DII basketball: the cultural gumbo of Barry University basketball
The Barry men’s basketball team is 12-3 after Wednesday's 72-68 victory against Lynn. They are now No. 19 in Division II, the only team from the Sunshine State Conference represented in the poll.
The pot of success in Miami Shores, Florida doesn’t consist of your typical stew. The Buccaneers roster is put together of student-athletes spanning eight different nations. Through different roads traveled, student-athletes from England, Iceland, Serbia, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the United States combine to form quite the cultural gumbo.
Despite all of the different styles and personalities, head coach Butch Estes has been relatively lucky.
"Building the chemistry of the program has never been a concern," Estes told NCAA.com. "It’s not something that really was a plan. It came from the challenge of recruiting domestic players, who often get a lot of pressure to go Division I, any DI, rather than DII. The international kids just want to come to the States to play ball and get an education. They don’t seem to care as much about the level. So we were able to get a couple of internationals and we had some success and they had some success and it kind of rolled from there. Plus, Miami is such an international city and Barry is a very diverse university. So it all just kind of works out."
Ask any coach and they'll tell you they hope their players are students of the game. When it comes to this diverse roster, Estes is a student of his team.
"Yes, it’s definitely an education for me," Estes said. "Most of it comes from conversations with the players. I hope that in the future, I’ll be able to visit some of these countries. But in the end, basketball players are basketball players. They all have a passion and commitment to the game."
Estes' squad started to put it all together last season. Elvar Fridriksson (Iceland) had a SSC player of the year campaign en route to Barry’s first outright regular season SSC title. That team, too, had an abundance of international flare, with players hailing from seven different countries.
Perhaps that’s simply the recipe for the Bucs success. A cup of Europe, a drop of the States, and just a dash of Australia. "Seriously, the guys just seem to all get along very well," Estes adds.
The season started off on the right foot. In an early November exhibition at Auburn Arena, the Buccaneers forced overtime and went on to defeat the Division I Tigers 100-95.
They've maintained their place atop the SCC since. Fridriksson has picked up right where he left off last year. He’s second in the SSC in scoring, and his 22.3 points per game are 19th-best in DII. The Buccaneers have four players in double-digits, each one hailing from a different country. Daniel Mortensen (Denmark) is scoring 12.7 points per game, Sawyer Glick (U.S.), 13.6, and Sunday Dech (Australia) 13.1 join Fridriksson in a deep lineup.
"The diversity on our team is the most fun part about our team," Fridriksson told NCAA.com. "We share different cultures and we learn from each other. We are all different and we make fun of each other, which creates a good chemistry on our team."
Playing across seas has as many similarities as it does differences. Fridriksson has been able to blend those into making him one of the premier players in the SSC.
"I played a similar role at Njardvik [Iceland]," Fridriksson said. "But the difference is that there are more athletes here in a DII program. Players have better experience in Iceland. Some of the players have played for many years and really know how to play."
Some of that experience leads them to different levels of world competition. Like the Nordic Championship, for example, when future teammates were one-time foes.
"I played against Daniel Mortensen a couple of times," Fridriksson said. "He gave us a lot of problems on the court, so I was happy to be his teammate when the time presented itself."
Of course, its not always all fun and games. It gets pretty hectic on Saturdays when the Premier League takes center stage.
"We follow the English Premier League and Champions League in soccer and watch the big games together," Fridriksson said. "I am a Manchester United fan and some of my teammates are Liverpool fans. That creates a fun atmosphere when those two teams play because it is a big rivalry."
This season, the Bucs added two newcomers, Dolven and Dech. They have brought a new edge to the team, especially down low.
"Sunday [Dech] brings a lot of toughness to our team," Fridriksson said. "He is our best defender and overall he is a great team player. Johannes is our main threat inside the paint, he really knows how to play and he has a great touch around the rim. Both of them play really hard and that has helped our team this season."
As if the melting pot of Barry basketball isn’t challenging enough, Estes has the added bonus of coaching a pair of brothers. Sawyer Glick started his collegiate career at Spring Hill, and has become a starter with Barry. Kooper started his career at Rock Valley College, and is one of the first off the bench for the Bucs. Together again, the Glick’s add to the unique character of the team.
"We were made aware of Sawyer and once we started recruiting him, the family made us aware of Kooper," Estes said. "We recruited them separately. We wanted them to make the decisions on their own. And that’s what they did, Sawyer first and then Kooper a week or so later. I think that the family had a desire to follow both of them closely and they saw the advantage of them both playing together. Due to years of familiarity, they really do play well together."
Estes is quietly building a consistent power in southern Florida, one that will find itself in the hunt for hopefully years to come. His current roster is one like no other, but seemingly works on every level despite a world of differences.
"I think the differences help us," Fridriksson said. "We have played in different countries and we all have a different point of view on the game. We share that with each other which is a good thing for us in my opinion."