Vanderbilt senior Nic Straub has returned to the U.S. a better boys basketball player.
Straub helped Team USA win the 21st annual Down Under Hoops Classic held July 10-18 in Australia.
The Americans finished 11-1, beating New Zealand in the tournament championship. Immediate scores and results were not made available.
“My takeaway from this trip is that I need to take the game a lot more seriously,” said Straub, who was on the Herald Times All-Area team last winter. “Going there, I saw that everyone would die for basketball, and I’ve never been around anything like that before. It taught me to take the game a lot more seriously and to work a lot harder.
“Before the whole tournament, I was getting into the gym twice a day. I’m definitely going to push it a lot harder. I want to be the best player (in the Northern Lakes Conference) and help us get further in districts than we have ever gone with this group.”
USA’s lone loss, a 33-28 close call vs. New Zealand, came in pool play on Day 1. A mixture of jet lag, unfamiliarity among teammates and getting used to the team’s coach contributed to the defeat.
The team played through their early struggles and began to gel by the time pool play finished and the bracket play began.
“During the first game, everyone came in shy, and we were trying to get used to each other and how everyone played,” Straub said. “No one got along with the coaches at practices at first. But throughout the tournament, everyone grew to love him and started to play great.”
Straub didn’t score in the championship, but he said his defense helped USA avenge its earlier loss to New Zealand.
The biggest challenge, however, was Straub, a natural point guard, played in the post for the Americans.
“Throughout the whole tournament, I did a lot better on defense than I did on offense,” he said. “I was a post player, and I never played the post like that before. I went up against guys who were 6-foot-8, 7-foot. It was hard, but I tried to fight through it.
“There were no fouls called down there, and it’s a lot tougher. My first points actually came off an and-one. It’s very hard to compete down there. I had no idea the talent would be that good.”
Straub said bringing home a gold medal and championship trophy felt “crazy. It was shocking. I don’t even know how to explain it because it was crazy.”
He’s happy he got to experience the tournament and represent his country.
Alongside him was his older brother, JJ Straub, who is also Vanderbilt’s varsity basketball coach.
“He was a supporter there for us the whole time,” Nic said. “He took a lot away from our coach, and he said we’ll take a couple of those plays we used in Australia back home with us and put them into our game this season.”