DUBOIS — There is no better feeling than chasing dreams, no matter where they could lead. For some, that dream is taking a path all its own on the hardwood. One year ago, the DuBois Dream basketball squad held its debut season, traveling all through the east coast to play against other minor league basketball squads who were doing the same thing, playing ball and chasing their dreams.
This year, the dream has grown, and with a new squad, a new coach, and an owner that even puts on the jersey himself, the DuBois Dream Team is ready to go farther than they did one season ago.
At the team’s first media day held at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in DuBois, the public got the opportunity to meet the newest members of the squad, and get a sense of where they were heading. Dressed all in grey and black, and smiles on their faces, the team was ready to take on the new challenge of battling in the North American Basketball League.
For team owner and player, Albert Varacallo, the DuBois dream began with an opportunity from ESPN, one that kept his interest in the game going, but also gave him and others a chance to give back.
“I heard about a $2 million basketball tournament in 2016. It was around April; I was still playing at the time, and I had just returned to the area. I was still looking to play, and I heard about this tournament,” Varacallo explained. “I wanted to be part of the Sideline Cancer team that we played in our charity exhibition game that year. Unfortunately, they were full. I still wanted to play, so I was like, ‘Why not just throw this out there and see if we can make this happen.’ Of course, our awesome community banded together, and saw what we were trying to do for the community. We put a team together, and actually played really well against the No. 1 overall seed.
“After that, I started feeling pressure people just asking me, ‘When’s your next game?’ We were one-and-done, but I started thinking, and I had my eye on a couple leagues, so I decided to join a league. We then threw some people together between November, then another tryout in early December, and we found some people within the community that wanted to continue playing. We started the season in January last year.”
Varacallo in the inaugural season was wearing a lot of hats as team owner, because not only was he trying to run the team from an ownership standpoint, he was also trying to be a coach and player. Having to take on all that responsibility all at once was overwhelming. This season, Varacallo continues his role as both an owner and a player, but he is not the main man on the sidelines.
That responsibility is now on the shoulders of new head coach Matthew Stoey, and he already has instilled a different type of play for the 2018 campaign from his first day.
“We had our first practice this past Monday. (We) got right into it. We have two weeks to prepare for our opening game. The dynamic has been great, everybody’s willing to learn, and they want to learn, and play together,” Stoey said. “Everyone is a team player, and are here to win or to help out the bigger picture, and do their part. It’s going to be an exciting season.
“We’re bringing a lot of different things to the table, and getting ready for next Saturday, and put on a show for the community.”
That show he’s hoping to put on is with a team that has an entirely new look, with only one returning player from last season’s squad. This year’s DuBois Dream has every player standing at least six-foot in height, but along with that height is speed, as this year’s team is employing a different style of offense that could create problems for the Northeast Division of the NBL, which Stoey would explain.
“It’s going to be run-and-gun this year. We have a lot of athletic guys, wing players, and players who can dunk on people. It starts on the defensive end. Last year, we gave up a lot of points. It’s going to be getting stops on defense, and then putting on a show for the fans,” Stoey said. “Based on the first two exhibition games, we can score with anybody. Anyone can put the ball in the hoop. But it’s going to start with these guys getting stops on the other side of the court. It’s a different dynamic.
“Everyone is about the same size, so there’s a lot of continuity, where we’ll be able to switch on defense. Anyone will be able to guard anybody across the court. Once we get that defensive stop, it’s going to translate in to a lot of points for us offensively. We have five guys that could be on the court who are 6′ 3″, 6′ 4″ or above at times. That’s going to create problems for teams that are smaller, or teams that can’t defend against guys that are 6′ 4″ and taller. It’s going to create opportunities for guys to play at multiple positions.”
The players themselves are ready for the opportunity to just play basketball. Many of them are at the age where many would think about walking away or taking a different approach to the game, but the desire to continue to play the game at a high level. The entire team wanted to just keep playing, but most importantly wanted to grow as an individual.
