Taiwan! Argentina!! MAD Goes International

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

The 2017-2018 S.I. Boys Varsity Basketball Team posted an 18-10 record and finished third in the W.C.A.L. behind only St. Francis and, the ultimate C.C.S. Open Division champion, Bellarmine. The Wildcats' success on the hardwood reflected their accomplishments in their strength and conditioning training during the course of the season. Under the guidance of the MAD coaches, the S.I. Basketballers, as a team, gained over 2000 lbs. of strength. More importantly, while at the beginning of the season, whereas 4 players were out with injuries sustained during AAU summer play, after working hard under the direction of MAD Head Coach Eric Bringas, the team sustained no new injuries during league play and returned 3 of the 4 injured players.

After their successful 2017-2018 campaign, Head Coach Rob Marcaletti and Assistant Coach Ali Thomas continued the program's pursuit of excellence with a developmental-immersion trip to Argentina. The two coaches worked tirelessly to put together an incredible itinerary for their players, and just as they did for last year's trip to Taiwan, they looked to MAD Director John Murray to augment the trip's basketball agenda.

In 2017, John Murray sought the assistance of his friend and former trainee, Jeremy Lin, now an NBA star with the Atlanta Hawks. Lin introduced Murray to Cheng Ho, Lin's friend who played football at Harvard and now runs Choxue, a Taiwanese company which he founded in 2013. The name Choxue (球学) is supposed to indicate the combination between sports and academics. Qiu (which phonetically sounds like 'cho'), the first character, means 'ball,' and Xue, the second character, means 'study.' The company's goal is to help improve and promote the underdeveloped student athlete system in Taiwan, and in 2013, Choxue launched a broadcasting service to air Taiwanese and Chinese basketball games on the internet, thereby giving their players more exposure overseas. Cheng Ho also proved invaluable to the American student athletes from San Francisco, providing the S.I. team with entrée to exclusive basketball programs and facilities throughout Taiwan.

MAD Director also called upon his friend Charlie Parker, a former NBA Coach and presently the Coach of Taiwan's National Men's Basketball Team. Coach Parker invited the S.I. crew to attend his squad's training camp practice. Unfortunately, due to the team's hectic schedule, only Coach Thomas and Director Murray were able to attend. Coach Parker and his staff were impeccable hosts and also treated the American visitors to an early tour of their brand new National Basketball Arena in Taipei.

This year, Director Murray turned to his long-time friend and associate Mike Brungardt, the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the San Antonio Spurs for the past 24 years. Although Brungardt may not be a household name like Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Gregg Popovich, it is no coincidence that his tenure in San Antonio has coincided with the Spurs' dynasty. Coach Brungardt prevailed upon his old friend, NBA and Argentinian legend, Manu Ginóbili. His country's pride and joy, there is nobody better to make introductions on one's behalf in Argentina than the four-time NBA champion, EuroLeague champ, and Olympic Gold Medal winner. Manu delivered putting Murray in touch with Manu's old friend, compatriot, and Olympic teammate, Pepe Sánchez who proved to be the ultimate host.

The team spent the first leg of their trip in Villa La Angostura, a mountain village in the Andes located in the Patagonia Region of Argentina. Nestled on the shores of Lago Nauel Huapi, it is a world-renowned Alpine resort. Villa La Angostura is also the home of Balen Martinez, friend and associate of S.I. Coach Ali Thomas, whom he recruited to help with the trip's many details. Having lived in Europe for 10 years while playing professional basketball, Coach Thomas is no stranger to the value of cultural education, and he left no stone unturned in his efforts to provide his players with an authentic sense of Argentinian culture. Martinez, an English teacher at the local high school, C.P.E.M. 68, assisted with the logistics for the trip in Villa La Angostura, and she, her fellow teachers, the students, their families, and much of the community collaborated to create a phenomenal immersion experience. The boys were not only able to share in the authentic daily lives of Argentinians, but also were able to really get to know some of the local players and students. No doubt, friendships were forged.

On the first day in Villa La Angostura, John Murray and MAD Head Coach Eric Bringas conducted a free basketball clinic for the boys and girls in the community. Director Murray and Coach Bringas were assisted by Coach Marcaletti, S.I. Assistant Basketball Coaches Jamal Baugh and Paul Bourke, and most importantly, the S.I. Players. Over one hundred local players participated in the program, some traveling great distances to attend, and the stands were filled with onlookers. The villagers responded enthusiastically to the event and treated team members as minor celebrities. Afterwards, the fans remained to watch the team's first practice. The clinic was a huge success for the S.I. players as well, not only because it provided them with an opportunity to give back to a community which was so graciously embracing them, but also because it allowed them to bolster their basketball skills by employing the time-worn learning adage of learn-do-teach.

After a 14 hour bus ride across Patagonia, the team arrived in Bahia Blanca, the heart of Argentina's basketball world. Manu Ginóbili's buddy and Olympic teammate, Pepe Sánchez, owns Bahia Basket, one of Argentina's premiere professional men's basketball teams. His training facility in Bahia Blanca is also the developmental center for Argentina's Men's National Team. For the next four days, Pepe generously allowed the S.I. boys to practice, train, and compete at his facility.

Pepe was the consummate host which comes as no surprise because he strives for excellence in everything he does. Pepe Sánchez was the first Argentinian to play in the NBA. He led Temple University to the Elite Eight in 1999, played point guard on the Argentinian Olympic gold medal team in 2004, and won the EuroLeague championship with Panathinaikos in 2002. He is passionate about all things basketball, especially Argentinian basketball. Presently he is building a state of the art training and performance center in Bahia Blanca to be named The Dow Center.

Pepe was as generous with his staff as he was with his facility, and not surprisingly, he surrounds himself with passionate and knowledgeable professionals like himself. Christian Lambretch is Bahia Basket's Director of Strength and Conditioning, and Fernando Martinez wears many hats for Bahia Basket. He oversees their sports medicine, and analytics; he is also their software engineer. Both men proved to be extremely knowledgeable. Fortunately, they were happy to share their time and wisdom, and this led to several lively discussions with them and our coaches about the latest trends in sports science and different views on training philosophies.

The days in Bahia Blanca provided a tremendous learning opportunity for coaches, staff, and players, and back on the hardwood, the S.I. boys were competing against Bahia Basket's elite 18-23 year old team coached by Manu's brother, Sebastián Ginóbili. This team boasted some of the best college-aged players in Argentina, including Máximo Fjellerup, who is projected as a first round draft pick in next year's NBA draft, and division I players such as Ayan Nunez de Carvalho of Temple University. Although the boys battled hard, in their first two games against Bahia Basket, they struggled against their physically superior opponents. However, in their third and final match, the S.I. team dug deep and surprised their opponent by making the game truly competitive. Their efforts were acknowledged and appreciated by the Bahia Basket players who praised the S.I. cagers for their resiliency, their physical and mental toughness, and their overall basketball skills, and after the game, the two teams honored the international tradition of exchanging jerseys.

The team spent the last 2 days of the trip exploring Buenos Aires, one of the world's great capital cities. Exhibiting the hospitality and generosity which seem to be endemic to the Argentine national character, Balen Martinez from Villa La Angostura, volunteered to accompany the team in Buenos Aires and serve as a guide; she proved extremely helpful. In La Reina de Plata, the boys played their final game in Argentina against Obras Sanitarias, one of the top 17 and under teams in the country. After the team's experience competing against Bahia Basket, it came as no surprise that the boys performed very well. After the game, once again, in an act of brotherhood which seemed to embody the spirit of the entire trip, the team exchanged jerseys with the Obras players.