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Posted on August 22, 2013
By BOB DAVIDSON
Vanessa Kresin thought they were kidding. They had to be.
She and her teammates were en route to play a basketball game against a local club team on the island nation of Curacao and not sure what to expect.
"All us girls were kind of joking beforehand because our event coordinator was like 'You'll expect more and it's different down here,' and we were 'yeah, we'll probably be playing on an outside court," Kresin said. "We kind of joked about it because that's not possible.
"Then our taxi pulled up and they said, 'Here's the gym' and we saw no building. We're looking at each other and we're like uhhhhh ... We started walking and we're like 'This is an outdoor court, are you serious?' The event coordinator said, 'Yes ... it's OK, it's still basketball."
Kresin the other members of the USA Athletes International group played four games during their trip July 30 to Aug. 6. Two were staged on outdoors courts and two others in a barn-sized building that had a roof, but no walls.
Welcome to Curacao and its fledgling state of basketball.
"It was a little weird with the wind and stuff when you were shooting free throws," said Kresin, a Glen Elder native and two-year starter for the Kansas Wesleyan women's team. "But it's cool to say we played organized basketball outside. It was an eye-opening experience."
Brown Mackie women's coach Troy Thrasher and 10 girls comprised the team that made the trip along with a USAAI softball team. Among the other basketball participants with Kresin were Ashley Carey, a Salina South graduate who plays for Bethany; current Brown Mackie players Seanna Arrendondo and Hannah Mortimer of Southeast of Saline; and former Brown Mackie player Mackenzie Coffey, who plays for Hardin-Simmons University (Texas).
The group also conducted clinics, working with Curacao girls ages 14 to 18 to help them learn the game. There also was sightseeing, scuba diving, a cruise on a catamaran and a tour of the island that's located 38 miles off the northeast coast of Venezuela.
"They were trying to help out a different country, trying to help young players get better at the game of basketball," Thrasher said. "They had to adapt to a whole different culture."
The USAAI basketball team easily won its four games, but that wasn't the point or purpose of the trip.
"I visited with one of the Curacao coaches -- we went down to watch the softball team play -- and he explained to me it's kind of hard to get the girls down there interested in basketball just because they don't start playing until they're 12 years old," Kresin said. "Here in America ... I've been playing ever since I can remember, so I can see how it would be harder to get the girls down there involved.
"Working with the clinics, we just tried to be very positive and motivational to them. Obviously, they weren't as good skill-wise as girls in America. You could tell they were playing because they did enjoyed it."
The two teams were mixed together for one game with some surprising results, Kresin said.
"There were a couple of the girls that were rebounding exceptionally well," she said. "It was awesome seeing them play with us and playing with higher ability. They definitely played their hardest all the time and went hard. It's just that they're a few (skill) steps behind us. That made me respect them a lot more and give them a lot more credit to their ability and where they're at right now."
Kresin, who averaged 11.1 points and 5.6 rebounds last season as a sophomore at KWU, said the clinics focused on fundamentals.
"We worked on dribbling, passing, shooting form and rebounding. We went through the four basic fundamentals of the game," she said. "You could tell they understood the fundamentals, skill-wise they just need that repetition. They knew you have to rebound to be successful and you have to be able to play defense. But as far as actually being able to play defense, that was a different story."
The learning experience went both ways, according to Thrasher.
"I think they gained an appreciation for we have to work with," he said. "The girls from Brown Mackie don't like the fact they don't have a gym or dorms, but after the trip they realized they have it pretty good. They gained an appreciation for what they have to work with. It was a learning experience for them and for me."
Despite a language barrier and vast differences in skill sets, Kresin said the athletes became friends.
"Even though we're at different levels of the game, in a way it united us together," she said. "Half of the girls on their team could speak English, but not very well. But basketball was there to unite us. It was kind of cool to see how a simple game could ignite a friendship."