SALADO — Forced to improvise with precious seconds of a tie game ticking away, Mitch Medaris drove left into a sea of Snook defenders and left his feet.
Fortunately for Medaris, his teammate for all of two games, Ryan Scott-McGuire, found himself alone on the left block, and Medaris hit him for the game-winning layup with two seconds remaining in overtime.
Still beaming afterward, even Scott-McGuire was unable to explain how his team rallied for the 54-52 victory in the the final game of the Coach Smith Tournament on Thursday.
“Honestly, no idea,” Scott-McGuire said. “I’ve been sick all game. I only came on in overtime.”
At least Scott-McGuire was able to suit up. Two of his teammates were so ill they weren’t able to leave the hotel.
Scott-McGuire is part of a travel team called the Queensland Boomerangs of Queensland, Australia, and the Boomerangs were still adjusting to the weather Thursday — it’s still summer in Australia.
The Boomerangs have a boys and girls team competing in Salado, both of which were hand-picked by founder Trevor Cook and his daughter, Amy, a former player at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Amy said Trevor, who was coaching the junior varsity teams in Burnet, has been touring with the team for about 10 years, the last two of which she has accompanied him as a coach.
The first time she accompanied him as a high school player, she earned a scholarship to play in America, and now the two help field teams every year to give young players that same opportunity.
“We wanted to give kids the opportunities that we were given,” Amy said, “and (Trevor) loves the States, loves the way they play basketball, loves college basketball, loves everything basketball.”
Working with Gulliver’s Travel agency, Amy said getting the players here and finding a place to stay was the easy part.
The hard part has been getting players to adjust to the winter cold, especially with temperatures dipping below freezing this weekend.
“It does get cold (in Australia),” the Boomerangs’ Bree Caple said, “but not this cold.”
And there has been an adjustment on the court as the Boomerangs played no games before arriving in America and had practiced only six times — since January that is.
But the Cooks ensured the practice time they did have was well-spent.
“They’re so hard,” Scott-McGuire said, “there’s so much running — it’s all running and strength. We do 500 pushups, 500 situps at least every training session.”
As for how they ended up in Salado, the Boomerangs found the Coach Smith Tournament on the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches website and quickly sent Salado boys coach Kenny Mann an email asking if he’d have them.
A bit surprised, Mann accepted the offer and said he now feels lucky to have the teams participating.
“It’s been a good experience,” Mann said. “Our kids have been enjoying talking to their kids, and it’s been a pretty good experience.”
Caple, a 14-year-old from Noosa Heads, Queensland, traveled with the team last year to Washington D.C. and North and South Carolina but said the locals from Central Texas have been particularly friendly.
“That’s really weird,” she said with a laugh. “In Australia, they’re friendly, but they won’t come up to you and talk to you. Here, everyone comes up to you and talks to you.”
What else she and Scott-McGuire noticed is the increased availability of junk food, whether it was at the concession stand or the drive-through.
“There’s so much more fast food, and it’s cheap. It’s ridiculous,” Scott-McGuire said. “I think that’s why we’re all sick because we kept eating fast food, keep eating Reese’s Pieces and stuff.”
But what Scott-McGuire said he enjoyed the most was the enthusiasm of the crowds at Salado gymnasium.
“I like the atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone comes to games.”
The Boomerangs’ trip doesn’t end in Central Texas. After the Coach Smith Tournament, they’re off to San Antonio, then Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles.
The trip also includes a trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, college visits in Houston and taking in a Houston Rockets game and a Dallas Cowboys game.
Cook said she hopes it will help players experience America and perhaps encourage them to attend a college in the U.S.
Caple said she is already hoping to transfer to an American high school and attend college in the U.S.
And Trevor and Amy Cook are doing everything they can to give students like Caple that opportunity.
“We just want to give the kids the experience,” Amy said. “That’s what it’s all about for us.”