The rise of top-ranked hoops programs at boarding schools across the country has greatly diversified the source of talent on the country's best teams. Yet, despite programs like Nevada's Findlay Prep featuring at least one Canadian star in each of the past two seasons, no team in America can boast the international diversity of Wasatch (Utah) Academy, which has no fewer than nine different countries among its 14-man roster.
According to the Deseret News, the Tigers have thrived despite a resembling a relative United Nations council each time they take the floor. None of the team's five starters hail from the U.S. -- the News reported that among the starters, the two guards hail from Lithuania and Canada, the forwards are from Croatia and Bulgaria and the center is from France -- and of the six players who are American, only two are from Utah.
Now the Tigers can call themselves state champions, capturing the school's first state title with an 84-47 rout of Liahona on Saturday, despite having to rely on the universal lingo of basketball to communicate with each other. Of course, when things didn't go right, their coach knew how to get his point across.
"It's interesting," Wasatch coach Geno Morgan told the News. "But I'll tell you basketball is so universal that it just works out and I can't even really explain how it works out.
"When I yell, everybody listens. When my voice goes from a 2 to a 10, they know something's not right and we need to start picking it up. It doesn't matter what language you use. They get the message."
That didn't happen often this year, as the Tigers rattled off an impressive 21-3 record. Outside of the team's three losses and two narrow victories, no other teams have come within 12 points of the Tigers, with most of their games resulting in blowouts by 20 points or more.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team's success brought chants of "USA! USA!" throughout the playoffs, as frustrated fans of opponents at the losing end of blowouts vented about Wasatch's international makeup.
Despite those attacks of poor taste, the team's success also brought attention to the its stars, none of whom picked the school with the intention of building basketball hype. Canadian shooting guard Jarryn Skeete and Croatian point Fred Krajacic could both land a college scholarship, while 6-foot-7 center Insa Kaba, of France (he's of Senegalese descent), is only a sophomore and could be a prominent prospect by the time he graduates.
Whether any of the team's players has a future in basketball remains to be seen. What they do know is that the 265-student school will prepare them for a future outside of sports, thanks to its reputation for rigorous academics.
"This school is a hidden gem, one of the top boarding schools in America," Morgan told the News. "We get kids who want to come to America for a really good education and prepare for college."
If they keep up their current success, they might just get more students who are really, really good at basketball, too. Given the size and structure of Wasatch Academy, that would be an amazing accomplishment in itself.