On November 26 the men’s basketball team traveled to the Emerald Isle in the hopes of taking home the gold in the second annual Belfast Classic, the only college basketball tournament in Ireland.
The tournament, hosted in Northern Ireland’s capital, was put on by the Sport Changes Life Foundation (SCLF) in partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (BHOF) and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
The two bracket tournament included eight college basketball teams, all from the United States. The two brackets were called Samson and Golitath, named after the two cranes that helped build the R.M.S. Titanic, which was constructed in Belfast.
Marist was placed in the “Samson” bracket alongside Dartmouth, Long Island University-Brooklyn, and University at Albany. Senior guard Brian Parker recalled, “It was funny to step onto the court in Ireland to play a team from New York.”
Marist won the first game against Dartmouth 76-58. They then continued on to play LIU Brooklyn, who they defeated 70-53, making them the champions of their bracket. The last time the men’s basketball team won a November tournament was 2001.
Parker scored 18 points in the first game, and 15 in the second. Parker’s exceptional playing was recognized and he was awarded MVP of the Samson bracket. “It’s always a great feeling to celebrate a win with your teammates,” commented Parker. “It’s also cool to be able to say we’re undefeated in Europe.”
Cheerleader Corinne McGovern remembers the moment the buzzer sounded, declaring Marist had won their bracket. “Everyone on the team had huge smiles on their faces,” she said, donning a grin of her own.
One image that stood out in both Parker’s and McGovern’s minds was seeing all the Irish fans waving Marist banners and pom poms. “Even though we were in a huge arena, seeing all the Marist gear made me feel like we were back in McCann,” said McGovern.
According to Darren McCormack, Associate Director of Athletics for Facilities and Operations at Marist, who traveled with the team to Belfast, both the basketball players as well as the cheerleaders and dance team members participated in clinics with local schoolchildren.
The clinics were organized by the Sport Changes Life Foundation, a charitable nonprofit that aims to help children in disadvantaged communities realize their potential through organized sports, specifically basketball.
McCormick believes one of the foundation’s hopes in organizing the Belfast Classic is to advertise their Victory Scholar Program to college athletes because “Basketball is present in Ireland, but not prominent.”
The Victory Scholar Program, a scholarship programs that allows American student athletes to travel to Ireland and Northern Ireland to coach youth basketball teams while earning their master’s degree.
“Their motto, ‘Sport changes life,’ is something I think all of our athletes could connect with,” said McCormack. “I think it was good for the athletes to do a little community service and see how they can impact the lives of others.”