December 20, 2013

Boys Basketball Notebook: Christmas basketball tourney goes global

Croatian team brings an international flavor to Portland Expo.

By Tom Chard
Staff Writer

There will be an international flavor to the Portland High/Red Claws Christmas Basketball Tournament as a boys’ team from Zagreb, Croatia, will participate.

The team’s coach, Maine native Mike Soucie, contacted Portland Coach Joe Russo about playing in the tournament. Two games have been scheduled for Zagreb, which is composed of players from club teams around a city that has a population of more than 700,000.

Zagreb plays Portland at 7 p.m. Dec. 27  and Susan Wagner High of Staten Island, N.Y., at 4 p.m. Dec. 28. The 28th annual holiday tournament goes from the day after Christmas to Dec. 28 at Portland Expo.

Soucie went to Mt. Blue High in Farmington with Mike Adams, the Edward Little coach, and coached with Chris Bessey at Jay. Soucie went to the UMaine-Farmington where he met his future wife, who is from Croatia. Soucie has coached there for the last 12 years.

“This is the third team I have brought to the United States and the second in the last three years,” said Soucie.

“The team I brought in 2011 watched a game at the Portland tournament and was really bummed out not to be playing. I started a basketball program a few years ago because I wanted Croatian players to be able to experience the U.S. basketball system that is much different than the European model used in Croatia. Most of the players have a desire to play high school or college basketball in the United States,” he said.

“The biggest challenge for my team will be the differences in rules and style of play,” said Soucie. “We have a 24-second clock and we have the Euro step which allows players to take two steps all over the court. I hope we can avoid being called for 15 travels a game.”

Zagreb will spend Christmas in New York City and attend an NBA game between the Nets and the Bulls. They will head up to Maine after that and stay with host families. The team has three other games scheduled besides the two in the tournament. Soucie said there’s also a chance for two more games.

Asked what kind of talent Zagreb will bring, Portland High coach and tournament director Joe Russo said: “I’ve been told they would be a solid Class A program.”

In addition to the boys’ competition, there will be 10 girls’ games. The tournament opens with the Falmouth and Scarborough girls playing at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 26. There will be two girls’ and three boys’ games Dec. 26 and four girls and five boys’ games Dec. 27 and 28.

Along with Susan Wagner High, the other boys’ team in the tournament from out of state is New Dorp High, also from Staten Island, N.Y. There are two girls’ teams from out of state, Winnacunnet High and Bedford High, both from New Hampshire.

Two of the boys’ games will be regular season games. Deering and Gorham will play at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 27, and Windham and Scarborough will play at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 28. Teams will give up their home court to play a game at the Expo because it gives them a chance to get accustomed to the building and the court. The Expo is the site of the Western Maine Class A and B boys’ and girls’ regional quarterfinals.

The Deering-Gorham game will precede the Portland-Zagreb game. Bonny Eagle and Falmouth boys’ will wrap up Friday’s schedule at 8:30 p.m.

(Continued on page 2)

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