A majority of the players had on tees with a take on Nike’s slogan, Just Do It. It said, “Just Dream It,” and each player seemed to have the same dream of the game. Marvin Harris, who is originally from New Jersey but now lives in Clearfield, stated, “My dream is to become a better person, and get to know a lot of people in the community. My future dream is to actually be a coach some day. So to be able to play at my age now, it’s a blessing.”
Every player seemed to follow that lead. DeOndre Terrell, who is better known as Redd, had a dream of to still play the game, but also be able to be part of something like the DuBois Dream. David Blanks Sr. followed by wanting to leave a legacy for his kids, and give back to the DuBois community.
Trey Johnson, who is the youngest player on the team, had a different experience at basketball, mainly because he’s still new to the game.
“I’m only 22, and I really only started (playing) in high school. I really don’t know what I want later on in my career. What I do know is right now, I want to see how far I can go with it,” Johnson said. “The fact that I got here, especially with such little experience compared to these guys, I just want to take it as far as I can. Just see where this crazy game of basketball takes me.”
Louis Conde is no stranger to the DuBois area. He graduated from Penn State DuBois and in a sense, this is his way of saying “Thank You.”
“My dream is to go as far as I can with basketball, and to give back. It’s nice simply for the fact I’m doing it here, since this is where I went to school. So to give back to the community here, because I was given so many opportunities while I was here, playing basketball at Penn State DuBois,” Conde said. “Whether it’s being a coach, playing somewhere else, or wherever it takes me, I just dream to be able to take it as far as possible.”
Harvin Dixon, better known as Peach, and Cory Callejas, the lone returning player from last year’s squad minus Varacallo, both have the same dream of enjoying playing the game of basketball as long as possible. But for Varacallo, the dream isn’t about him, but rather about DuBois.
“I’m proud of this team, and proud of this community. I’m proud of this team, because this doesn’t work without these guys, and your support. We had one win last year, but we had a packed house at that last game,” Varacallo said with pride. “We know if we can continue to provide for the community, as well as provide a high-level of basketball, we’ll have something special.
“My big dream is to bring a sports complex to this area. I want to have an event center for people to come to DuBois. I see opportunity here. A lot of people may think ‘Oh, you’re stuck in DuBois,’ but I see great opportunity here. The people are very loyal, and very supportive. I know we’re starting out in middle schools and high schools, but a lot of great things happen from humble places. I’m going to keep pushing the envelope as far as I can.”
The DuBois area has a lot of small town basketball, whether it’s at the elementary school level or even at the adult level with small leagues. Varacallo feels the team ever since it first began with the tournament in 2016 has inspired the DuBois community to enjoy the game of basketball.
Varacallo feels that the most important way to inspire younger players with the game of basketball is to simply have fun with it.
“First and foremost, basketball needs to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re not going to put in the work,” he said. “Anyone that wants to have fun with basketball, that’s what we want to show. It doesn’t have to stop right after high school. There’s a lot of opportunity with it. This is a great deal to me, just people seeing it, and get excited to do it.
“Seeing kids after the game get beet-faced red shooting hoops; they start loving it. It’s not about being selfish, it’s about giving back. As we always say, Dream Big, because you never know what will happen.”
Peach followed that statement by simply saying, “You never know who may be watching.”
Every member of this year’s squad is inspiring others to get involved with the game of basketball, and each have the same inspiration to keep playing the game, whether it be family, or peers. Both Peach and Terrell lost their mothers within the last couple years, so they continue to play for them because their moms were what inspired them to get involved in the game. Peach himself still has siblings back in his hometown of Scranton, and he plays for them in hopes of giving them even more opportunities thanks to him, giving back to the family that he still has.
Varacallo’s inspiration, aside from his family and his faith, is actually the community itself.
“Whenever I’m getting down, there’s that one person that does something or says something, that’s what keeps me inspired to keep going,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve thought ‘Why am I doing this?’ but then I see a kid ask ‘When’s the next home game?’ so I just then think, ‘I have to keep this going.'”
The 2018 season for the DuBois Dream begins on January 27 when they host Buffalo in their home opener at DuBois Central Catholic. Tip off is set for 7 p.m.