Over the last three seasons Albany has been consistent for one thing in the America East: winning championships. However, this season marks the fifth straight season in which the Great Danes possessed at least one Australian on their roster.
“A lot of Australians that have come over to the United States and had success,” Albany head coach Will Brown said. “There’s several in the NBA. The coaching is good over there.”
“They’re tough, hard-nosed kids, high basketball IQ and they value an education. Those are the kids I like to be around.”
When asked how a kid from Sydney, Australia gets lured to go to Albany to spend his winters, Sam Rowley couldn’t help but make a joke in his response.
“The weather,” Rowley said which was met with laughter. “I think the fact that they take us, more than anything.”
In each of the past two seasons, Albany has not only won America East championships, but has had at least one Aussie in every class on their roster. Brown said the Australia route began under former assistant coach Jeremy Friel, who was teammates with Phil Collins at New Hampshire. When the New South Wales native, after spending the 2009-10 season with the Albany women’s team, left for home he became a contact for Friel. In his role as director of basketball for the northern territory in Australia, he recommended the first player to join the Great Danes from down under.
It all started with Luke Devlin, a 6’8″ 19 year-old forward, who came to Albany in 2010. Once they got their first recruit, others quickly followed. Senior Sam Rowley (14.0 ppg) and junior Peter Hooley (13.7 ppg) are the Great Danes’ two leading scorers this season.
“The one thing about the Aussies, it’s not about levels, it’s about comfort,” Brown said. “Once we got Luke, he became our best recruiter.”
Devlin began his career with success, starting 60 of his first 64 games, earning a spot on the All-America East rookie team as a freshman, until back and knee surgery slowed him down in his final two seasons. It was Devlin who helped recruit Rowley, the fellow Sydney native to join him in upstate New York.
“He was the first to go,” Rowley said of Devlin. “It was really successful, said great things about the program and that led to the beginning of the sort of cross-continental relationship and it’s blossomed from there.”
This season the Great Danes have four Australians, each in a different class. Rowley exits as a senior and the junior Hooley will have one season remaining. Rowley’s younger brother Mike (3.8 ppg) is a sophomore and Albany added freshman Geremy McKay last fall.
“It’s really worked,” Brown said. “Very low maintenance kids, I love them. They’re a coach’s dream, every single one of them, and we’re going to continue to recruit Australia. It’s been good to us.”
While it may take practically a day, or longer to get from Albany to the other side of the world in Australia, that gap has closed significantly. When Hooley took a leave of absence to be with his mother, who since passed away from colon cancer, Brown said he reached out to Hooley as much as possible. On Thursday the 43 year-old head coach credited his wife, Jamie, with calling Peter’s twin sister Emma.
Peter himself said that he believed that his game winning shot Saturday against Stony Brook was aided by his mother Sue from above and has believers.
“I firmly believe his mom, Sue, guided that ball a little bit and made sure it dropped through the net for us,” Brown said.
For those who didn’t make the trip from Australia, the game’s start time will be around the middle of the morning on Saturday local time. And for those who will not able to watch it from their television or computer, angels may have a better angle after all.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.