Pipeline down under: Australian trio gives LRSC men spark
By Harry Lipsiea
Pat Thomas remembers his first night in Devils Lake vividly. The native of Adelaide, Australia arrived at the dorms of Lake Region State College around 10:30 p.m. on a warm August evening in 2013. More than 9,400 miles away from home, Thomas didn't know much about the place he was going to call home.
"I had absolutely no idea what to expect," the now sophomore at Lake Region State College told the Journal. "To be honest, I didn't research where I was going very well. I just knew I was going to North Dakota to play college basketball and that's all I needed to know."
After settling in the community and playing on the Royal basketball team during his freshman season, Thomas was much more comfortable going into his sophomore campaign.
In addition to his added familiarity of the Lake Region, he has had another reason to feel at home this year. Fellow Australians Ryan Clark and Tom Kubank, friends of Thomas who are also natives of Adelaide, made the trek across the world to join the Royal mens basketball program.
"It always helps having people you know and are friends with around you," Pat pointed out. "I couldn't be any happier about having these guys here. We live together, play together and hang out all the time. It's been great."
That brings up the question, how do three young men who live nearly 10,000 miles away end up in Devils Lake? It all comes back to Thomas' interest in playing college basketball in the United States and his connection made with Lake Region State College head mens basketball coach Joe Kittell.
Thomas and Clark had sent information to Gillette College in Wyoming where Kittell was an assistant at the time. After receiving the head coaching job at Lake Region State College and receiving permission to recruit Thomas and Clark from Gillette College head coach Shawn Neary, Kittell got back in touch with the Australian duo about playing for the Royals.
"I had seen their statistics and both players did very well at the Australian national tournament," Kittell stated. "I was excited about having them be a part of the Royal program."
Thomas made the trip to the Lake Region a year ago. Clark had initially planned to be part of the team in 2013 as well. Due to family issues, however, he was unable to join the Royal squad a season ago.
"It was great to have a place to play," Thomas stated. "Playing at Lake Region State College is an awesome opportunity to play against high competition."
In his first season playing collegiate basketball, the 6-foot-3 guard made an immediate impact for the Royals. He was among the team's top scorers averaging 11.5 points per game.
The Australian native, however showed the ability to be a key contributor in other areas as well. Thomas led the team in two categories with 6.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
"Pat added so much size and toughness for our program last season," Kittell stated. "I believe that's only going to improve in his sophomore season."
In the spring of 2014, the coach received a letter of intent from Clark for the upcoming season. Kubank, a year younger than both Thomas and Clark, committed to play for the Royals.
Three months later, three friends, who live within 10 minutes from each other in the fifth biggest city in Australia, are together again and playing on the same team. The opportunity to share the same court means a lot, Kubank said.
"We know each other very well," the 6-foot-6 freshman forward added. "Not just as people, but as players. When we're out there, I have a pretty good idea what Pat and Ryan are going to do and that helps what I do."
Clark, a 6-foot-8 freshman who will be Lake Region State College's starting center for the team's opener Saturday, agrees with his friend and teammate.
"I am just here trying to fit in and help the team any way I can," he stated. "Having two guys that I am familiar with on my team has made me feel that much more comfortable."
It's also been nice for Thomas too. He admits that getting familiar with Devils Lake took some time, but he credits his teammates, coaches and the community for making the transition as easy as possible.
"Everyone has just treated me so well since I have been here," he stated. "My teammates have been great both years."
So far, all three have greatly enjoyed their time at Lake Region State College and in the area. They point out that it is, however, greatly different from their home.
"We are from a very large city, so it was kind of new to be part of a place that was so close where you see everyone almost everyday," Thomas said. "The people here are so kind."
The biggest difference is the weather and the layout of the city. the players agreed.
"I really like the landscape here in Devils Lake. It's a very pretty area," Clark stated. "I like it a lot."
There are also a few adjustments on the court as well. The trio points out that there are some different rules and that style of play is different.
"At some points, the game is faster here and others where it is slower," Thomas noted. "But, the athleticism is higher and the players can push the ball much faster in the fast break."
So far, the Australians are extremely optimistic about the upcoming season. With a good core of returning players and an exciting recruiting class, the Royals will be fun to watch, they said. For Kubank a key to the team's success will be its team chemistry.
"Our team is a true brotherhood," he said. "We are so close and get along so well, I think it's going to show on the court."
There are certain things that the players often bring to the court, Kittell stated.
"All three guys are very tough and have played in national tournaments. So, they bring in a lot of really good experience," he said. "They really add a lot to this team and to the program."
While two of the players have yet to step on the floor in a regular season game, all three college students have made an impact off the court.
"These are good students and good kids of high character," the coach added. "People really enjoy having them around. These are three athletes that do the right things and as a coach you love that."
The Lake Region State College recruiting pipeline to Australia is something that Kittell would like to see continue in the future.
"What I like about the Australian players that I have come across are that they come in ready to play with quality experience. They also bring a certain toughness and experience," he stated. "I just love that connection to Australia and I just love having Pat, Ryan and Tom on our team."
Each time they hit the floor, representing their country is something that players think about.
"We are all very proud to represent our country," Clark said.
Kubank added, "There is a deep pride of being Australian. It's important to be a source pride for your country, friends and family."
The dream for all three players is to represent their countries on national teams in the future. For now, however, the athletes have one thing on their minds.
"Doing as well as we possibly can as a team this season," Thomas stated. "I think it's going to be a fun year for Royal fans."