Overseas Trip For Men's Basketball

Overseas Trip For Men's Basketball

By: Danny Mooers

Sports are a universal language. They fill a void during the times that verbal communication is inhibited due to language and cultural barriers.

On August 10, 13 members of the Dordt men’s basketball team hopped on an airplane and flew eight hours to the Netherlands to spend nine days playing basketball and immersing themselves in Dutch culture.

“I really didn’t know what to expect going in,” said Dordt men’s basketball coach Brian Van Haaften. “The whole experience was great. We met a lot of great people and it went a lot better than I expected.”

The trip stemmed from an idea brought to former men’s basketball coach and current Athletic Director Ross Douma by Ton Sels. Sels, a Dutch resident, saw the Dordt Concert choir sing on their 2015 European Tour and was struck by the kindness and authenticity of the students.

Sels contacted Douma shortly after the tour and shared his passion for Dutch history, the future of Dutch basketball and a possible trip for a Dordt team.

“I strongly believe the Dutch can do a lot better in basketball,” Sels said. “We are on average the tallest people on earth. Basketball is a very popular sport in our country and I believe partnering with American organizations and companies with Dutch roots can help us improve our standards in basketball.”

After the initial contact, Douma began brainstorming the timeline for the potential trip. It was supposed to take place in 2017, but the 400th anniversary of Dordrecht along with Douma’s transition to Athletic Director in 2018 made it a natural time to schedule it.

A large portion of the money for the trip was fundraised by Sels. The Dordt men’s basketball program also utilized the money made from concession and apparel sales. The last of the fees were paid out of pocket by the Dordt players and families.

“Dordt is the first school to work with Sels,” Douma said. “He came to Dordt two times throughout the planning to meet face-to-face and hammer out more of the details.”

Throughout the planning, Sels was helping start the Dordt Windmills, a professional team based in Dordrecht. They play in the Dutch Basketball League and made their professional debut this year. Bringing the Dordt team to Dordrecht was an opportunity for Sels to promote the Windmills and his passion for basketball.

Dordt played five games while in the Netherlands and won every single one of them.

"We played a military team along with several club teams,” Van Haaften said. “I thought we played well and got after it. We played really well as a team, we were selfless and shared the basketball really well. None of the games were even close.”

Dordt faced the Dutch Army team on the Air Force base in Woensdrecht.

Along with the games, the team led several youth camps. They held the clinics in the parks and at an elementary school.

“In the Netherlands they don’t really have collegiate sports. There they are all considered amateurs so if they want to play basketball they have to add it to their already busy lives,” said Zach Bussard, a junior forward for Dordt. “This creates a natural skills gap. If they don’t see themselves pursuing it as professionals, they won’t spend much time at it.”

If the Dutch kids choose to pursue basketball from a young age, it becomes their main focus. This is not often the case because of the limited amount of high quality teams and academies to enter.

While the basketball was a cultural experience in and of itself, the team was able to spend several days touring the Netherlands.

“I did not grow up in a Dutch culture so learning about all of the history and traditions behind what makes us who we are was a highlight,” Bussard said. “Having the opportunity to visit the Synod of Dordrecht where Dordt got its name was special.”

Along with the tours of Dordrecht, the group spent a day in Amsterdam, got a tour of a Dutch military base and visit with the United States ambassador to the Netherlands.

“The group had some problems getting used to all the Dutch bikers in the city,” Sels said. “But they enjoyed the food. They liked the Poffertjes (a traditional Dutch treat), but the Kroket (a small fried bread roll) wasn’t very popular.” 

The trip provided an opportunity for the players on the team interested in business to grow as well. The group toured a Dordt alum’s Dredging company and learned what it takes to create a business in the Netherlands.

The Dordt athletic department and Sels hope to continue their relationship through the coming years. If Sels identifies young players in the Netherlands who have talent, he can send them to the elite youth camps Dordt basketball holds in the summer. It would give the players an opportunity to play basketball in the United States and see how other young people are able to balance life and sports. If they are solid enough players, they would have the opportunity to earn a scholarship and play for Dordt.

Future trips back to Dordrecht are not out of the question. Douma believes that the more serious Sels gets, the better influence Dordt can have in Dutch basketball.

“The trip was a great cultural and basketball experience,” Van Haaften said. “We’ll be looking forward to what this relationship brings in the future.”