PASADENA, Calif. (Sept. 21, 2015) – While most college students spent the summer relaxing at home and Caltech students worked diligently in labs, men's basketball junior Nasser Al-Rayes (Doha, Qatar / American School of Doha) was playing against professional teams in Belgium, England, Germany and Holland over an eight-day span with the Global Sports Academy.
Al-Rayes joined players from high-level programs across all three NCAA divisions in facing six professional teams from the top two Belgian and German divisions, from Aug. 11-19. The student-athletes enjoyed a whirlwind European tour that included stops in such historic cities as Bruges, Brussels and Mechelen (BEL), Amsterdam (HOL), Bornheim and Cologne (GER) and London (ENG).
"We spent so much time sightseeing during the day before our games at night," Al-Rayes said. "The only downside was that we had some tired legs going into a lot of games, but being able to experience so much in some of the most famous cities in the world definitely was worth it."
GSA's stated mission is: "To 'Promote International Goodwill' and a better understanding between nations through sports…With Global Sports Academy you will experience the thrill of international sports competition, attend cultural events and see the historical sites of the world. Global Sports Academy ("GSA") has been participating in domestic and international competition since 1991.
The team was led by Abe Woldeslassie, Director of Operations for men's basketball at Davidson University, a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference in Division I. The team consisted of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges senior Shelby Lane, Daniel Aronowitz of Williams College, Tanner Brooks of St. Mary's College of Maryland, Jake Brown of Middlebury College, Tim Connolly of Kenyon College, Kevin Crescenzi of Dartmouth College, Austin Heins of Concordia College (MN), Cade Kloster of Fort Lewis College, and Tom Palleschi of Tufts University.
"The teams we played were competitive, high-level professionals," Al-Rayes said. "We were matched well in size and talent, so we had a lot of tight games. For a bunch of guys who all met for the first time at the airport, we meshed really well on the court. We had some impressive talent, with guys playing at strong DIII programs and a couple in Divisions I and II."
The team opened its tour against Okapi Aalstar of the third-tier Basketball League Belgium Division I. After taking some time to become familiar with each other's play on the court, the GSA Woldeslassie rallied from a halftime deficit to lead by almost 20 points after the third quarter and held on for the 91-81 win. The squad continued its tour with a 97-85 victory over BC Oostende, another top-division Belgian team, before dropping its first game against well-renowned Schalke 04's basketball club in the German third-division 1 Regionalliga West, keeping it tight through the first three quarters before succumbing, 94-75. GSA bounced right back for its second game that day, however, beating German Bundesliga/Pro-A SG Sechtem 95-82. An 84-77 loss to Oxaco BBC in Belgium's top league marked just the second defeat for GSA on the trip, but the squad ended the tour on a good note with a 79-71 victory over Bavi Vilvoorde in the second-tier Belgian Top Division 2A to depart with a 4-2 record. Al-Rayes averaged 8.7 points in three of the four wins, playing only limited minutes in the final, while the team struggled without his offensive contribution in the pair of defeats. The 2014-15 SCIAC blocks leader also led the team or ranked a close second in blocks every game of the tour and was frequently top rebounder, as well as throwing down some putback dunks that ignited the team at key points.
"It was great to sit down with the teams for dinner after our games and exchange cultures and talk about professional basketball in Europe," Al-Rayes said. "Trying to get your name out there can be tough. Most guys start in lower, semi-pro divisions and need to work their way to the top, which takes a lot of hard work and patience. You basically spend all day, every day with your team trying to get better. Even with those challenges, playing the sport I love in Europe after college is something I would love to pursue – it really would be a dream come true."
Al-Rayes is the second Beaver to have played overseas this summer after graduated senior Andrew Hogue (Arroyo Grande, Calif. / Arroyo Grande) played several teams in Italy as part of the SCIAC All-Stars in June.
"This was a tremendous experience for Nasser," Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "Not only for him from a development standpoint, but also for our program. Nasser is very committed to basketball and he is a fabulous representative for our Institute. I'm happy he was able to take this trip and be around other great players from all over the country."
The rising junior, who also set the program record for blocks in a season last year (53), will rejoin Second Team All-SCIAC senior Kc Emezie (Waxhaw, N.C. / Marvin Ridge) and nine other returners, along with three incoming freshman recruits, to tip off the 2015-16 season with an exhibition game at Division I University of San Diego on Saturday, Nov. 7.