For Marist men’s basketball, an international recruiting tradition is at a crossroads

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College basketball recruitment in the United States can be a years-long, expensive journey that sometimes ends with disappointment. High school hopefuls spend several summers trekking across the country, taking the court for travel and AAU teams just for a chance to be noticed by Division I coaches. The culmination of these efforts is a scholarship to play at the highest collegiate level.

For those that are recruited by Division I institutions, it can be a dream come true. The continuous sacrifices made to showcase your talent in front of coaches from around the country has finally paid off. For others, a lack of offers from top-tier schools can make the entire process seem worthless.

Imagine avoiding the grueling process altogether and being recruited through a screen. Athletes aspiring to play overseas use highlight videos, Facebook messages and Skype sessions to communicate with coaching staffs. While competition for a spot on a Division I roster is as fierce as ever in the United States, international students can be recruited through a laptop or cell phone screen without even stepping foot on a court to impress coaches.

College basketball programs often do not have the budget or resources to travel overseas to watch a player live, or fly the athlete to a workout session in the U.S. The difficulty of judging players based on a highlight tape strays most away from international recruiting. Some coaches take advantage of the niche market and bolster their roster with top-notch foreign talent.

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York sported six international players on their men’s basketball roster last season. European natives comprised more than a third of the roster, representing Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Montenegro, Italy and Finland.

International recruits pass up an opportunity to play under a contract in European professional leagues for the chance to play among United States competition. For players at Marist and other mid-major schools within the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, an American education is often at the front of mind.

Denmark’s David Knudsen started all 30 games he played in last season. (Marist Athletics)

“When you’re in Europe, you can try and receive pro contracts, but you can play pro basketball for many years. College is a one-time experience,” said David Knudsen, a 6-foot-5-inch rising senior from Copenhagen.

He played for the Vaerlose Basketball Klub in Denmark’s top league during the 2014-15 season. Injuries in consecutive summers leading up to college recruitment sidelined Knudsen, but a liaison from Denmark established a contact with Marist. Youth national teams in Europe can be a goldmine for college coaches, but only for those willing to take the risk.

Head coach Mike Maker was fired on March 5, after totaling a 28-97 overall record since he took the job before the 2014-15 season. John Dunne, hired on April 3, after 12 years heading Saint Peter’s, does not have the international recruiting experience that Marist has become accustomed to for decades. “That’s not an avenue that my staff has used,” he said. “When you’re recruiting, you don’t want to spend a ton of money on players that you might not be able to get.”

Dunne compiled a 153-225 overall record with the Peacocks. He has found a new home just over 80 miles north of Jersey City, but he already has a head start on his new gig after coaching against Marist twice each season. “I know they have seen the Saint Peter’s program from a distance and competed against us, so they understand our expectations,” Dunne said.

Unlike his predecessor, the defensive-minded coach centers his recruiting focus on the Northeast. “That doesn’t mean we won’t venture out to the Midwest, West Coast or even internationally if we have a good lead,” he said. “But we are certainly going to pinpoint more recruiting in the Northeast.”

Tobias Sjoberg, a 6-foot-9-inch rising junior from Malmo, Sweden, was recruited to Marist under the conditions of Maker and his staff. “He told me that he wanted me to start and add some size to the team,” Sjoberg said. After acquiring interest from assistant coach Andy Johnston while playing in the U-18 FIBA European Championships and for Sweden’s U-20 National Team, Sjoberg was evaluated by Maker based on highlight videos.

“You really have to be careful recruiting any player, international or not, if you haven’t seen them play live,” Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray said. “Most coaches will tell you it’s really hard to evaluate off tape.” Dunne has a similar mindset, adding, “You also have to evaluate the competition level.”

John Dunne was hired after 12 seasons at Saint Peter’s. (Marist Athletics)

Against the norm, Maker went all-in on international recruiting, but it wasn’t a method out of the ordinary at Marist. A bobblehead of Rik Smits sat in Maker’s office as a constant reminder that the best player in the history of Marist men’s basketball hailed from the Netherlands. The second overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft shepherded the first wave of international players at Marist.

Murray was an assistant coach during Smits’ time at Marist, as was current Pistons General Manager Jeff Bower. “When Marist was recruiting international kids in the mid-80s, that was almost unheard of,” Murray said.

According to Business Insider, the NBA had a mere 1.7 percent of players born outside of the United States in the 1980-81 season. During that same decade, Marist often had a starting five that was mostly comprised of foreigners. The percentage rose to 7.6 percent in the 1997-98 season and nearly quadrupled in just under two decades, growing to 28.6 percent during the 2015-16 NBA season.

Marist was breaking barriers.

Smits teamed up with Frenchman Rudy Bourgarel, the father of Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert, to lead Marist to their only NCAA Tournament berths in 1986 and 1987. Bourgarel spent a decade playing professionally in France, but never made it to the NBA, a dream his son is now living.

