FAU’s basketball program has more foreign players on their roster than any other team in the Sun Belt Conference.

Bryant Eng

Over the past few years, the FAU men’s basketball program has become a proverbial melting pot. The Owls’ roster has the most international players on their roster in the Sun Belt Conference and in the state of Florida (though Florida International University and Florida Gulf Coast Academy trail FAU by just one player apiece).

FAU’s four international players — Pablo Bertone, Dragan Sekelja, Javier Lacunza, and Justin Raffington — have come from all around the globe to play basketball for the Owls, but according to Assistant Coach Peter Gash, “the transition for them is pretty easy because they are great kids.”

Gash believes foreign players are attracted to FAU because of head coach Mike Jarvis.

“[Recruits] know that coach Jarvis has a good track record with international players,” Gash said.

Jarvis developed that track record while coaching basketball at George Washington University, where he had several opportunities to coach international players.

“Jarvis does a great job at teaching the game and simplifying the game [for international players],” Gash added.

Here’s a look at FAU’s four international players:

Pablo Bertone: Arroyito, Argentina

Pablo Bertone. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Pablo Bertone. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Bertone was born and raised in Argentina, but has been playing basketball in the United States for nearly five years now. The junior guard was recruited to FAU while playing at RISE Academy in Philadelphia, Penn., but the weather there was far too cold for Pablo.

“I cannot deny the fact that I love the weather in Florida,” Bertone said with a wide smile.

Living in a multicultural environment such as South Florida has made the transition seamless.

“There’s so many different cultures here,” Bertone said. “So it’s easy to adjust.”

On the court, the Argentine guard is averaging 8.3 points per game this season, good for third on the team. Bertone scored a season high 21 points in a Dec. 27 victory over Sun Belt rival Troy.

Dragan Sekelja: Zagreb, Croatia

Dragan Sekelja: Zagreb, Croatia. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Dragan Sekelja: Zagreb, Croatia. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Sekelja, who is playing his first season at FAU after transferring from Baylor University, is from Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. The junior center is one of only two 7-footers in the Sun Belt Conference.

While Sekelja is averaging a modest 3.6 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game, the big man has shown flashes of the potential and talent that FAU’s coaching staff envisioned when they recruited him from Baylor University.

Sekelja admits that the American style of basketball is a radical shift in approach from his playing days back home.

“The NBA players are more talented. There’s more superstars and one-on-one plays,” Sekelja said. “In Europe it’s more about the execution of plays.”

Gash knows Sekelja has enormous talent, but he also acknowledged that for the big man to realize his potential, he would have to work at it.

“Consistency has to be learned,” Gash said. “Dragan is learning that process now.”

Sekelja has shown more consistency of late. In his last four games — all against Sun Belt Conference rivals — Sekelja has increased his scoring to six points per game. Over the span of those four games, the 7-footer also displayed impressive passing skills, racking up eight total assists.

Javier Lacunza: Pamplona, Spain

Javier Lacunza. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Javier Lacunza. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
The lanky freshman hails from Spain, where he posted an impressive 21.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game during his senior year of high school. However, just like Sekelja, Lacunza definitely has noticed a difference between European and American basketball.

“It is a lot more physical — a lot more pressuring the ball, running the court, defense,” Lacunza said. “This is big change.”

The style of basketball played in the United States isn’t the only change that the freshman forward has dealt with. Lacunza is still mastering English, but his Spanish has bailed him out more than a couple times.

“If I don’t know say [sic] something in English, I just like try say [sic] it in Spanish,” Lacunza said. “And for some reason they understand me.”

Gash pointed out that Lacunza has to get a little stronger physically, but that the forward’s strong work ethic and commitment to improving are going to pay dividends down the road.

Justin Raffington: Freiburg, Germany

Justin Raffington. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Justin Raffington. Photo by Ryan Murphy.
The native German transferred from the University of San Francisco and must sit out the 2012-13 season in compliance with NCAA rules. At 6’9”, 245 pounds, the junior center will spend this season honing his skills and preparing for next year’s basketball season.

During the 2011-12 basketball season, the forward averaged only 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds while playing for the San Francisco Dons, but next season — when Raffington is eligible to return to the court — more will be expected from the Owls’ second tallest player on the roster.

According to Gash, Raffington has “been showing [the coaching staff] a lot of great things in practice,” but to FAU basketball fans, Raffington is an unknown commodity. Gash described him as a “power player” with a really great jump hook and a really great drop step.