When a team from Arvada is selected to compete in Slovenia and Italy as part of an International Basketball Academy showcase, that’s amore.
Macron Select, a 14-and-under group of mostly Arvada-based players from B&B Basketball Academy, took to Europe last month to improve their skills and put on a show. George Grkinich, who lives in Arvada, is a national sales director for Macron — an Italian sports apparel company — and also the coach of the Macron Select team, which includes his daughter, Ella.
“We’re making a big push into youth sports here in the United States,” Grkinich said. “The Macron team came to fruition when some of my colleagues in Italy had suggested we put a team together and have them play in these tournaments, and possibly arrange for the team to travel to Italy and play some competitions over there.”
The team was handpicked for 2023 based on not just basketball ability, but academic excellence and exemplary behavior in school and their communities, Grkinich said.
Two-and-a-half years in the making, the team was finalized, and the trip was on the books for August 2023. The team recently returned from their eight-day tour, which included a stop in Slovenia before traveling to Italy for some friendly competition (and no shortage of sightseeing).
In Slovenia, the team was hosted by the mayor of Sezana, and an exhibition was organized against the 17-and-under Slovenian national team. Though the younger Macron fell 62-38, getting to play overseas was a dream come true, and one that came early.
“I’d dreamed of playing overseas in the future, but it came sooner than I expected,” Ella Grkinich said. “It was like, ‘Wow this is kind of crazy.’ And, I’d never played anyone that good, which was a challenge. But it for sure helped me grow as a basketball player, and it was a really good experience. I’m very glad I got to be a part of it.”
The team continued to right outside Venice, Italy, where they participated in a camp hosted by the International Basketball Academy of Italy and director Teoman Alibegovic. Basketball fans might recognize the two-time All-Pac 10 Slovenian player from his Oregon State University days in the 1980s.
The camp brought skill-building drills, conditioning exercises, and another exhibition game for Macron Select. The Arvadans took on players from the Italian 14-and-under team, snagging a 67-64 victory.
The entire experience brought confidence and helped polish Macron’s players and their skills, according to player Aubry Grieve. It’s tough to take on international teams, especially if they’re older than your team like Slovenia was.
“We definitely knew going into the game that they were going to be like nobody we’ve ever played,” Grieve said. “It was an amazing experience to play this level of basketball. You just can’t play a national 17U team here in America. There were a bunch of girls doing euro (steps) … behind-the-back passes, which is amazing to watch them do in a game.”
But Grieve was pleased with how her team played. They impressed themselves, she said, and it will be huge for their development going forward.
“Honestly, we did pretty good against them,” she added. “For them being years older than us, I think we just did great. And they were definitely amazing.”
To share this experience was surreal, player Grace Schillie said.
While some players have been teammates for years, others didn’t know each other very well. But being able to represent their country together was a bonding experience they aren’t soon to forget. For many players, it was their first time out of the country.
“When we found out we were going to Italy, it made our team bond that much more,” Schillie said. “We were really excited and while we were there, we played really well as a team. Everyone chipped in to play great.”
It wasn’t all about basketball either. The team got to explore Venice and Trieste, trying delectable foods and seeing beauties both historical and natural as they roamed the Italian streets.
Grkinich said it was inspiring to watch the players represent their country and team in such a respectful and admirable way, both on and off the court. A tear came to his eye as he spoke on his “daughters extended.”
“I’m super proud of every single girl,” he said. “I almost look at these 13 girls as daughters extended. We really all got close during the preparation time and months planning for this and practicing together. And I couldn’t have been prouder of the way they represented themselves … to the hotel staff, the bus drivers, the people in the gyms. It was really, really neat to see that and be a part of that.”
A return overseas next summer is already in the works; this time, to Split, Croatia. Grkinich said the plan is to participate in a weekend tournament following another week of travel, which included a Croatian team, a Bosnian team, a Slovenian team, and America’s team: Macron Select.
While many of the players from this year will return next summer, Grkinich said there will be opportunities to come for new faces as well, and he expects several on next year’s team. To learn more about the B&B Basketball Academy, visit www.bandbbasketballacademy.org.