Landing the 7-foot-4-inch Dunking Dutchman and Bourgarel sparked a history of international recruits at Marist, something that hasn’t left since it began. But four straight seasons with over 20 losses under Maker was a cause for concern. “Bottom line is it’s a win business and we didn’t win enough,” Murray said.

The Red Foxes were the doormat of the conference throughout Maker’s stint as head coach, but the hiring of Dunne, a fellow MAAC head coach, will bring a defensive mind to the Hudson Valley. And boy, does Marist need help on that end of the floor, ranking among the worst of all 351 Division I programs last season in points allowed (333rd) and turnover margin (344th). “From Murray’s view, I understand the decision because the results were not what we would have liked them to be,” Knudsen said.

The decision left players in shock, especially those from overseas that forewent a professional career in Europe on Maker’s word. “When he told me, I was pretty sad because this is the guy that recruited me, and I have great respect for him as a person,” Sjoberg said.

Tobias Sjoberg was recruited from Sweden by Mike Maker’s staff. (Marist Athletics)

Though a coaching change is not in the cards for any athlete when they sign a letter of intent, there is added pressure for international players to prove they belong in the NCAA. “You have to go into all seasons hungry and try to prove yourself,” Knudsen said. “I think Coach Dunne is more neutral and just looks at basketball.”

Keep in mind, Maker offered most of the six international players on the roster last season their only Division I scholarship. Adjusting to a new head coach, especially one that has only coached two international players since 2010, could turn a life-changing decision into a regrettable one. “One of the things I say to athletes is that nobody likes change, but you can deal with change in one of two ways,” Murray said. “You can embrace it and succeed, or you can resist it and fail.”

As for Sjoberg, he was essentially guaranteed a starting spot on the team by Maker, but a bit of unrest may build if these plans are jeopardized by new coaches. “I think every kid is uneasy about their role with a new coach,” Murray said. “Coach Dunne is going to look at things differently, so you have to basically re-prove yourself. It’s a clean slate.”

Just over a month into his position, Dunne is tasked with building a relationship with players familiar with his coaching style, but worried about their future role on the team. With any new coach, gaining trust is imperative. “I think communication is a really key component to successful coaching,” Murray said. “My paradigm is recruiting, communicating and coaching, in that order and in that priority.”

Dunne does not seem too worried about connecting with players, international or not. He isn’t placing players from overseas under a different umbrella, but rather evaluating athletes individually. “It’s like getting married,” Dunne said. “You don’t really know them until you’re living with them every day. It’s the same kind of thing, so you take it day by day.”

The journey to college for international students usually isn’t the high school standout, AAU all-star path that most athletes take. There is often a sit-back-and-wait approach, where coaches from national teams contact American schools about recruiting opportunities. European professional leagues remain a likely possibility for Division I prospects, but the college experience in the United States is a one-time opportunity.

Faced with an unexpected coaching change, international athletes are left up in the air about their place on a roster. Committing to a Division I program is rare for foreigners, but adapting to a new coach is worth the chance to play with the best collegiate players.

Marist has developed a pedigree of overseas recruits, so players like Knudsen and Sjoberg can rest assured that their talents will likely be valued under Dunne. “I think that he can do a great job with us as a team and myself as an individual,” Sjoberg said. “As long as we do our job and do our best, he’s going to notice that.”

2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Basketball Schedule: How to watch men’s and women’s games on USA Network and NBC Sports

Atlantic 10 basketball is coming to NBC Sports this 2022-2023 season! Here's how to watch!
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Atlantic 10 basketball is headed to NBC Sports! During the 2022-2023 season, 35 exciting matchups will be featured on USA Network and NBC Sports digital platforms, including exclusive coverage of the 2023 Atlantic 10 Men’s Championship second round and quarterfinals, 26 men’s regular-season matchups, and three women’s regular-season games.

The action tips off on Saturday, December 10 on USA Network as the Drexel Dragons head to Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to take on the La Salle Explorers at 12:00 p.m. ET. Immediately after, the Dayton Flyers will face the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio at 2:00  p.m. ET.

All coverage on USA Network streams live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. See below for the 2022-2023 Atlantic 10 men’s and women’s basketball schedules as well as additional information on how to watch/live stream each game.

