Galena’s Babbitt to play in Schweitzer Games
Appeal Sports Writer
Since its inception in 1958, the Albert Schweitzer International Basketball Tournament, in Mannheim, Germany, has featured the finest talent in the world: from former and current NBA stars like Magic Johnson, Vince Carter, Vlade Divac, Jermaine O’Neal and Andrew Bogut to current college sensations like West Virginia’s Kevin Pittsnogle.
When the 16-team, 16-nation tournament begins on April 15, it will feature an American team with 10 more highly lauded prospects (all 17 years old and under), including one from Northern Nevada – 16-year-old Galena sophomore Luke Babbitt.
“I’ve never been out of the country before. I just got my passport the other day,” Babbitt said when contacted Wednesday. “It means a lot to represent the USA. I’m excited for the opportunity.”
The 6-foot-8 power forward helped lead the Grizzlies (12-0 in league, 22-7 overall) to the High Deser t League crown and into the Northern 4A Region semifinals, where he scored a game-high 29 points in a 55-52 loss to eventual state champion Reno.
“Obviously I’m disappointed that we lost to Reno in the semifinals,” Babbitt said. “But they were a great team. We expected from day one to win state, but we didn’t. It was a good year. We’re losing four great seniors, but we’ll be back next year.”
The selection to the Schweitzer Tournament is the latest accomplishment for the highly recruited Babbitt, who averaged 25.2 points per game and seven rebounds for Galena this season.
“And he only played a half (a game) in our games in conference because we were blowing out teams,” said Galena coach Tom Mauer, in his 14th season. “We played teams from Texas, Wyoming. We played some good teams. It was a helluva schedule.
“He was seen by 35 (college) coaches in the fall. He had individual workouts for teams. He had a great summer and is one of the top sophomores in the nation. He’s being recruited by 21 of the Top 25 teams (in the USA Today rankings) in the nation – and he’s a 4.0 student.”
Babbitt was quick to say he earned his 4.0 grade point average last semester and that he had an overall GPA of 3.9.
“Academics are real important to me,” Babbitt said. “It’s something my parents worry about. I put a lot of time into it.”
Although he can play well in the post, it is Babbitt’s shooting accuracy which has drawn the attention of John Rhodes, executive director of the Beach Ball Classic and assistant coach for Team USA in the Schweitzer Games.
Mauer said Babbitt was a 54-percent field-goal shooter, was 33 percent from 3-point range and converted 82 percent of his free throws.
“We were looking for an outside shooter – a good wing,” said Rhodes, a member of the McDonald’s selection committee (for All-American athletes) and the mayor of Myrtle Beach, S.C. “In international ball you put up the three. I think we’re in good shape in the guard position.”
Joining Babbitt at guard will be Andre McFarland, of Durango High School, in Las Vegas, and Evan Rios, of Chaminade High School, in Miami, Fla., who Rhodes said will play point guard.
Cole Alderidge, a 7-footer from Minneapolis, Minn., and who will play for Kansas, will be one of the forwards, Rhodes said.
“Babbitt’s been pretty consistent this year,” Rhodes said when contacted Wednesday. “He’s sort of like a (former Duke small forward Mike) Dunleavy (Jr.). We’re looking for (Babbitt) to fill in that slot. I saw Babbitt play last summer. He was just coming into his own. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s a good player for us. He’s one of the keys to the team.”
Rhodes said University of Nevada sophomore guard Ramon Sessions, who also hails from Myrtle Beach, played twice in the Schweitzer Tournament, which runs from April 15-22.
“There’s cert ainly a lot of great names (that have played in the tournament),” Babbitt said. “But I’m not going to go over there and do anything crazy. I’m going to go over and try to play like I know how to. The win is the whole thing. That’s a goal. That’s all I’m worried about.”
Which would be music to the ears of Rhodes, who promised quite an experience for Babbitt.
“We run a different style game than most,” Rhodes said. “We have an international style, like the Phoenix Suns play. That’s the way they do it in Europe now. The Schweitzer Tournament is the largest junior tournament in the world: 16 nations’ best juniors in the country – Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, China, Australia, Argentina – to name a few.
“The big thing is (Babbitt) will have a chance to represent his country and play for a championship. It’s pretty exciting. He’s got the potential – playing in this tournament – to take his game to another level.”
Mauer said he’s confident Babbitt would benefit from this experience because he’s already seen signs of growth this past season.
“He’s done an outstanding job of developing his character – he’s maturing,” Mauer said. “This year his goal was to make the other players on his team better. He did a good job of making them better. He plays with a passion every day. That’s something very important for kids to do. As the end of the year came along, it became harder. It’s typical for kids at the end of the year to slack off. He intensified more. He’s versatile. He had three things: He’s an outside shooter, and inside player and a (3.9) student.”
If Babbitt doesn’t already represent the total package, Mauer said this tournament would improve him even more.
“He’ll come back with a bigger knowledge and understanding of the big picture,” Mauer said. “He’ll get a feel for how much more complex it’s going to be against college players. He’ll understand he’s a representative of the community. And against international competition he’ll meet some of the best in the world in his age bracket.”
Mauer said Babbitt, who has 1,114 career points, has a chance to surpass 1999 Galena graduate Lance Buonchristiani’s school record of 1,983 points.
“I’d like him to be an ambassador for the sport and a great role model for the school,” Mauer said.
A Google search on Babbitt would keep one occupied most of the day, but the sophomore sensation said he’s not caught up in all the attention he’s receiving.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Babbitt, who gave up baseball (he was a left-handed pitcher) two years ago to concentrate on basketball. “I try to enjoy it. There’s only one chance at all this. Someday I won’t play basketball anymore. I try to enjoy it and get better at playing basketball.
“I try not to look ahead and think about the future. It’s high school. I try to have fun and focus on getting better and put my hours in the gym.”
Babbitt said he has other interests he pursues when not playing basketball, including playing golf and video games (he chose “Madden NFL” over “NBA Live” as his favorite) and going to movies.
Babitt’s favorite movie sort of says it all about the precocious phenom: “He Got Game.”
Note: Mauer said Galena will participate in the Beach Ball Classic, in Myrtle Beach, from Dec. 26-30. The tournament will feature 16 teams, including one from British Columbia that went 36-0 this past season.
“(The Tournament) turned 25 years old this year,” Rhodes said. “USA Today ranks it the No. 1 high school tournament in the country. We’re in the heart of basketball country.”