Archbishop Spalding boys combined basketball team plays in Russia


While America's Dream Team was in Barcelona earning a gold medal in basketball, 11 past, present and future members of Archbishop Spalding's boys team were abroad displaying their skills in front of a crowd that supported the Unified Team.

Accompanied by Cavaliers boys basketball coach Lee Dove and assistant Ed Bittner, the squad recently returned from a 10-day tour of Russia, where it sampled a culture and a brand of basketball unknown in these parts.

"Their style of basketball over there is at a much more physical level than ours and they don't do a lot of dribbling and finesse things like we do here," said Dove, whose team visited the newly independent nation through Pangaea Inc., a non-profit international student exchange program. "All they would do is pass the ball up the floor and shoot."

Despite being unaccustomed to the Russians' rugged run-and-gun style of basketball, the Cavaliers earned the respect of their comrades, winning two games, losing a pair and tying another.

The guests of the Russian Ministry of Education started their trip in Kaluga -- a city approximately 40 miles south of Moscow -- where they took part in the National Sports School Championships, which included Russia's top-eight "specific" basketball schools.

The Cavaliers went 8-for-26 from the free-throw line in their opener and were defeated by Moscow's second-seeded team, 110-102.

Spalding dropped to 0-2 following a 77-70 loss to the tournament's No. 3 seed from Moscow, but saved face in its next contest by upending fourth-seeded Volgagrad, 93-87.

"I was very pleased with the way the guys played," said Dove. "These schools are sports-specific, which means these kids were selected to go to these schools to play basketball. These are some of their country's future Olympians."

The Cavs banged heads -- at times literally -- with two Russian teams composed of former high school and college players.

Spalding finished in a tie with one team when the hosts refused to play an overtime period and then won its final game against Tovarkovo in OT, 95-93, thanks to a basket at the buzzer by senior forward Matt Shaw.

Spalding had to earn every basket in its overtime win and sometimes it proved costly. Senior center Tim Alber left the game with a cut under his eye and guard Chad Langville was forced out momentarily with a bloody nose.

"It almost got out of hand at times," said Dove. "The play was so physical you almost wondered if the officials were even there."

Spalding's battered roster included two seniors from last year's Cavalier squad in guard Edgar Wright and forward Ray Paquin. Alber, Shaw, Rich Reilly, Scott Robuck and Timmy Kane represented Spalding's senior class and Doug Little and Mark Shires served as ambassadors for the Cavaliers' junior class. Langville and Charles Ross were the only underclassmen to make the trip.

Reilly, a 6-4 center, says he learned a lot in Russia and believes the exposure to international competition will help the Cavaliers next year in their quest for a Maryland Scholastic Association Conference championship. What he also learned was how fortunate he was to live in the United States.

"Now I know how spoiled we are over here in America," said Reilly. "We got treated well over there, but I saw a lot of poverty. It helped me realize what a great place America is."

Robuck agreed, "I woke up this morning dreaming about eating American food. I had a good time, but it's nice to be home."

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