When athletes start preparation for game-day festivities, they’ll tell you that the most important thing is a good night’s sleep.
That did not hold true for Liberty High School (Nev.) basketball captain Jordan Wafer, who woke up with a splash of water on his face Dec. 28 after some of his younger teammates played a harmless yet hilarious prank on the senior leader.
“I was a little upset at the moment, but it’s all about the experience,” Wafer said.
This was only a small example of the type of bonding the Liberty basketball team got to experience while participating in the 2018 Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes.
Coming from more than 2,500 miles away, Liberty was the farthest team to make it to the beach for some high-level basketball competition, and they certainly took advantage of the long trek. It was the first time the team got the chance to see the Atlantic Ocean, and they even went sightseeing in Philadelphia Dec. 30.
Liberty brought one of Slam Dunk’s top-rated recruits, Julian Strawther, the eighth-ranked small forward in the junior class. Unfortunately for Slam Dunk fans, Strawther rolled his ankle on the second play of the game against Bishop Loughlin and was sidelined for the contest against Paul VI the following day.
“It’s been good. It’s a different atmosphere out here for sure,” Strawther said. “It’s different in the West Coast. Like there’s a lot of fans and a big turnout, and I’m disappointed to not be out there, but it’s still a good time.”
Liberty actually started the year with only nine eligible athletes when they participated in the Hoophall West Tournament in Phoenix, Ariz., earlier in December. Head coach Stefan Berg was able to get some late additions to the roster in the form of a few football players as well as a couple transfers.
Despite the early-season roster difficulties, Berg noticed his team did well to stay present in the moment.
“It’s a good bonding session, and good team bonding. The kids being able to hang out with each other on the bus, plane, in the hotel room,” said Berg. “The kids are loving it. Even though we lost and it was kind of a lopsided game [to Bishop Loughlin], the kids were smiling. They provided pizza for us, and the kids were in good spirits. The whole time we’ve been out here, the kids have been positive.”
For Liberty, this adventure so far away from home is just as much of a learning experience off the court as it has been on it.
“It’s just fun to be around each other and not have to be basketball all the time,” Strawther said. “So I mean we were just walking to the gas station and just bonding with each other and being ourselves, honestly, because on the court, it’s all business, so we’re just being ourselves around each other.”
Although Liberty left Lewes without a win, the team will bring valuable on-court experience against better competition than what they will face back home.
“We like playing against tough opponents to see what we can do against them, as it’s only getting us ready for our league games,” Wafer said.
“It’s really just a test before we go back home and try to dominate and try to make our state championship run,” said Strawther. “This really just means a lot, regardless of the outcome. We’re going to grow as players and as a team.”
After wrapping up in Lewes, coach Berg said the team would go up to Philadelphia to check out the Rocky steps, eat a cheesesteak or two and get a picture with the Liberty Bell to pay homage to the one painted across the middle of their high school basketball gym in Henderson, Nev. – only about 15 miles away from Las Vegas.
“Yeah, we can’t wait,” Strawther said. “We don’t get that many opportunities to come on the East Coast, so when we’re out here, we try to make the most of it.”