It all started when head coach Mike Perry went to a game in the Netherlands to watch the country’s national team in 1984. In the stands was seven-foot-one Rik Smits.
Don Yaeger recounts an incident with Marist College and the NCAA in his book “Undue Process: The NCAA’s Injustice for All.” Smits told Coach Perry that he wanted to play college ball in the U.S. badly. The 18-year-old would sign a national letter of intent, along with Alain Forestier from France and Miroslav Pecarski from Yugoslavia.
Assistant Coach Bogdan Jovicic took all three young men to buy winter coats and other things. Smits also stayed at the home of Thomas J. McKierna, who was a member of the Board of Trustees at Marist at the time. All the meals and clothes came to a total of $773.20.
Later on, Coach Perry and Forestier shared a hotel room in New York City. Forestier made a complaint to his foreign student advisor once he returned to campus. Forestier said that Coach Perry had made sexual advances towards him, that Coach Perry denied. Soon all the details about the meals, clothes, car rides and hotel rooms came out and the foreign student advisor, who knew that these were all NCAA violations, made a call to President Dennis Murray.
Perry was fired after being head coach for only 167 days. Nine months later and after the NCAA finished their investigation, Marist was set to serve a one-year probation. Murray thought this was harsh due to the fact that Marist had disciplined the coach already. In 1987, after further investigation by the NCAA and several more interviews with Perry, Marist was hit with 14 different NCAA recruiting violations that Perry confessed to committing. This began to raise eyebrows about the NCAA’s stance on international recruiting, how they discipline schools and other incidents within college basketball. These issues and countless investigations led to the creation of the college basketball program that we know today.
Over the past two decades, there have been 15 international Men’s Basketball players from 15 different countries at Marist College. During this time there have been five different men’s head coaches. Is this just a coincidence or a part of a tradition at Marist of international recruitment by the Men’s Basketball program?
“I’m not opposed to [international recruiting] or for it,” said new Head Coach John Dunne. He emphasized that his main goal of recruiting was to create a “balance” in the team.
There are currently five international players on the team: freshman guard Andrea Bernardi from Italy, freshman forward Lasse Gummerus from Finland, sophomore center Tobias Sjoberg from Sweden, red shirt sophomore Aleksandar Dozic from Montenegro, and junior guard David Knudsen from Denmark.
Knudsen, Sjoberg and Dozic all said they liked that there were more international and European players on the team when they came to visit here.
“I loved it, there were a lot of internationals which was a good thing for me, and I just decided to come,” said Dozic after transferring from Marshall University.
“When I came back here and saw the players I thought they were a great couple of guys that I had the opportunity to play with for a couple years,” Sjoberg agreed. “I like that there are a lot of Europeans here. David and Alex have been good friends in my past years here.”
Sjoberg and Dozic said that former assistant coach Andy Johnston played a major role in their recruitment to Marist. Johnston was the former Men’s Head Coach for the Keflavik basketball team in Iceland in the 2013-2014 season. Former Marist head coach Mike Maker hired Johnston as his assistant coach in 2014.
Johnston’s experience in Europe provided Marist with connections to European players which has led to the increase in international recruitment. Former Men’s Basketball forward Kristinn Palsson, who played for Marist in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, is now playing in the same league in Iceland that former assistant Johnston coached in.
The international players shared the same sentiment that the international recruitment tradition is related to Marist’s coaches. They feel that their coaches are focused on winning, not the nationality of their players.
“I don’t think the school has that kind of tradition by itself,” said Sjoberg. “It’s probably the coaches that have the tradition of signing international players for reasons I don’t know. His job is to get the best guys that do the best job for the team. That’s what he’s gonna do. Where they come from I don’t care. As long as they’re doing what they should do,” he continued.
“I don’t think it’s the school. It’s all about coaches that have probably worked in Europe and have connections in Europe from their past experiences,” said Dozic.
“I’m sure he just wants to win like all of us do and he wants to get the best players here. I don’t think he really cares about where they’re coming from,” said Knudsen.
Coach Dune said he has recruited internationally once or twice in his past experiences. He said the big key was to, “Find good players that fit your program and your style.”
Dunne, obviously not as familiar with international recruitment at Marist, remains open to the possibility. “At the end of the day you want to recruit toughness, guys that are hard playing and that can be effective on the offensive side,” he said.
With a fresh coaching staff on their way in, how they will affect international recruitment remains unknown. One way or another, a new wave of recruits will be making their way to Poughkeepsie—but this year, there may be noticeably fewer recruits voyaging from across the pond.