Workman Returns From European Tour

Contact: Ben Badua

AMHERST, Mass. - Senior Willy Workman (Northampton, Mass.) recently returned from a European basketball tour with the All-Star team coached by Hampden-Sydney’s Dee Vick.

Playing 12 games in 10 days, the team squared off against professional and club teams in France and the Netherlands, posting an 11-1 mark. Beginning the trip in Paris, the squad traveled by train through Belgium to Holland where they made stops in Rotterdam, Den Bosch, Groninger and Amsterdam.

Opening the tour with a win over the Charenton Basketball Club, the team captured a pair of tournament championships, with its only loss coming to the French club Tremblay Athletique. Upon his return, Workman, the NESCAC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, sat down with Amherst Sports Information to share his experiences.

Willy Workman '13 spent 10 days in Europe with the All-Star team.

How did you get involved with the team?
I wasn’t on the team they initially selected, but I talked to Coach [David] Hixon and he told me they had contacted him about a couple of our players. I knew I wanted to play overseas after college. It sounded like a good opportunity to gain some exposure, so I reached out to them to see what I should do to try to qualify for one of these teams in the future. They told me they actually had a couple of spots left so I sent them some film and stats. I guess they liked enough of what they saw and the rest is history.

Did you know any of the other players?
I had played against two of them before, but I didn’t know them personally. They were all good kids. Everyone got along well. Ultimately, we were all ballplayers. While we came in all different shapes and sizes, we shared a love for the game. When we met at the airport and started talking hoops, everything just kind of clicked.

What was the make-up of the team like?
With people from all these states, regions and backgrounds, everyone played the game a little differently and had their own flavor. There were a couple kids from the Midwest who were shooters and were real tough. The kids from Hampden-Sydney down South were kind of flashy and really athletic. Then there were some New England kids who were gritty, smart players and ones from California that did a little bit of everything. It was cool putting it all together and seeing how we fit with one another.

Were there any friendly rivalries during the trip?
Definitely. There was a little trash talk. Guys were saying, ‘Maybe we’ll see you there [at the Final Four]’ or ‘I like you, but it’s going to be tough to break your heart in the championship game.’ It was all fun and games, but also kind of serious, because if it happens, it’s going to be great to have those bragging rights [laughing].

What did you take away from playing with some of the best players in DIII?
Just like anything, there are different ways to do any job. You can pick up a little move here or a little trick there and that’s what I tried to do. Just watching the other guys play, I saw things I could try that might help me get one more fifty-fifty ball, an extra bucket or a loose ball and that could be the difference in a game. It was really interesting to see how other people play and I tried to find a way to incorporate some of it into my game.

Did the team get a chance to play together before your first game?
We had a game the first day [in Paris] and everyone was a little jetlagged. We got there around noon, so everyone took a nap before our game at 7 p.m. against a French professional team. We were a bit lethargic at first and fell behind by about 10 at halftime. We clawed our way back and took the lead with a couple minutes left and hung on to win by one. We were tired but pretty excited about being able to play so I think it balanced itself out.

Workman helped the All-Star team post an 11-1 mark in 12 games over 10 days.

What was the competition like?
We played 12 games and went 11-1. The talent we played against varied. We played a couple of pro teams, some club teams and even a few semi-pro teams. A couple of kids on the team that beat us had played for the French U20 or U22 team so there was definitely some talent.

Did you notice a difference in the way the game is played in Europe?
It was a whole different style of basketball and it was fun to see a different variation of the sport you love. That being said, I do think there were some similarities between the Division III game and the European game. In Division III, especially in the NESCAC and our team certainly, I think the game can be very cerebral. We play within ourselves and our offense. It’s more tactical and there’s more finesse involved than say the Division I game, where a lot of players can rely on and utilize their great athleticism [to make plays].

Did any of those differences carry over into the Officiating?
Apparently, you’re allowed to take more steps [laughing]. They would allow this weird third, almost half step. Kids would be coming into the lane the first day and I would jump, thinking I was going to block it, but then they’d take another step and lay it in. I would be looking around with my hands up [looking for a traveling call]. But we adjusted and worked out the kinks.

What were the crowds like?
Basketball has become so global, with YouTube and Facebook and all that other stuff. You can watch it anywhere you are in the world. There were some good crowds that watched us play. Every time we showed up, there’d be a little pamphlet where they called us the ‘NCAA All-Stars’, which we found kind of funny. I think they were expecting the guys they see on TV [during March Madness], but we had some really good athletes and I think they definitely appreciated our style of basketball.

Was there a particular memory that really sticks out from your trip?
We were playing in Den Bosch and got to see the professional team there, the Eiffel Towers, play for the championship of the top pro league in Holland. It was game four of a seven-game series and they were up 3-0. It was nuts. During the starting lineups everything went dark. There were spotlights, smoke, all of this crazy stuff. They also had these kazoos. They’re illegal to use in stadiums here, but it was fine over there. Every time the away team got the ball, they would blow it and you could see the point guard struggling to yell out a play and signal everyone. I couldn’t hear the kid sitting next to me, so you know they couldn’t hear a thing [on the court]. It reminded me a lot of the soccer culture, with the chanting and all that stuff. People were jumping around and it was an amazing environment. It was a lot of fun.

Last season, Workman was named the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Anything off the court?
In Paris and Amsterdam, there are canals that go everywhere, so we would take canal tours of the cities. Some people have cars or bikes, but others also have little boats that they used to get around the city then just tied up on the side of the road. It was crazy [laughing]. I also really liked Holland and Den Bosch. One of the nights they had a jazz festival. There was live music everywhere and there was literally dancing in the streets. Also, being at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. What really struck me was how big it was. I’d look up at the ceiling, which seemed like it was 150 feet above me and there were little things carved into it and I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘how did they chisel that?’ It was impressive. They also had these beautiful stain glass windows. It was amazing to see.

What was the hardest thing about being overseas?
I don’t speak French or Dutch, but a lot of people would speak at least a little English so I could kind of figure out what they were trying to say. When you get dropped in a different country and you don’t know the language, you have to keep your eyes open and stay on your toes, but that’s how you have to do it. You want to immerse yourself [in the culture] and really figure it out. That’s the fun part. I figured if I was there, I was going to try to do everything that they did.

Did that sense of adventure carry over into your eating habits?
I didn’t want to go 3,000 miles to eat McDonald’s [laughing]. I ate at the food carts. I tried to find as many little hole-in-the-wall places that I could just to get the local flavor. One of my favorite things were the doner kebabs in the Netherlands. Everyone on the team loved them. They’d shave off pieces of lamb off a rack with a little buzzer-like thing that looked like something you’d use to shave your face. Then they’d throw it in this sandwich with lettuce and all these sauces. It was just unbelievable.

What’s the biggest thing you can take away from this experience?
I always thought about the possibility of playing overseas after college and I think this trip really solidified it for me. Driving in buses and trains to games in these different cities and staying in hotels, I feel like I got a taste of what it would be like and it was fun. I definitely learned a little bit about basketball, a lot about people and even more about the culture and I hope I get a chance to go back.