May 5, 2004
By Simit Shah –
Fresh from conquering the road to the Final Four, Luke Schenscher now has his sights set on Olympic glory.
Like most Georgia Tech students, the Australian native packed his bags and headed home after finals last week. However, his summer plans don’t involve an internship or time at the beach. The junior center instead begins his quest to earn a spot on the Australian Olympic team that will compete in Athens, Greece in August.
“Australian basketball isn’t the strongest in the world,” noted Schenscher, referring to the country’s lack of a single medal in the sport. “Just to be able to help them out, to win a medal for Australian is definitely something that would make me real proud.”
Tryouts for the national team begin May 10 in Canberra. During the course of three training camps, the roster will be trimmed from 26 to 12. The final squad will be unveiled on June 15.
The team is planning trips to Italy, New Zealand and Yugoslavia prior to the Olympics, which begin August 13.
Fans can follow Schenscher’s progress on the national team’s website.
Representing his country is nothing new for the 22-year-old. He was the first high school player ever named to the national team, and he has participated in numerous international competitions over the past few years.
However, Schenscher was not invited to compete for the national team roster last year. Instead, he spent the summer in Atlanta working out with teammates and former Yellow Jackets.
The extra work translated into a solid regular season and a spectacular postseason. He averaged 11 points and seven rebounds over the course of Tech’s NCAA Tournament run, including a dominating 19-point, 12-rebound performance against Oklahoma State in the national semifinals.
Considered a role player at the start of the season, Schenscher ended it by being named to the Final Four’s all-tournament team.
Schenscher feels that shining on the game’s biggest stage has improved his chances of making it to the Olympics. “Just the exposure of playing the national spotlight has definitely helped,” he said. “I’ve been getting more interest from the media back there as well.”
While he’s become a fan favorite and media darling in the States, he’s nearing superstar status back home. Since the Final Four, more people have approached him on campus, but it’s nothing like the reception he will receive in his tiny hometown of Hope Forest in South Australia.
“I think going back to Australia will kind of put in perspective, because I’m used to going back there and have nothing going on,” he said.
Schenscher’s parents, Dean and Barbara, have become celebrities in their own right, conducting numerous TV and newspaper interviews in recent months. “At the moment, I think my family is more famous than I am,” he quipped. “There were photos of them in the paper when they were watching my games. They’ve been on the news and everything like that.”
Schenscher headed home armed with the ubiquitous “Luke Schenscher has a posse” T-shirts, as well as another interest courtesy of his teammates.
“I listen to mostly hip-hop music, because it’s always playing in the locker room or cars. I just had a friend burn me a Kanye West CD that I’ll take back there,” he laughed. “They’ll probably give me a bit of flak about it. They’ll say I’ve become too much of an American.”
Australian coaches certainly won’t mind the influence of American basketball on Schenscher. In his three seasons at Tech, his skills have blossomed to the point where he is considered one the top returning big men in the country. His weight has increased by over 40 pounds, allowing him to hold his own in the lane.
“It’s been a learning process,” he said. “I came here when I was 19, so part of it is just getting older and maturing. The game is different in the U.S., but that’s why I wanted to come here to play. I wanted to improve, and I’ve had the opportunity to do that.”
While representing his country in the Olympics is a special opportunity, Schenscher is also looking at it as a chance to improve as he prepares for his senior year.
“Going and playing against people that vying for a spot on the Olympic team is definitely something that will help me tremendously to have that competition,” he explained. “A lot of these guys play in Europe. A few have played in the NBA. Going up against these guys is definitely going to make me better.”
AUSTRALIAN TEAM SCHEDULE
May 10-14 – Training camp 1, AIS, Canberra*
May 26-June 3 – Training camp 2, Gold Coast*
June 11-15 – Training camp 3, Gosford*
June 20-July 2 – Tour of Italy
July 8-13 – Tour of New Zealand
July 31-August 3 – Diamond Ball Tournament, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
August 6-8 – Tournament in Italy
August 13 – Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics, Athens
August 15-23 – Men’s basketball pool play
August 24-28 – Quarterfinals, semifinals, medal games
August 29 – Closing ceremonies
*26 players invited to first camp, with a cut to come after each camp. Final team will have 12 members. The final roster will be submitted to the AOC for approval on July 9.