WOODSTOCK – For the second straight year, Australian basketball coach Greg Jones brought one of his teams from Australia to play and workout in Woodstock. On Thursday, Central’s boys basketball team played against the Australian team, in Massanutten Military Academy’s gym, with a chance to get an early look at what next year’s Falcon team might look like.
While things were a little up and down for the Falcons at times, the players said it was a good experience.
“It’s definitely something new,” Central rising senior Sam Shifflett said. “Their style of play is unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’s something new. It’s a good experience. They run the floor a lot. They’ve been playing a lot and we haven’t, so we were very out of shape. They did a good job of pushing the ball. They play great as a team, always passing. They’re a very good team.”
Jones originally came to Woodstock in 1992 to recruit Central standout Greg Gibson. Jones and former Central boys basketball coach Jerry Walters became friends and stayed in touch. Jones came back to Woodstock for a visit in 2012 and met MMA postgrad basketball coach Chad Myers, who invited Jones to bring his team to MMA for a visit. Last year Jones finally made it back and was able to return this year with a different group of players.
The team the Falcons played on Thursday was Pathways Basketball and featured high schoolers from ages 15-18. Jones runs several teams in the Northern Suburbs Basketball Association in Sydney, Australia. Last year Jones brought a different team to America, a group of 16-19 year-olds, and that team also played against Central during the trip.
Jones said this year’s team arrived on May 26, after a 27-hour flight, and they will leave on June 13. He said they are staying at MMA, and have been traveling around the state to different college campuses for tours as well as playing against other high school teams.
Earlier this week Jones said his team played against Spotswood High School in Harrisonburg. They also visited James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University. He said he wanted his players to get a taste of what it’s like to play basketball at the collegiate level.
“They’re really enjoying it,” Jones said. “It’s an opportunity to just meet with other students from across the world and enjoy the opportunity to be together and play hoops – it’s fantastic.”
Jones said he plans on making the trip an annual event, and he said the community and MMA have been very supportive and made the trips worthwhile.
The game between Central and the Australian team was played under Australian rules. The game was four 10-minute quarters, with a running clock. The two teams decided to reset the scoreboard and play an extra five minutes after the initial game was over. Pathways Basketball won, 61-32, and 6-2 in the second five-minute game.
Central’s team consisted only of players for the upcoming school year and was without rising senior and starting point guard Jared Patton, who was on vacation. Central head coach Jeff Whittle was also on vacation so assistant coach Jon Cole took over coaching duties Thursday.
The Falcons started off slow in the game but managed to recover to cut the lead to eight points late in the third quarter. A 23-2 run by Pathways Basketball sealed the win.
“The only thing I did not like was our energy at the end,” Cole said. “It’s not about the score, but not playing passive. But we’ve got time. We’ve got team camp coming up, summer leagues coming up. But we got a special group of kids coming back – some great seniors, Jared (Patton) Sam (Shifflett), – some amazing kids. Jeff (Whittle) does a great job with them. (Central assistant boys basketball coach) Ryan (Rutz) he’s an awesome coach. So we’ll be in good shape.”
Central is coming off a strong season in which they advanced to the Class 2 boys basketball state semifinals.
Central rising junior Dominic Strother said that it was great to see and play with his teammates again.
“I like being back with them,” he said. “They’re fun, they’re cool. We also hang out during the summer and every weekend, too.”
Shifflett said several years ago at a team camp at North Carolina State University, the Falcons got to play against a Brazilian team several years ago at North Carolina State University.
“We became friends with them and we went and played pool with them in the lobby,” Shifflett said. “So it was interesting to see new cultures, to see what they’re like and how they play. It’s a good experience.”