By Luke Schenscher | Playing and winning in a Power 5 Conference School
Preface by Janx….
With our featured athletes Isaac White (6’1’’ Combo Guard, 2017 Stanford Commit) and Lat Mayen (6’8’’ Wing, 2017 TCU Commit) committing to High Major D1 NCAA programs in recent months I thought it would be fascinating to ask a friend of mine, Luke Schenscher, and one of the greatest players South Australia has ever produced, to blog on what these young men can expect, his own experience and journey as well. He has played at a similar level to where Lat and Isaac are heading and even went all the way to the National Championship game.
I hope that not only Isaac and Lat get some value and insights but so does the rest of our readers.
Whilst the state of South Australia has produced some great college players over the years like Paul Rogers (Gonzaga, 1994-97), Ryan Kersten (University of New Mexico, 2005-06), only 3 men have ever played for schools in Power 5 conferences. The three being Luke (Georgia Tech in the ACC), Pero Vasiljevic (Kansas State in the Big 12) and Martin Bartmentloo (U of Arizona in the Pac-12), as the only male players to play in a Power 5 conferences in our state’s history. To have 2 make it in 1 year, from 1 junior club (the same team infact), is history making. Amazingly, we expect more of our featured athletes to make it to this kind of level in 2018 if current recruiting is anything to go by.
Luke had a phenomenal career at the collegiate level and beyond, we dream and hope that Luke’s lofty career is a precursor for our recent commits. Very few have reached the lofty heights he did whilst playing for Georgia Tech in what is considered the top conference in America in the ACC. Infact his Georgia Tech team actually went all the way to the NCAA Championship game, an amazing feat for a young man out of South Australia, with Luke playing as the starting centre.
Whilst he went on to spend time in the NBA, play in top European leagues and have a long and successful NBL career I told him we would love to hear about his college career but also to hear about what he is up to in his life after basketball.
Reading this blog is phenomenal. I love these kinds of insights on how he was recruited, the chain of events that led him to GT (instead of Drexel), why he chose to play at GT, his insights about his coach, insights on playing Duke at Cameron Stadium and more. I also liked how he discusses the work he did after his sophomore year to get better, overcoming adversity at some stage, dealing with it and putting the work in to get better like all our featured athletes have had to do at some stage. His comments on preparation meeting luck is very similar to what Isaac White actually discusses in his blog (Mental Toughness and Dedication).
Thanks so much Luke for this blog!!!
Over to Luke…
Pictured above: Some people go to Spain to "Run with the Bulls" Schenscher managed to do it in Chicago, Illinois
How did you get recruited out of Australia?
The way I ended up at Georgia Tech was a little unorthodox, I didn't have a lot of interest from colleges while I was playing at the AIS. A now good friend of mine was an assistant coach at Drexel, a small div 1 school in Philadelphia and was out in Australia to look for recruits. He saw me play and offered me an official visit to check out Drexel. I flew all the way to Philly from Canberra and back again in 48hrs only to have the head coach there fired the day I got back. So that fell through, but the assistant coach was good mates with the Georgia Tech coach and told him about me and recommended me to him. It just happened that the center they had signed got into trouble with the law and lost his scholarship so they were looking for someone to replace him. I ended up visiting GT and Boise State, and decided to go with GT
What made you choose GT?
There were a few reasons I chose GT and looking back now some of them were probably a little naive! I liked the fact GT had awesome facilities and amazing resources, with the massive weights room, a private athletes dining hall, a sports performance centre and most importantly I had my own room in a nice apartment on campus!! I also liked the way the coach Paul Hewitt spoke and he seemed very down to earth and honest. But the main reason I chose GT was because it was in the ACC which was the toughest conference at the time by far, and I wanted to prove myself against the best. I backed myself that I was going to work hard enough to become good enough to play in that league. I was nowhere near ready when I was heading there but I knew I was going to work my ass off to get to that level.
