By Mari Pothier | email@example.com
Back in St. Augustine after playing professional basketball in Ireland, Ben De La Cruz is the new Flagler College men’s basketball assistant coach.
De La Cruz recently took on the part time position after the last assistant coach, Rob Reyes, got offered a job to play professional basketball in the Philippines.
De La Cruz is not new to Flagler. He was a four-year player and graduated in 2009.
“He’s probably one of the top five or six players that I’ve coached here at Flagler,” Bo Clark, head coach of the men’s basketball team, said.
After graduating from Flagler, De La Cruz said he wanted to continue to play basketball. Clark’s son, J.P., recommended De La Cruz to be a part of the U.S. and Ireland Alliance program that brings American players overseas to play sports and pursue their degree. After talking to the recruiter and sending him game footage, De La Cruz was soon on his way to Ireland.
While in Ireland from September 2010 to April 2011, De La Cruz pursued his master’s degree in sports management at the University of Ulster in Belfast and played on their basketball team, the Ulster Elks. He also played on a professional team, which was in affiliation with the university and had the same name.
“It was kind of a joint effort,” De La Cruz said. “It was weird because you think over [in America], if anything pro is attached to college, then it’s not good, but over there the college helped fund some of the pro team’s events.”
Both teams had different players but due to his deal, De La Cruz had to play on both.
But De La Cruz said the game of basketball is not as advanced in Ireland as it is in America. Playing there was a big adjustment, he said.
“It’s not a really big basketball country,” De La Cruz said. “The game was a little bit slower.”
But he said the experience did make him a better, tougher player.
“Just being seen as the American, being the guy they had to get the ball to and just expected to make plays,” he said, “I dealt with it [at Flagler] to a level. But I still had guys I could lean on while I was over here.”
His professional team was in the Superleague and they played teams all over Ireland in Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Limerick and Galway, along with a few others. He said his team did not do well in the regular season and just missed the play offs.
They did make it to the semifinal in the Superleague Cup, which was the farthest the team had ever made it before. The Superleague Cup is not a part of the regular season.
“We would play our regular season, then once a month or every two or three weeks, we’d play a game that would go towards the cup. And then the cup concludes at the end of January,” De La Cruz said.
There were around 44 different teams that were each competing for the cup in their individual divisions, but since De La Cruz’s team was professional, their cup was the most popular among fans.
“We got to play in front of the biggest crowd in Ireland for that year because they kind of had a final four event for the semifinal and the final of the cup, so that was pretty fun,” De La Cruz said.
His university team also did well, winning the All-Ireland Tournament.
While overseas, De La Cruz was able to travel and see London, Barcelona, Austria and Vienna. He also did not have a hard time adjusting to the culture in Ireland, but found the different dialects hard to understand at times.
“The people were real nice,” De La Cruz said. “It’s not like other European countries where they’re like ‘oh Americans are bad.’ They actually like Americans over there.”
De La Cruz is also excited about the upcoming season for the Saints and is glad to be back at Flagler.
“This year is going to be a lot of learning, but it’s a bright future for the team moving forward into the Peach Belt,” De La Cruz said.