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2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Schedule:

*All times are listed as ET

DATE GAME NETWORK/PLATFORM TIME (ET)
Saturday, Dec. 10 Drexel at La Salle USA Network Noon
Saturday, Dec. 10 UNC Asheville at Dayton USA Network 2 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 7 Davidson at VCU USA Network Noon
Saturday, Jan. 7 UMass at George Washington USA Network 2 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 14 Loyola Chicago at Saint Joseph’s USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 14 Richmond at St. Bonaventure USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 17 UMass at VCU NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21 Dayton at George Washington USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21 La Salle at Saint Louis USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 29 Saint Joseph’s at George Mason USA Network Noon
Saturday, Feb. 4 Davidson at UMass USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 4 George Mason at Loyola Chicago USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 5 Fordham at Richmond USA Network Noon
Saturday, Feb. 11 St. Bonaventure at Duquesne USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 11 Fordham at Davidson USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 18 Saint Joseph’s at Davidson USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 18 Fordham at VCU USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 19 George Washington at St. Bonaventure USA Network 2 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 22 St. Bonaventure at Davidson NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 25 Rhode Island at Fordham USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 26 Saint Joseph’s at St. Bonaventure USA Network Noon
Sunday, Feb. 26 Davidson at Duquesne USA Network 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 28 La Salle at Dayton NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 4 George Mason at Richmond USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 4 St. Bonaventure at UMass USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 4 VCU at George Washington USA Network 4:30 p.m.

How to watch the 2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Men’s Championship on USA Network:

DATE GAME TIME (ET)
Wednesday, March 8 A-10 Championship Second Round Noon, 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 9 A-10 Championship Quarterfinals Noon, 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 8:30 p.m.

How to watch 2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball on NBC Sports:

  • Wednesday, January 25 – George Washington at Loyola Chicago at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Thursday, January 26 – VCU at UMass at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, February 8 – St. Bonaventure at George Mason – 7:00 p.m. ET

Peacock Classic 2022: How to watch Gonzaga vs. Baylor, live stream info and game preview

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Two of men’s college basketball’s elite programs are set to face off when the No. 6 Baylor Bears and No. 14 Gonzaga Bulldogs play in the inaugural “Peacock Classic” Friday night. The game marks a rematch of the highly-anticipated 2021 NCAA National Championship Game, and the Zags will certainly look to get some revenge after Baylor ended their bid at an undefeated season.

The two programs boast two of the best coaches in the country, with Scott Drew of Baylor and Mark Few of Gonzaga working the sidelines. The “Peacock Classic” also marks a crucial point in the development of name, image and likeness deals at the collegiate level. Read on to learn everything you need to know ahead of the event.


How to watch the 2022 “Peacock Classic”

Only those with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan can stream the event. Sign up here or, if you have a free account, upgrade to Premium by going to your account settings.


A new world of NIL opportunities

For the first time, college athletes will be able to earn money by promoting a game in which they are playing.

Eligible players for both Baylor and Gonzaga can opt-in through NBC Sports Athlete Direct – a NIL community connecting student-athletes, advertisers and fans – and promote the game’s sponsors on their personal social media channels.

All participating players will be paid the same rate for their involvement.


Rematch of 2021 NCAA National Championship Game and series history

Baylor’s 86-70 victory over Gonzaga in the 2021 championship game marked the Bears’ first-ever NCAA men’s basketball title. The game carried added stakes since the Bulldogs entered it with a 31-0 record – the first team to make the championship game without a loss since Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in 1979.

That matchup was a rightful bout between the two behemoths of that season – it was the first championship game that featured the tournament’s top two overall seeds since North Carolina beat Illinois in 2005. Baylor jumped all over Gonzaga in the early going, playing an aggressive style that prevented the Bulldogs from getting into their fluid offense and opened up its own attack for 3-pointers. Gonzaga was a -4.5-point favorite but never led in the game.

Gonzaga leads the all-time series between the teams 5-1, having won all their matchups with Baylor before the championship game. The previous meeting before 2021 saw Gonzaga eliminate Baylor from the 2019 NCAA tournament in the second round by a score of 83-71.


How Baylor and Gonzaga match up with each other

Both teams have been tested multiple times early in their seasons. Gonzaga (5-2) has defeated two teams currently ranked – No. 20 Michigan State and No. 19 Kentucky – but lost to No. 2 Texas and No. 5 Purdue. The Zags last played on Sunday, when they outlasted Xavier 88-84 to secure third place in the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Baylor (5-2) has had it slightly easier but has still had to deal with talented teams; they lost to No. 3 Virginia and defeated No. 21 UCLA in back-to-back games earlier this month. They’re coming off a surprising 96-70 loss to Marquette in Wisconsin Tuesday night as part of the Big East-Big 12 Battle.

Gonzaga will face a tough task in trying to slow down Baylor’s offense, whose 88.1 points per game ranks ninth in the country.

The Bears are paced by a duo of strong guards. LJ Cryer leads the team at 17.9 points per game, and Adam Flagler is not far behind at 16.9 points per contest while averaging 6.9 assists.

Baylor also boasts the services of freshman Keyonte George, another talented guard who could be a lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Naismith Player of the Year Award candidate Drew Timme leads the way for the Zags, averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 rebounds. He’s flanked by Julian Strawther, who’s putting up 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per night.

Timme and Strawther are two of the six Gonzaga players left over from the 2021 finalist team, so vengeance will be top of mind. Baylor also has six holdovers from that championship matchup, including Cryer and Flagler.

With both teams ranked and looking to prove themselves early in the season, Friday will be a statement game – in more ways than one.