Pictured: Luke did "work his ass off" at this big time program to improve having a very successful career, even going all the way to the NCAA Championship game and All Final-4 team honours. He had 9pts, 11 rebounds in the championship game vs UConn and also 19 pts, 14 rebounds Vs Oklahoma State in the NCAA semis in that NCAA tournament.
What was the biggest shock when you got on campus?
The biggest shock to me was the immediate workload both physically and mentally. I thought we had it tough at the AIS having to do high school and train but it was nothing compared to college. 6:30am track sessions 3 days a week, followed by classes all day with weights and individuals during lunch breaks or breaks in class schedule. The campus was like a small town it was so big, so getting around to classes and workouts was a chore in itself! Then 3 hr plus practices every evening followed by dinner and study hall, the only time spent in my room was to sleep and that was it. The number one job I was given by the coach when I got there was to put on weight, and I ended up putting on 15kg in the first 6 months or so, which not surprisingly ended up causing me to get a stress fracture with all the extra load I was putting on my body, so it was a tough time at first.
What was your coach like?
One of the things that I liked about Paul Hewitt on my visit was his cool and calm demeanour, and the way he spoke was very down to earth and straightforward. Turns out he was Jeckyl and Hyde between his demeanour in the public to his demeanour behind closed doors in the lockeroom or at practise. We would spend half times avoiding flipped tables in the lockeroom, ducking flying Powerade bottles which ended up through white boards, and we even witnessed a big flatscreen tv coming off second best after a heated video session. I used to secretly look forward to a video session after a loss just to see what he would do next, and he also had a great knack of making up his own hybrid swear words which I always found amusing. I think it was just a coping mechanism for me at the time! I didn't appreciate him too much at first, especially my second year, mainly due to not getting much court time and feeling like he didn't believe in my ability to be able to compete at that level. Looking back now he was probably right and I wasn't ready, and he was doing the best he knew how to get me ready, but I didn't see it that way at the time. I began to warm up to him once I started playing more minutes in my third year! He was one of the most intelligent coaches I've had in my career, and probably the best I've had at scouting the opposition and knowing exactly what needed to be done to win each game. He brought the absolute best out of us as a team, and I think it's no surprise that so many of us have gone on to have long professional careers due to the way he constantly pushed us to our limits and showed us what it takes to be successful. One thing I have also always appreciated about him, even when I was dirty with him for not playing me more, was his commitment to helping us out off the court in any way he could. There was nothing he wouldn't do for me off the court and he always had my back no matter what.
Did you have family and friends come over and watch and spend time with you?
I was lucky enough to have parents who made the effort and financial sacrifice to come visit at various times. One of my most memorable moments was having mum walk me on to the court for Senior night when all us seniors were honoured before the start of the game. That was very special to me, to see my mum so proud of me, and being able to experience that moment with her.
How crazy were the crowds?
The crowds, both home and away, will always stand out as providing me some of the most surreal experiences in my life. Playing at Dukes Cameron Indoor Stadium where you literally cannot hear your teammate shouting next to you, playing at home having the whole crowd yell Luuuuuuke every time I scored or blocked a shot, and going to each game looking forward to seeing what signs people would make for me, (both for and against me) were all some fun memories. My favourite sign was at Duke, it had Ronald Mcdonald on it with the caption "Luke, I am your father..." after we beat them that game, ending a 50 game winning streak at home for them, I went over and got a photo with it. The crowd was great and loved it. I always tried to give props to the clever ones. To me it was a compliment that they thought I was good enough that they wanted to try put me off my game, I always embraced that kind of stuff.
Pictured: McCamish Pavilion with a greater capacity than the Adelaide Arena, packed with passionate fans calling out Luuuuuuuke everytime he scored or blocked a shot.
What were your main expenses over there?
