HILLMAN-Playing sports around the world is the dream of many athletes and two Hillman athletes may have the opportunity to travel to Australia and represent their school in several days of international basketball action.
These athletes, sophomore Dylan Ross and junior Mike Klein were contacted by Down Under Sports recently to represent their school and their country.
Sophomore Ty Jones, received the same letter but declined the offer due to his commitment to the Hillman baseball team.
"We both (Ross and Klein) got the letter and opened it at the same time. We were both really excited about the chance to represent our school. I never thought I'd have the chance to go to Australia. I never thought I'd leave Michigan," Ross said.
Both players have to raise $5,000 before the trip to pay for their expenses. They will travel to Australia for a week starting on July 15 and spend two days playing a minimum of 10 games in an international basketball tournament. Then, they get the chance to relax in Wakiki for three days.
"I think we're going to the opera house in Sydney and I'm pretty sure we're going to go scuba diving and parasailing in Hawaii," Klein said.
Down Under Sports was founded in 1989 with the mission statement of "using the common language of sports to span continents." They bring together athletes from basketball, track, cross country, cheer, dance, volleyball and wrestling.
Through these international games, they hope to help students from around the world develop deeper understanding for people from different nations and continents.
Players are scouted for and chosen based on their performance statistics, academic performance, including how vital they were to their team's success.
"I think they (Ross, Klein and Jones) got chosen primarily based on how well we ended the season. Those guys played well all year and it's a testament to our success as a team that they were chosen," Hillman boys basketball coach Eric Muszynski said.
The Tigers were the 2012 district champions and led state championship favorites Cedarville for three quarters in the regional district final and forced two overtime periods. They ended the season with a 17-6 record and finished second in the North Star League with an 11-3 record behind Mio.
Ross was Hillman's second defensive rebound leader throughout the year, picking up 136 total rebounds and was Hillman's fifth leading scorer with 115 points. Klein was the fourth leading scorer with 131 points and had a solid 28% three-point shooting percentage.
Both players must make regular payments to Down Under Sports before their trip including a $1,000 deposit. A spaghetti benefit dinner was among the fundraisers held to raise the rest of the funds.
"I was excited (when I got the letter) but I didn't think there was any way I was going to be able to afford it. But my dad said we should look into it. They (my parents) have been really supportive. They've really helped set everything up for us," Klein said.
Other fund raisers are in the works including a community wide garage sale. No date for the sale has been set. All money raised in the fundraisers will be split evenly between Ross and Klein.
"Everybody (in the community) has really been helping out. At the spaghetti dinner, I saw people I didn't even know supporting us and helping out. I think they know that the money is going to help the basketball team and not just one kid for one trip," Klein said.
The opportunity to play against the top players in Australia may help Ross and Klein develop stronger basketball skills which could help contribute to further success for the Hillman basketball team next season.
"It's a great opportunity for them to sharpen their skills playing against some different opponents and to get the chance to experience new things. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and I hope they raise the funds to take advantage of it," Muszynski said.
Those interested in helping out Ross and Klein can attend any of the fundraising events mentioned above or sponsor them at the Down Under Sports website in the Sponsor An Athlete section.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.