The boys' varsity basketball team traveled to Taiwan July 5 to 12 and brought back far more than a 6–2 tournament record. "They returned with experiences that will change their lives forever thanks to their immersion in a new culture," said Varsity Head Coach Rob Marcaletti '96. "They learned to rely on their teammates in new and different ways while being halfway around the world."
He added that "a couple of our players had never been to Lake Tahoe let alone to a country outside the U.S. They were out of their comfort zones as they learned to enjoy a traditional Taiwanese breakfast and figured out how to manage new-found fame with grace and poise. They represented SI well during their Fox Sports interviews and were gracious with throngs of fans who wanted photos, autographs and SI-themed gear."
Marcaletti also brought back with him a new style of fast-paced basketball that he hopes will translate into big wins once league play starts this winter.
"I really want an Asia trip to be an annual event," said Marcaletti, who will return to Taiwan in late September on his own for a coaching exchange. He is already planning to bring his team again in the summer of 2018 for a tour split between Taiwan and Japan and, he hopes, for his coaching staff and players to teach an NBA-sponsored youth basketball camp.
The basketball diplomacy exchange began in 2015 when Song Shan High School, Taiwan's top basketball school, came to Skyline College for a tournament. Skyline's coach, Justin Piergrossi, called Marcaletti in hopes that the Song-Shan team could play SI during an opening in the team's schedule.
"We played them and went ahead 11–2 before their first time out," said Marcaletti. "After that, it was a battle, but we lost by 4. The team's coach, Roman Huang, is like the Bobby Knight of Taiwan. He's an amazing coach and well respected by his coaching peers in all of Asia."
Since that first game, Marcaletti and Ellen Huang, Roman's wife, kept in touch to arrange a rematch in Taiwan. "Each of her invitations were for games during the school year, and that never worked for us. As a result, she put together a tournament this past July just so we could be included."
That tournament included the Tai-Shan Senior High School and the Neng-Ren Home Economic and Commercial Vocational School, both of New Taipei City; the Kao-Yuan Senior High School of Technology and Commerce of Kaoshiung; the Fukuoaka Daiichi High School of Japan (Japan's best high school team); an All-Star Under-20 Nike team that included freshmen and sophomores in college; and host Taipei Municipal Song-Shan Senior High School of Taipei City.
Everything but airfare was covered by Fox Sports and an anonymous donor connected to Song-Shan. Also donating funds to defray costs was BiRite Food Service Distributors and the law firm of Phillips, Spallas & Angstadt, where Coach Marcaletti's wife, Elisa (Rhein) Marcaletti '96, is a partner.
Coach Marcaletti also asked his players to work off their $1000 airplane at various jobs. "I wanted the players to go on this trip without creating a financial burden to their parents or families," said Marcaletti. I also wanted the team to take some ownership of the trip."
Once in Taiwan, the Wildcats faced several challenges, including being immersed in a foreign culture as well as hot and humid weather. They also had to play by FIBA (International Basketball Federation) rules which include a 24-second shot-clock that resets to 14 seconds for a missed shot that hits off the rim. (U.S. rules have a 35-second shot-clock that resets to a full 35 seconds.) "This makes for a very fast game that I want the players to start using during the upcoming season," said Marcaletti.
The boys also found referees unwilling to call fouls on physical play that would typically earn whistles in the U.S. "The WCAL prides itself on toughness and physical play, but we were blown away by the level of physicality in Taiwan," said Marcaletti. "It was hand-to-hand combat when entering the key."
The SI squad was also impressed by the level of respect and dedication shown by their opponents, who would line up after each game and bow to the opposing coaches. "These young men practice six hours a day, seven days a week, and show a love and passion for the game that is incredible. For our guys to see how hard the young men from Taiwan and Japan work was pretty special. These players have honor for the game and their opponents and show a tremendous discipline when they play."
Though SI lost to the Nike Under 20 team, the Wildcats beat the Japan team, which finished 7–1, and triumphed over host Song-Shan 73–71. Ross Klein '19 made the All-Tourney Hustle Team, Darrion Trammell '18 was named one of the top-five players in the tournament, Brandon Beckman '18 scored a tournament high 28 points against Song-Shan, Matt Redmond '18 was a consistent scoring threat and lock-down defender, and Wrenn Robinson '19 had three 18-point games in a row.
The real rewards, however, came after the games when fans showered adulation on the boys. "Even when we were out at restaurants, we'd see replays of the games on the TVs or watch someone on our team being interviewed by Fox Sports," said Marcaletti. "People recognized us everywhere we went, including outdoor basketball courts that only open at night due to the heat. Coach Thomas and I took our guys to those 'night courts' on the final night of our trip and played pick-up basketball. We ended with a group photo at 2 a.m. with everyone who played that night."
Fans also waited at the hotel to greet the team and were ecstatic when they received gifts of SI merchandise that Marcaletti brought with him. "People went nuts for that stuff."
The boys also toured Taiwan's famous landmarks, including the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Taipei 101, which was at one time the tallest building in the world. There, students dined at the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant. The most memorable meal of the trip, however, happened after the tournament ended, when SI, Song-Shan and the team from Japan dined together.
"The boys sat all mixed together and sang happy birthday to Garrett Cason '19 in English, Japanese and Mandarin," said Marcaletti. "After the meal, our players lined up and bowed to the coaches from Taiwan and Japan. By the end of the night, everyone had dozens of new Instagram friends and followers." (See below for the videos of the multilingual birthday serenade.)
When Marcaletti returns to Taiwan in September, he plans to sit in on more high school practices and also visit with Coach Charlie Parker, former NBA and USC coach, who now leads the Taiwanese National team. "We ran into him at the Taiwan airport, and he was gracious enough to invite me and our coaching staff to sit in on a scrimmage to learn more about the fast transition game they play."
Marcaletti hopes his team continues this international exchange each year. "My mother was in the airline business, and I've had the luxury of traveling and benefiting from the experience of a variety of cultures. Now our players have this benefit, too. I was fortunate enough to have my wife and two of my three daughters come for the trip, and they enjoyed this experience as well."
Also accompanying Marcaletti on the trip were SI Chinese teacher Irene Wong and SI coaches Alejandro (Ali) Thomas '97, Jamal Baugh, Jenol Mack and John Murray.