College Basketball From An International Perspective

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PrefaceMarch Madness 2021 has been the wild wild west. From the Oral Roberts' trip to the Sweet 16 (the second 15 seed to make it that far), to UCLA making the Final Four as an 11 seed, many brackets have been busted.

However, one team that has been cruising along is Gonzaga. In their quest for a perfect season, Gonzaga has met little resistance in the tournament, winning every game by double digit figures.

One unique thing for Gonzaga is the number of international players they have on the roster. While other schools draw on the large pool of American talent, Gonzaga looks elsewhere to fill its roster. In recent years, this strategy has worked. Alan Pina from Pineapple22 Media dives deeper into Gonzaga's international roster, and how foreign players are impacting the college game.

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College Basketball from an International Perspective

By Alan Pina

College basketball - a sport that brings people together and when March is where the madness starts. 64 teams battle to not only get to the Final Four but to win the National Championship. For fans in the United States, March Madness is one of those moments you do not want to miss. Outside of the U.S. some will watch the tournament, while others won’t. For those who try to watch college basketball and are new to the game, the sport can be at times confusing. Not to worry, the game of basketball is so global that as you watch college even, some teams run plays that are familiar. Fans in Europe are especially accustomed to how college basketball runs a similar play style to clubs back home.

March Madness BasketballPhoto Credit: CBS Sports

Having watched and played basketball since I was a kid, I have always loved the college level. I also like the NBA but there is something about watching the college game that makes you connect with the players and coaches more. If there is one thing about college basketball that I believe will make people outside the U.S. watch, it's the face that the game is something anyone can play and have fun with it. 

Over the past few years, watching international players play in college has been something that I've come to love. These players bring diverse play styles which in my view, is good for the game. One of these teams that have come to exemplify recruiting international talent and foreign play styles are the Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball team. Every year that I have seen them play, there are always about two international players on the court. They have great impacts on the team and have made Gonzaga who they are today: a major power in a mid-major conference.

Ronny Turiaf Gonzaga BasketballPhoto Credit: Spokesman-Review

When I saw Ronny Turiaf play in college, he played with energy and led the team to key wins. Just watching him play made me a fan of the team. I never thought his travel to Spokane from France would start a renaissance in college basketball. Thanks to Ronny Turiaf, and even Tommy Lloyd who is the lead assistant coach for Gonzaga, the trips to recruit players overseas began. Guys like J.P. Bautista (Brazil), Abdullahi Kuso (Nigeria), Elias Harris (Germany), Robert Sacre (Canada), Kevin Pangos (Canada), Kelly Olynyk (Canada),Kevin Pangos (Canada), Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania), Rui Hachimura (Japan), Killian Tille (France) and Filip Petrusev (Serbia), all came to play for the Bulldogs. All of these players have gone on to play professional basketball whether in the NBA or overseas.

Domantas Sabonis - Former Gonzaga PlayerDomantas Sabonis of the Pacers - Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Even in 2021, the team is a national contender and has more international players like Joel Ayayi (France) Oumar Ballo (Mali), Pavel Zakharov (Russia), and Martynas Arlauskas (Lithuania). As I watch this team play, I feel I am learning a new basketball concepts. Seeing how Gonzaga uses their post players makes me a fan of their style. I am surprised that they are able to compete as a powerhouse team in the nation year in and year out.

Oumar Ballo Gonzaga Basketball PlayerPhoto Credit: The Slipper Still Fits

As someone who loves the college game, what I would say to someone from Mexico, France, Greece, Japan or any other nation who has not tried watching the sport, is to watch the Gonzaga Bulldogs. This team represents how the game is played and how international influences are being embraced more each year. Introducing basketball to the new fans is always a positive thing, but when college basketball is presented, it’s not about the game, but about gaining access to education to help other nations be stronger and developed.  

For international fans of the game, watch Gonzaga basketball in action. Although there are great college teams like Duke, North Carolina, or Kansas, Gonzaga will allow for a new learning experience, because as the game continues to grow, so will the learning of fundamentals from a different perspective.

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Alan Pina is the co-founder of Pineapple 22 Media, and co-host of The Soarin Sports Podcast. His passion for sports is at his core and he loves to talk about it. When he is not podcasting, his hobbies include going for walks, traveling, and cooking with his wife Lori, along with dancing, watching movies, and reading. He currently is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Relations at Brigham Young University-Idaho and will be graduating in July.

To listen to the Soarin Sports Podcast click here: Apple Podcasts or Spotify


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