we did. We played basketball their way.” In Europe, Carroll says, athletes rely more on skills — dribbling, passing, shooting — and team play. In the U.S., there’s more athleticism, more individual play. Carroll says he tries to develop NMH athletes to be a hybrid of the two styles — “faster and more aggressive than they’re used to seeing in Europe, but we can execute like them,” he says.

Another difference between European and American basketball is that there are no collegiate leagues in Europe. At the tournament, NMH was playing junior teams that feed into professional franchises. “When we play here in the U.S., we’ve got college coaches coming to evaluate kids,” Carroll says. “There, it’s professional scouts.” 

So was it worth it to travel thousands of miles for a week of games? Absolutely, says Carroll. “We’re a college-prep program, so everything we do is as close to being in college as possible. And when these guys get to college, they’ll be getting on a plane to play basketball.”