Andres Conejo played for the national championship high school team in Costa Rica last summer and scored 27 points in the championship game in August. He's only 6 feet tall but he can do a 360-degree dunk.
And guess what? The rich have gotten richer. The junior now plays for Centennial, a team that shared the Howard County title with Atholton last season and returns four All-County players. Even without the exchange student from Central America, the Eagles would be odds-on favorites to repeat as county champions.
Conejo is in the U.S. because of Caitlin Ryland, a 6-2 center for the Centennial girls team who met him during a month-long vacation last summer and invited him to live with her family.
"My dream was always to play here," said Conejo, who arrived September 23. "I'll be here two years, and hopefully can get my green card and go to college here."
Despite Conejo's talent, he'll have to battle to work himself into the starting lineup at Centennial, which is loaded with returnees and promising new players.
Matt Laycock was first-team All-County last season. Brian Otten, Scott Bross and Denny Chapman all made second-team All-County.
Andy McShane, a 6-6 junior, saw a lot of time off the bench last season, and should play even more, as will senior guards Chip Harrison and Aaron Williams.
"He [Conejo] can definitely make an impact once he learns to play within our system," said Bross, Centennial's point guard. "He doesn't have a definite role right now, but he's a good passer and jumper, very athletic."
But Conejo is only part of what might be termed "the foreign invasion" of county basketball teams.
Mount Hebron and Glenelg each have players from Sweden who figure to make large impacts upon their teams.
Vikings coach Scott Conroy calls 6-foot-5, 200-pound Eli
Wishnivetski "our best player." Wishnivetski is from Stockholm, where he played on the Alvik club team that last season won the junior national under-18 championship. The high schools in Sweden do not have sports teams.
That's one of the reasons Wishnivetski came to America. "Sports are always second in Sweden," Wishnivetski said. "It doesn't get any recognition. There are no crowds at games. The atmosphere and attitude are more serious here, and I like that. The people here are generally better players and basketball is more competitive here. Hopefully I can strive to get better, get good grades and get a basketball scholarship to college."
FTC He said that two other players from his championship team also came to America for the same reasons. "One is in Kansas and one in California."
Wishnivetski will play power forward for Mount Hebron. He said that the game is the same in Sweden, but that Americans play a "more physical style" as opposed to the more technical style played in Sweden.
The 18-year-old senior is an exchange student living with host family Andy and Lisa Solomon. His parents are originally from Ukraine. His mother, Maja, was a ranked tennis player in Sweden about 10 years ago.
"Eli is a great player," said Vikings point guard Mike Stromberg. "He's quick and can shoot well and has filled the space in the middle we had for a big man."
Glenelg also has an exchange student from Sweden. His name is Dan Stolper and he's 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds.
Unlike Wisnivetski, who comes from a large city, Stolper is from a small town of 33,000 called Nassjo, located in southern Sweden.
The 18-year-old senior forward also played club basketball, and a "little bit of rugby."
"I came for the life experience and to meet new people," he said. "I'm just an average player."
But Glenelg coach Klaude Krannebitter called Stolper "real good."
Krannebitter said: "The European game is a different animal. They are much more aggressive with their dribble and take enormous strides. And they shoot with a stiff wrist. He's a great find."
Krannebitter is already sitting on one of the county's best finds -- 6-8, 230-pound sophomore Nick Barnes, who is probably just a year away from dominating the league. Stolper may help speed up that domination, and Glenelg's emergence into a contender, if he produces as Krannebitter thinks he might.
In addition to the foreign players adding some spice to this
season, several teams have exciting transfer students.
Oakland Mills picked up 6-2 senior sharp-shooter Andrew Lutz from Pallotti. Howard got Alonzo Bolden from Pikesville. Hammond has a potential starter in 6-1 junior Dayshawn Dillahunt from North Carolina. Dillahunt can dunk behind his head. And Long Reach has point guard Chris Smith from Howard.
"The transfers and foreign players add an element of suspense and excitement. Almost everyone has an unknown player," said Centennial coach Jim Hill, last season's county Coach of the Year.
Another unknown this season is the addition of two new schools, Long Reach and River Hill. Long Reach figures to eventually become a basketball power and has three excellent freshmen to go with Smith, a junior.
River Hill figures to struggle this season, but has a former collegiate coach, Tom Schneider, trying to build a program.
Pub Date: 12/03/96