Expenses while at school were pretty much just your own entertainment outside of the school. So going to the movies, eating out etc. But the biggest expense by far was the plane flights to and from Australia. It was hard being all the way up to 22 years old and still relying on my parents financially. Especially seeing how much money we were making for the school over that time, it was hard to swallow. Every time I had to fly back for Boomers camps etc it took a big hit to my parents pocket. What did you find the best value the college pathway provided you with as opposed to staying here? For me the college experience forced me to conjure up an extremely high level of resilience, self belief and fortitude I dont think I would of ever had needed if I stayed in Australia. It allowed me to compete at an intensity and level that I haven't experienced anywhere else on a daily basis, and last but definitely not least it allowed me to get an invaluable college degree.
Did you get homesick etc?
I got homesick a hell of a lot. Back in those days we didn't have skype, Facebook etc and I didn't have a mobile phone, so it made it tough to communicate with friends and family back home on a regular basis. It was a struggle especially my first 2 years when I wasn't enjoying it too much on the court and things weren't going the way I had hoped they would. I was lucky enough to have a lovely girlfriend at the time, which helped a lot, and would always enjoy going to her family's place for all the major holidays.
After my sophomore year (second season) I hadn't been getting much court time and was pretty fed up with how much work I was putting in and getting no perceived rewards for it through playing time. I was seriously starting to regret choosing a 'bigtime' school. I had talks with Phil Smyth about coming back to Australia to play with the 36ers and had my mind made up I wanted to leave. My ex AIS coach Frank Arsego got on the phone to me and pretty much convinced me to stay in college. He made me realise I was never going to get an opportunity like that again, and as long as I did everything I could to make the most of it, and it still didn't work out, at least I wouldn't leave there with any regrets. I decided I was going to work so hard the coach would have to play me. So the motto from then on for me was literally "no regrets". I stayed at college that off season and worked out with an ex GT player Malcom Mackey 3 mornings a week, and with an assistant coach 3 other days a week, plus did strength and conditioning workouts 6 days a week. It just happened to turn out that in that off-season Chris Bosh left for the NBA, another big guy transferred to another college, and unfortunately another blew his knee out in the preseason. All the work I had put in, put me in good stead to step up and make the most of the opportunity that came up. It was a classic case of success coming from when preparation meets luck.
Pictured: Chris Bosch left Georgia Tech to go and play in the NBA too. At the time this change and some other personnel changes opened the door for Luke in a BIG way.
Have you been back to Tech since you left?
I have been back twice since leaving, most recently end of last year. I got to see the new 50 million dollar overhaul of the stadium and practise facility which was incredible, catch up with some old team mates,and briefly meet the new coach Josh Pastner. I am really impressed with what he and the other coaches have done with the program in such a short time, and how much he has gotten out of the guys, they were predicted to finish bottom of the ACC and are absolutely flying right now, beating a lot of highly ranked teams.
What are you looking to do now?
Right now I'm studying a masters in secondary education which I started while I was still playing, and enjoying doing any coaching I get the opportunity to do. It's a great feeling to be able to help out young people in any capacity, but especially those who are looking to make a career out of basketball. I always try and get across how hard it actually is to work hard at something all the time! It's easy to in spurts and when things are going well but when the proverbial s*it hits the fan that's when it really matters. That and the fun and satisfaction you can get seeing yourself improve and find ways to be successful on the floor. Every time I went out on the floor I was always slower, weaker and less athletic than my opponent, all I had up my sleeve was my height and work ethic to close the physical gap as much as possible, so I enjoyed finding ways to use what I had to my advantage. Basketball has provided me with so many rich experiences and helped me find out more about myself than I could of ever imagined, I hope I'll be able to give back to the game in some capacity, and hopefully help others grow and learn about themselves through basketball, or whatever their passion may be as well.
Pictured: Luke came home to play with our local professional team in South Australia, the Adelaide 36ers, and we cannot thank him enough for writing this blog. What a great career and we cannot wait to see how this man puts back in to the sport through teaching, coaching and mentoring with his wealth of knowledge, experience and approach to life.