This is the story of a bunch of guys from Harvard who love basketball and play it pretty well, and who concocted a dream tour of Ireland to enjoy the sport in a novel setting before they got too old. At least, that's the way it started out. Parts of the trip went as expected—the pints of Guinness, political arguments and late-night poker games. What began as a simple vacation, however, turned into something quite different, as these once self-centered brutes ended up forgoing sightseeing to teach basketball to schoolchildren in some of Ireland's most remote spots. They signed literally thousands of hastily ripped scraps of paper—not to mention basketballs, arms and even legs—destined to be pasted carefully into scrapbooks by kids all over Ireland. And one particular town tucked away in a corner of the island even held a parade in their honor. In short, this is a story about becoming heroes in a foreign land.
The World B. Tour was dreamed up by onetime Harvard point guard William Kenneth Aulet, who holds a management job with IBM but whose true love is hoops. Aulet, 32, had spent one postcollege year, the 1980-81 season, playing professional basketball in England; in 1987 he asked his old British teammates to help put together a basketball tour for some of his American pals. He dubbed the spring 1988 trip the World B. Tour, a play on the name of former NBA player World B. Free, and assembled a roster of tourist-players.
One of Aulet's first calls went to Joe Carrabino, a 6'9" power forward who holds Harvard's alltime career scoring record. Carrabino, 27, an investment banker, responded enthusiastically: "I've got it booked." That's how easy it is when people love a game. Other former Harvard players also jumped at the chance, among them diminutive play-maker Marty Healey, 35, now an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston; forward George White, 29, a real estate investment adviser from Philly; and swing-man Tom Mannix, 31, a Boston-based institutional equity salesman and a long-range bomber who started for three years for the Crimson.
Even as the first trip wound down, things geared up for the 1989 extravaganza. That's when I come in. At the time, I was living in Cambridge, Mass., and playing with some of the guys a couple of times a week. I had listened with growing envy to tales of the inaugural World B. Tour, and though I went to UC Davis, I lobbied for tour qualification on the grounds that I had also attended Harvard while on a science-journalism fellowship. When some of the original players couldn't make the second trip, I was tapped to join the group. Other newcomers included two guards, Washington attorney Dale Dover, 40, and real estate developer Mike Griffin, 36, and 6'7" power forward Joe Pettirossi, 25, a real estate loan officer in New York City. In me, the team got a 35-year-old free-lance writer as a 6'3" backup forward. Our coach was Colgate grad Andy Caso, 39, a marketing manager for computer products; he and I were the only non-Harvard grads present. Rounding out the entourage was team manager John Fenton.
It was Fenton who had discovered Jerome Westbrooks, a 33-year-old American who teaches phys ed and religion at the high school level in Ireland. West-brooks used to play professional basketball in Ireland and currently coaches a pro team there. With help from his wife, Lois, West-brooks and Fenton arranged an Irish foray that began with a four-team tournament near Dublin, followed by a week of games around the country.
The tournament began on a Saturday afternoon in early April in Killester, a Dublin suburb. Our first foe was the Irish National League Selection, which included several players from the national team. The gym turned out to be typical of what we would see throughout the tour—a linoleumlike floor and loosely fitted backboards.
Our team surprised me. Only about half the guys lived in the Boston area, so we weren't used to playing together, especially in the rough-and-tumble international game. But everyone was grounded in the fundamentals, and we meshed well enough for a convincing 30-point victory in the opener.
Game 2 that night provided the real test, however. Our opponents, the International All-Star Basketball Service (IABS), were American professionals who were playing in the Irish National League; Westbrooks, it turned out, is also the manager of the IABS. (Ireland is home to 10 Division I and eight Division II teams, and each team is allowed one American player.) All of the IABS Americans had played college ball back in the States, and though none had become household names, there were some very good players—including LaVerne Evans of Marshall University, Anthony Jenkins from Clemson, and Boston College's Skip Barry.
We were outgunned in youth and speed but we played more cohesively than they did. Several times we slipped behind by 12 or 14 points, only to come charging back. Carrabino used his bulk to create space for his deft shooting touch; he finished with 46 points. Late in the game, we took the lead. But with 23 seconds left, the IABS moved ahead again by two. Desperate, we pressed, and with about 10 seconds remaining, Griffin picked off a crosscourt pass. He pushed it downcourt to Healy, who swung it to Mannix in the left corner. Mannix drove to the hoop and tried to dish off to Dover for a final shot. But the pass was stolen, and the IABS scored a breakaway to ice the game. Final score: 125-121. As for myself, I saw only a few minutes of action.
The next day we demolished a First Division English team called the Cheshire Jets. But we lost again to the IABS team in the evening finale. Still, we found consolation in the second-place trophies and the fact that Carrabino, with 156 points in four games, won the Most Valuable Player award. And we left the gym knowing an important point had been established: We could play ball.