Clearly, no team of Irish players would be a match for us. The original plan had been to tour the country playing local teams. But Westbrooks had suspected the mismatch and arranged for us to tour instead with the IABS. After a day off, which we spent sightseeing around Dublin, we got up early on Tuesday and piled into a private bus. The whole complexion of the trip was about to change.
Now we traveled the back roads of Ireland, moving from place to place daily—up early, stumbling groggily into the bus, on to the next town. During these road trips, Westbrooks explained that basketball was introduced in the schools only about 20 years ago—and initially with girls. Boys, weaned on Gaelic football, found basketball somewhat sissified. Lately, that had changed, and Westbrooks had arranged for both teams to give clinics, featuring dribbling, passing, shooting and defensive drills, for schoolchildren in and around the towns where we would play each night.
That Tuesday afternoon, as our bus pulled up at a school in Falcarragh, a tiny town in County Donegal in the north of Ireland, at least 100 kids were waiting outside. Others were lined up at the classroom windows. We split into groups of two or three, some staying in Falcarragh and others heading out to neighboring areas. Everywhere the greeting was warm. Mannix and Barry went up the coast a bit, to a small school overlooking a white-sand beach. The reception was so moving, Mannix turned poetic. "It was fabulous," he reported. "The children had waited an hour for us. They ran about a quarter of a mile as we came down the road. They ran as hard as they could, then jumped over fences and looked up at us with rosy cheeks."
Taking the court that evening, we were surrounded by a sea of eager faces. At halftime, we barely had room and time to warm up, so busy were we autographing the pieces of paper pushed our way. I became the personal favorite of two teenage girls—Joanne and Mary—whose mission was to persuade their friends to root for our side. We lost nevertheless, 126-107. But it was my best game so far: five points, a couple of rebounds, an assist and no turnovers.
During our stay in Dublin we had adopted the practice of staying after the game for at least a half hour, signing autographs and visiting with fans. Afterward, we were joined at dinner by local residents. Then, invariably, we would end up at a pub until long past the official closing time of 11 p.m., happily swapping stories and addresses with local players, fishermen, poets, even priests.
The morning after the Falcarragh game we bused to a hotel in Donegal Town, about 34 miles away. I gave a clinic at a primary school with IABS player Ed Randolph. The entire school came—the younger children forming a circle around the court while the older kids ran through the drills.
Afterward, we regrouped for some rest and a bite to eat before heading to the gym. But a surprise awaited us when we emerged from the hotel that evening. Down the street, belting forth an impressive selection of American and Irish music, came a student band, about 75 strong, in full uniform. With several hundred people lining the roadways, and a growing string of kids joining the procession, we marched around the central square and up a long street to the gymnasium. Throughout the tour, we had been treated to some warm hospitality, but nothing like this. It was our first parade.
That marked another turning point in the trip. The long bus trips and clinics left virtually no time for sightseeing. We had pressed Westbrooks to stagger the clinic duty so that half of us were off each day. But now things changed. Not once after the Donegal parade did anyone complain about the clinics. In fact, we usually had more volunteers than spots to fill. During the parade, I walked beside Healey, who said, "I thought we came to Ireland to play basketball. I didn't realize we were bringing basketball to Ireland."
When we reached the locker room we were fired up. In each of our previous games, we had hit the floor for warmups in our sweats, looking like a ragtag bunch of color-blind fools. Now we went out as a unit in our black-and-crimson away uniforms. As the public address system played Paul Simon's Gum boots, Aulet led the way. We jogged around the court once before breaking into two lines for layups. Fans were packed in the balconies. The floor-level seating, with kids jammed under the scorers' tables, overflowed to the point that out-of-bounds lines were obscured. And the ovation was overwhelming. I know I speak for the rest of the team when I say that at that point we would have done virtually anything for the town of Donegal. Except win. Not that we didn't give it our best effort. The game was another doozy, with both teams eclipsing the century mark, but we again fell short by a handful of points, 117-110.
During the next three days, we drove to Belfast, in Northern Ireland, then crisscrossed back through Dublin, where we caught a train that took us to the southwest for a game in Killorglin, County Kerry. We continued to play well, but lost in both cities, making our record for the tour 2-6. After the Killorglin game, we said goodbye to our foes and traveled by train to Limerick. There we split and then teamed with local players for a final exhibition. This marked my personal scoring apex, 25 points—which was six more than I had scored in the previous eight games altogether.