July 23, 2014

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High school basketball: Westlake’s Gavin Skelly earns MVP award in junior tournament in Italy

Westlake senior Gavin Skelly, right, holds the MVP award he won at a junior tournament in Citta' Di Lissone, Italy. PHOTO PROVIDED

Westlake senior Gavin Skelly, right, holds the MVP award he won at a junior tournament in Citta’ Di Lissone, Italy. PHOTO PROVIDED

Gavin Skelly considers his recent trip to Italy life changing.

Skelly, a senior at Westlake High School, returned home Thursday after a nine-day stay, while playing with Team Ohio in the APL Junior International Tournament in Citta’ Di Lissone, Italy, where he was named Most Valuable Player and his team went 5-0, winning gold medals.

“Without a doubt, it was the greatest experience of my life,” said Skelly, who is headed to Northwestern to continue his basketball career. “This trip impacted my life. It moved me. It made me look at the world from a different view.”

The 19-and-under national tournament, which is played with 10-minute quarters, featured some of the best young players and teams from all over the world and it was something Skelly never imagined it would be.

Skelly averaged a double-double with 30 points and 12 rebounds per game. He recorded a high of 42 points against an Italian national team.

He also participated in their slam dunk contest and took second place. The winning dunk was a 360 windmill by his teammate Evan Bailey.

Before each game, the opposing team would present them with gifts such as scarves and flags.

Skelly was surprised at the sportsmanship and was humbled by the experience.

“It’s amazing how much respect they have for the game of basketball,” Skelly said. “They actually help you up after they foul you. That caught me off guard. I got knocked over in one game and two or three guys came over to help me up and asked me if I was all right. You just never see that anymore.”

Skelly was overwhelmed at the huge crowds for every game. He said it reminded him of the movie “Hoosiers” and compared it to a Duke game, a venue he’s seen in person.

He said the crowds chant throughout the game and you just never know what they’re saying. At one point, however, Team Ohio won the crowd over and the fans started chanting O-H, I-O.

“It was amazing, I had never seen anything like that,” Skelly said.

Skelly really enjoyed his first trip overseas and said one of his favorite parts was hanging out with his new teammates and visiting Milan and Rome and getting to see the Vatican.

“Even though most of us didn’t know each other going in, we came together as a family,” Skelly said. “We were just together for nine days, but we bonded and did everything together. We hung out, ate together, we did just about everything together. I wouldn’t want to be around a different group of guys. I already miss them.”

Skelly found out about the tournament when his dad received an email from Bobby Kortsen, who was looking for an athletic big man to join the team. He thought it’d be a unique experience and was excited about the invite, but wondered if he should do it.

He then talked to Northwestern assistant coach and former Cleveland Cavalier Chris Quinn, who encouraged him to make the trip. Quinn played in the same tournament after he graduated from Dublin Coffman and told him he would benefit from the experience.

“I’m so glad I went,” Skelly said. “The trip was something I’d never imagined it to be. I’m so grateful that I was invited and was able to take part of something truly special.”

Contact Steve Walker at 329-7135 or djstevo34@hotmail.com.

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