Elite Session 3: Spanish players taking advantage of opportunity to play abroad

IMG_0082Over the course of the summer, Hoop Group Elite has featured a variety of players from differing cultures and backgrounds.

In Academic Elite 2 we saw over 30 plus players from Beijing, China come out to the camp here in Reading, Pa. Academic Elite 1 hosted a number of players that traveled across the Atlantic from Puerto Rico, and others that had traveled from Thailand and other countries from the south pacific.

The globalization of basketball is thickening and, with that, foreign players want the experience of going against U.S. competition and refining their skills as they go head-to-head against a new type of challenger.

“What’s happened is basketball has become a global sport. When we started this a long time ago, you couldn’t find the same fervor for basketball in some of those other countries,” Hoop Group owner Rob Kennedy said about the change of globalized basketball over the past decades.

Kennedy explained that Hoop Group’s initiative to integrate more campers from other countries has been a great opportunity. It has allowed players from all parts of the world to improve on their diverse skills, build relationships and, most importantly, have fun sharing each other’s love for the game in a competitive environment.

While there have been a number of campers from different hemispheres sprinkled into each session throughout the summer, never has there been an attendance rate of this magnitude from the country of Spain.

“Spain is obviously a great basketball country,” Kennedy said. “They’ve won World Championships, they’ve beat the U.S. team and have been one of the favorites going into that past few Olympics to challenge the U.S. team. So obviously the sport is huge in Spain.”

Kennedy credits the hard work of Angel Manzano, who over the past 25 years has worked arduously to take Spanish-born players to the U.S. and have them not just participate in the Hoop Group sponsored events, but also attend other widely recognized basketball camps throughout the country.

“It’s a big concern in our country to travel and families use this outlet as a great opportunity to leave for their kids to leave Spain and to also practice their English,” Manzano said. “For the kids they see this as a great chance to played basketball and live an American experience while parents see the trip as a learning tool and to travel abroad.”

Manazano coached professionally in Spain for a number of years before moving to his new home in Madagascar, where he coaches locally and has tried to offer similar services for his nearby community.

“Most of the kids will come here just for a basketball experience and compete at a high level, take on some of the American culture, and learn from the American coaches,” Manzano said. “But a lot of them once they’re here realize that they might get an offer from a college or a prep school especially the girls that we bring over because they are closer in competition level.”

In over two and a half decades of work, the Spanish coach said that around 15 girls and close to ten boys have received offers to play at either a prep school or college. Among the many players to attend this camp, by way of Manzano’s efforts, were Chicago Bulls 2011 second-round draft pick Nikola Mirotic. The seven-footer now plays professional for Real Madrid back in Spain.

Thus far, a lot of the 25 Spaniards that are here this session have really enjoyed the chance to play basketball in this type of atmosphere.

“My experience this week has been amazing,” Jose Garciz-Quillez said. “The competition level has been great and when we go back we’re going to play much better than we did when we first got here.

“This level is amazing and these guys that we play against are going to go play basketball in college. Playing basketball in college, for us, is like playing professional. I came here to have fun, improve my English and  get better as a player.”

The majority of the Spanish campers are from Madrid, the capital of Spain an home to club basketball team Real Madrid, which holds the most consecutive ACB titles with 31. The ACB is the most competitive league in Spain and is one of the top three professional leagues in the world.

While the Spanish leagues are competitive and the players possess plenty of talent, kids have realized that there is a clear distinction between the Spanish and American style of play.

“Basketball is more physical here, whereas in Spain there’s more strategy and technique,” Elite 3 camper Carlos Vazquez said. “So it’s great to come here and experience the difference. I feel like it’s made me tougher. I heard of Hoop Group around Spain, it’s a very popular camp and we know that very talented people come here to play.

“I’m glad I got the opportunity.”

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