It started with a vacation, a chance for Arcadia University men’s basketball coach Justin Scott to see the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where his mother had lived until she was 11 years old, before she moved to the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where Scott himself grew up.
“Just being a basketball junkie, I wanted to see anything basketball-related,’’ Scott said of his 2014 trip. “Searching the internet, I stumbled across the national team’s Facebook page.”
It turned out the national team coach had just become the national federation president and was looking for his own replacement. He asked this college coach from Philly who was looking to see some local hoops to send his resume. They talked when Scott flew down there. He returned home with a job offer.
In basketball, the country is known best for — known only for, to put it precisely — producing Adonal Foyle, who was discovered playing outdoors by former Temple professors, moved up here and attended Cardinal O’Hara High for a year, and eventually had a dozen-year NBA career, mostly with Golden State.
Foyle didn’t play for the national team, but his cousin, Alexis Foyle, just finished a long national-team stint at age 39. The team coached by Scott made local history this summer by finishing fifth among 10 teams in the FIBA AmeriCup pre-qualifier tournament in Surinam. That tournament is a rung below the Olympic qualifying tournament, but this was a big upgrade from two years ago, when Scott had only one one-hour practice before his first game and the team got blown out of most of its games, winning only one.
This time, they played six games and won half of them, with all three losses going to overtime.
“There are people from so many different places,’’ Scott, 34, said of the challenges of coaching the team. “There’s not a single indoor facility on any of the islands.”
Scott’s mother, Anna Lee Scott, played some hoops and was a reserve player for a season at Beaver College, as Arcadia used to be called. So he got some of his hoops genes from her?
“I guess you could say that,’’ said Scott, who played at Engineering and Science High and East Stroudsburg, and has been in charge at Arcadia since 2012-13. “She was a roster filler.”
What level of talent does he have on his national team?
“I would probably say our frontcourt is definitely a Division I frontcourt. Our backcourt is probably Division III,’’ the D-III coach said. “We didn’t have a true point guard.”
You’re allowed one naturalized citizen (not born on the islands), and that player was legit: Phillip Lawrence-Ricks, a 6-7 forward, himself a Philadelphia native who grew up in Baltimore and played at Marist and professionally last season in Portugal.
“We actually found out we’re cousins the second day of the tournament,’’ Scott said of their shared island roots.
Scott also scouted the tournament with his own team in mind, or opportunities at other schools coached by friends, but visas and expenses are big issues for foreign-born players. It’s easier to make things work at a scholarship-level program.
Scott is committed to keep improving the national-team program.
“This year, we did a three-day training camp in Trinidad, and got into Surinam two days before the tournament,’’ Scott said. “But we also had two starters miss Trinidad, Another missed a flight and got there after a day. Guyana won the tournament; they had been training since mid-May, had been playing friendlies.”
For the future, he said, having a home gym “is the easiest fix — I don’t know if it’s the quickest fix.” He’d love for the group to make it to Arcadia sometime for training.
Does he try to bring a Philly mentality to this group?
“Nah, not necessarily,’’ Scott said. “We don’t have Philly-style players.”
As for his mom, who still lives in Germantown, “she’s excited, man. She’s really proud. Growing up, I wasn’t too excited about where she came from and the culture there. But as you get older, you start to realize how important that is to who she is and who I am.”