Kevin Zhang of China started following NBA players when he was 10 years old.
So it would be natural to assume that the Barat Academy sophomore’s favorite basketball player is Yao Ming, a 7-foot-6 former star of the Houston Rockets, a Hall-of-Famer and the first player from outside the U.S. to lead the NBA in all-star votes.
“Actually I followed Kobe (Bryant) first, and now it’s Kyrie (Irving),” Zhang said with a laugh.
Zhang is one of four international students on the boys high school team at Barat, which has a formal international exchange program. When asked if anyone on his team plays as well as Kobe, Zhang chuckled again, adding, “Oh, no.”
Barat’s team is playing in a junior varsity league. Several of the players have not played basketball before or even witnessed the game.
Practice and teamwork are what Zhang enjoys most. “We always try to improve ourselves, keep practicing and trying to do our best,” Zhang said.
At a practice on Jan. 14, Tom Liu, a sophomore from China, concentrated hard while practicing layups and then reaching for rebounds during a drill. Though undersized, he knocked the ball out of the hands of an opponent without fouling him.
Liu also came to Barat at the beginning of the school year. The most fun comes from passing the ball to teammates, he said. “I’ve found that Americans really like sports,” Liu said. “I don’t play a lot of sports in China.”
Americans also like to eat a lot, he said with a laugh, adding that “I like the burgers here.”
Paul Choi, a native of South Korea, played soccer most of his life, but hadn’t dabbled (or dribbled) in basketball before. “I just got interested in it last year,” the senior said. “I enjoy when we practice together. I like how everyone concentrates and focuses.”
Choi, an exchange student from South Korea, appreciates being at a school that’s smaller than public schools. “The class environment helps us learn easier, and the people are great here,” he said.
Mauricio Hoyos of Mexico, a sophomore at Barat Academy, came to the United States five months ago as an exchange student. It’s his first year playing basketball. “I’m normally a soccer player, but I wanted to try something different,” he said, noting that he enjoys athletics and exercise.
It was difficult at first, he admitted. “I learned with my teammates. I think I’m doing pretty good now,” Hoyos said.
The rules were the most difficult part to learn, he said, but passing the ball and working with teammates isn’t much different than soccer.
Hoyos, who sat out practice due to a minor injury from snow sledding, has enjoyed Barat Academy, the Six Flags amusement park, the variety of animals in the U.S., spacious homes and especially hamburgers. “You find hamburgers everywhere,” he exclaimed.
He plans to keep practicing basketball in Mexico and maybe even teach the sport to others.
Logan Wagner, a junior from St. Louis, said having the international students on the team is a good learning experience for all. “I have much respect for them for not being afraid” to learn a new sport, he said. Collin Siebel-Spath, a freshman from St. Louis, said he enjoys helping his teammates with English and exchanging ideas. “You realize they’re not much different than us,” he said.
Rich Fanning is in his first year of coaching at what he calls “the United Nations of basketball.” His experience includes leading a men’s team at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, where he also was athletics director; a women’s team at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.; and the 2000 Missouri state high school boys championship team at Whitfield School in St. Louis.
“This is as enjoyable or more,” Fanning said. “They’re great young men. It’s pure teaching, and they’re almost like sponges.”
The blend of the international and local players is most impressive, Fanning said. “They’re friends and teammates. It’s really a neat school.”
The girls team at Barat has three international players, all first-year players. The team has other players who never thought about playing on a team before. One of those players is Mia Davis, an all-conference and state-qualifying golfer. She is much improved and a leader on the team, said her coach, Karen Albers.
The team is good at welcoming everyone at whatever experience level but also has strong and athletic players with experience in the sport, Albers said. “It’s a fine balance. These kids are here for each other, play hard for each other and play for the school. They have pride in what they’re doing. It’s fun.
“It’s a lot of figuring out where kids are. We take it from there and help them learn. That’s all part of sport, all part of life. It’s a good thing.”
>> International program
As a college preparatory
school, Barat Academy provides international students opportunities to
live and learn with American classmates in a safe and supportive
environment as they prepare for college life.
The logo of the
school is an open heart. “It’s intentional because it’s expressing that
the heart of our school and the heart of Jesus is open to the world,”
said Debby Watson, president of Barat.
Activities such as
athletics, robotics and performing arts “build those bridges of
relationship” that will be part of lifelong relationships, she said. “We
laugh, we learn, we have fun with it. Teamwork globally isn’t as easy
as it looks because everyone doesn’t grow up in the same culture. So you
have to learn to listen to each other, respect each other and find a
third alternative on ‘how we can do it,’ not ‘how do you do it,’ and
‘how do I do it.’ It’s cool to watch young people discover that.”
athletic program is an outgrowth of academics and teaches
sportsmanship, self-discipline, dedication, commitment and the pursuit