Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Seton Hall Has Pipeline to Canarias Basketball Academy
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — During his second season as the head coach at Iona College, Kevin Willard made his initial 30-hour round trip to the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands off the Northwest coast of Africa.
“I flew over there during the April period and met with [head coach] Rob [Orellana] and watched what they did and was really taken back at how great of a program he ran,” Willard recalled.
“I thought I was going over there and just going to see a bunch of guys running around. And they worked out at 6:30 in the morning, they worked out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and they worked out at 8:45 at night. Every day.”
Willard and assistant Steve Sauers didn’t land any CBA players during their tenure at Iona, but the current Seton Hall roster features three players from the academy, including 6-foot-9, 225-pound Czech forward Patrik Auda, who is expected to start when the Pirates open up the 2011-12 season Saturday against St. Francis (N.Y.).
Aaron Geramipoor, a 6-11 sophomore center from England, and Haralds Karlis, a 6-5 freshman shooting guard from Latvia — both of whom played at CBA — are expected to be key contributors this year for Seton Hall, picked 13th in the Big East poll.
“When these guys come over here, they’re a little bit older,” Willard said. “Academically, in Europe, these guys graduate high school when they’re 16, 17 years old so they’re ready for college.”
While Willard understands there is an adjustment transitioning from the European to the American game, he doesn’t buy the premise that European players are “soft.”
“I’ll be the first one to say I don’t think they’re soft at all,” he said. “They’re highly skilled and they’re terrific kids and I enjoy coaching them a lot.”
Of the three CBA players, Auda is expected to make the biggest contribution this season after competing with the Czech Republic at the World University Games in China.
With the departures of Jeremy Hazell and Jeff Robinson — both playing professionally in Europe — more will be expected from Auda, who averaged 3.2 points and 2.5 rebounds a year ago.
“I’m older this year, too,” the soft-spoken Auda said. “I’ll try to do much better than I did last year. I think maybe there’s a little bit more expectations for me than last year.”
Auda, 22, said he could have played professionally in the Czech Republic, but opted to attend CBA instead.
“On the one side it was the toughest year of my life so far,” Auda said. “But it really helped me to develop myself and it helped to give me the opportunity to go to America. Coach Rob really does a great job with the kids from the whole Europe over there and he makes them ready for another level of basketball.”
During his time there, CBA played at the National Prep Showcase in Rhode Island, where he was seen by many American coaches.
“Many people saw us playing over there and I think that helped me a lot,” Auda said.
With Orellana’s help, Auda committed to Seton Hall in the spring of 2010.
“He would not have signed at Seton Hall if he did not think he could contribute and help,” Orellana told SNY.tv when he committed.
Still, Auda is adjusting to the speed and power of the American game.
“I think American basketball is faster and you also need to be much, much stronger during the games,” he said. “Back in Europe they don’t pay that much attention to spend time in the weight room and get physically strong.”
Geramipoor , 19, played one season with Auda after being recruited to the school by Orellana out of the Manchester (England) Magic team.
“It was a strict regime, waking up at 5:30 in the morning, having practice,” he said. “After practice we did push-ups and sit-ups. We didn’t have a very good weight room facility so we did the best we could with what we had.”
Geramipoor said Sauers, now the Director of Basketball Operations at Seton Hall, was key in his decision to come to the school.
“He really explained Seton Hall to me,” Geramipoor said. “He put everything in black and white, he told me how it was.”
After battling mononucleosis last year that put him in the hospital for more than a week, Geramipoor says he’s ready to contribute much more this year.
“I can’t wait for the season to start so I can show people how I can really play because I don’t think they had the opportunity to see how I played last year,” he said.
As for Karlis, he may get the nod as the starting shooting guard alongside senior Jordan Theodore.
“I’m not selfish so I’m going to pass the ball,” Karlis told SNY.tv. “I try to talk. In practices, I try to talk with the team and communicate.”
He conceded it’s hard being away from home.
“Of course I miss my family, but I’m in wonderful place,” he said. “I’m in Seton Hall, I’m in great program, so it’s not that bad.”
Going forward, Willard, who needs a point guard and a big for the 2012 recruiting class, says he won’t hesitate to go right back to CBA for more players. Seton Hall is involved with two of those players now.
“If they’re better than what we’re recruiting and that’s what we need and they have what we need,” Willard said. “I don’t see any reason why you would stop going over there.”
Geramipoor thinks there’s more talent to be found in the Canary Islands.
“It’s a great program and the players really do know how to work hard,” he said. “They have great work ethic like myself, Haralds and Pat, so if they can add more to the team with the same work ethic, it will be an advantage for Seton Hall.”
Seton Hall is still seeking a point guard for its 2012 recruiting class, but Madison Jones of Ravenscroft (N.C.) told SNY.tv he won’t sign until the spring. He said Seton Hall and ECU are recruiting him the hardest. The Pirates are also courting former St. Benedict’s and current Lexington (Ky.) Bryan Station guard Jaylen Beckham. but he will not sign until the spring after shoring up his academic situation, Bryan Station coach Mike Allen told SNY.tv. Allen said Seton Hall and Oklahoma State have “shown interest,” but there are “no offers on the table.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.