STAUNTON – Jarrett Hatcher remembers wondering what the Lee High basketball team had gotten itself involved in a dozen years ago.
The school’s athletic director had received a call asking if Lee wanted to play a touring Australian team. Paul Hatcher, Lee’s coach at the time, agreed, but Jarrett, his assistant, found it very difficult to scout a team that had just arrived in the United States.
He contacted a newspaper in Myrtle Beach, where the traveling team had played a few nights before, hoping to find out some info on the team, but didn’t have much luck. As it turned out, Lee had nothing to worry about, winning 89-27.
The next year the Australians sent a much better team, its 18-and-under national champions, the Melbourne Tigers, and Lee barely survived, winning by six.
Since then, the talent level of the Australian teams has been up and down as Lee has played a team from Down Under 12 times, winning 10 of them.
This year’s team, the Hawthorn Magic, was fairly evenly matched with Lee, jumping to a 24-12 second-quarter lead Monday night in the Paul Hatcher Gym before the Leemen rallied to win 53-46.
Hawthorn arrived in the United States on Dec. 26, flying in from Sydney to Dallas and then to Charlotte, N.C. This is the preseason for Australian basketball, with the regular season starting in March.
“I’m trying to get them to see the culture of the high school level so they can enjoy it,” said Hawthorn coach Marcus Timmons. “They see it on TV all the time, they see it in the movies all the time. They’re like, ‘This is like the movies with the cheerleaders and the packed house.’ You don’t get that type of environment over in Australia.”
Lee was clinging to a two-point lead midway through the fourth quarter when Parrish Barnhardt scored on a layup and Darius George followed with a 3-pointer to open up a seven-point advantage as Lee held on for the win.
“The game style is a lot different,” said Tom Harris, a 17-year-old member of the Magic. “Obviously it’s a lot faster game, it’s more aggressive. It’s just a lot different. We’re trying to be more aggressive, more physical, running down the floor a lot more.”
Harris said it’s been a difficult adjustment for many of the players, but they’re coming around.
Harris spent Monday sitting in a Lee High Spanish class, getting a chance to experience the United States educational system.
“It’s really cool to meet all those school kids and get to know everyone with the different lifestyles and stuff,” said Harris, who thought the classroom atmosphere in the United States was more relaxed than in Australia.
After spending Monday night with local families in Staunton, the Hawthorn team will leave for Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to play a game.
Timmons was a star at Southern Illinois, scoring 1,434 points and pulling down 1,001 rebounds in his college career before making a short stop in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz. Then he played in several places overseas, including Italy and Russia, before eventually settling in Australia where he played in the National Basketball League.
Timmons nephew is Otto Porter of the Washington Wizards. He is taking his team to see the Wizards play Cleveland on Wednesday night and has arranged for them to meet the Wizards.
Hawthorn will play 10 games total while in the United States. Before going home they will visit Disneyland in California.