|Contributed Photo. The Highlands freshman team (White uniforms) took on a team from Marist School in Australia (Blue) on Dec. 29. Highlands won 60-29.|
But facing a team from another country gives teams a unique experience. The Highland Bluebirds freshman team took on players the same age from Marist School in Australia.
"I thought it was a great experience," said Austin King, Highlands freshman point guard. "We bonded with them well. We got along with them well. Really, they're not much different from us."
The head coach of the team in Matt Grayson contacted Highlands freshman coach Ben Franzen about playing back in August. The game took place on Dec. 29 in the afternoon at Highlands Middle School and the Bluebirds won 60-29.
"They were a little shocked at first," Franzen said. "I really don't think they knew what to think. It was a little not knowing to expect without having an experience like that before. The Australians were very welcoming, very polite and appreciated what we did."
After the game, the teams spent 45 minutes to an hour together eating pizza and having drinks. King and teammate Nolan Turner, a Highlands freshman small forward and shooting guard, talked with Thomas Davey and Joseph Sergi among others.
Australia has its summer break during the hoops season in Kentucky. The team also played Simon Kenton's freshman team before spending a week in Las Vegas then another in Phoenix.
"I thought it was pretty cool," Turner said. "It was really nice to see kids come from another country to play basketball with us. It was very different to hear their (American) accents because it was different from ours."
King and Turner said the team played both man and zone defenses. Then offensively, Franzen said the Australians ran a lot of motion plays and not a lot of screens.
This marks the third year the current Bluebird basketball staff is together led by varsity head coach Kevin Listerman. Highlands hopes to get back to where the program was between 1997 and 2001 winning the 9th Region crown four times in five seasons. The Bluebirds finished state runner-up in 1997.
Franzen played basketball and baseball at Campbell County. He graduated from there in 2009.
"I think people want to be involved with things they enjoy and embrace," Franzen said. "It takes time to build that culture. Football obviously has that culture. Everybody wants to be a part of that rightfully so with the dynasty that they've built there. We're looking to take it step-by-step and hopefully build up that winning mentality with our basketball program as well."
The Highlands freshman team is 8-4 after playing Newport on Thursday. The Bluebirds downed the Wildcats, 54-29.