Home and Away: Prairie Wolves compete like pros in Estonia

Alex Linden
Find photos and videos from the trip on the team's blog at nwubasketball.blogspot.com

Competitors need spunk. Ferocity. Confidence. Student-athletes’ attitude toward competing in their sport should rightly be: Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.

For Nebraska Wesleyan’s men’s basketball team, “anyone” included European professionals. “Anywhere” meant their home courts in Estonia. And “anytime” meant the summer off-season.

NCAA rules allow teams to compete in another country once every three years. The NCAA grants special practice time to prepare for international trips. Before 2011, no Nebraska Wesleyan team had ever taken advantage of this opportunity to compete abroad. The Harry (’59) and Reba Huge Foundation and the Wolfe Foundation set out to change that, offering to help bring the men’s basketball team to NWU’s Estonian sister school, the University of Tartu.

Players take a break from basketball to try out a zipline. Head Coach Cam Schuknecht jumped at the chance for his team. “An opportunity to go overseas as a team doesn’t come along every day,” he said. The opportunity for this team to hold extra practices and strengthen its chemistry was especially valuable. With a roster that includes a bevy of returning talent, the experience abroad only adds to the optimism surrounding the 2011-2012 Prairie Wolves.

For 15 student-athletes, the trip represented quite a departure from the norm. “It opened my eyes to the rest of the world and made me realize that life is very different outside the United States,” said sophomore guard, Jonah Bradley of Norfolk, Neb.

But for one player, the trip represented a homecoming. The 6’ 10” junior center Sass Karemae came to NWU from Tallinn, Estonia. The trip gave Karemae the rare opportunity to play in front of his family.

 Alumnus Harry Huge (#43) poses with the team he helped bring to Estonia. The Prairie Wolves struggled to acclimate to a European style of play and dropped their first game to BC Rakvere Tarvas 82-58 on August 15. Play improved the following day as NWU bounced back with an 88-83 win over Tartu Rock.

The Prairie Wolves capped their trip with a stout defensive performance, taking home a 68-59 victory over BC Parnu on August 19. The statistics from this final game bear out one of Schuknecht’s main goals regarding team building.

Team defense held BC Parnu to just 39 percent shooting.

Offensively, the Prairie Wolves distributed the ball well with three players scoring in double figures. Eric Jackson of Lincoln led with 13 points; Trevor Johnson of Lincoln added 11; and Bradley recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The strong performance against top-level club and professional athletes bodes well for the future of this proud program. “We showed great improvement throughout the trip and developed a lot of team depth,” Schuknecht said.

This poster promoted the Prairie Wolves’ first game in Estonia versus BC Rakvere Tarvas.Bradley agreed. “We became a very close group of guys,” he said. “Extra court time before and during the trip helps the team heading into this year.”

The value of the trip extended off the court as the team made plenty of time to see the sights and learn about Estonian culture and history. With the help of Harry Huge, an alumnus with strong ties to the country dating back to their resistance to the Soviet occupation, the team had the chance to meet instrumental figures in Estonia’s independence movement. They also visited the U.S. Embassy and Foreign Affairs Office in Tallinn.

The experience allowed Karemae to see his home with new eyes. “The team discussed how everyone seems to take for granted the place where they live,” Karemae said. “I was happy to show the team my home. But I think I also rediscovered the place where I was born and raised as much as everyone else.”