January 26, 2016

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) Practice is no problem. Luuk van Bree, Callum Barker, Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye and Joel Okafor are used to the training that goes along with playing hoops at a high level.

The most challenging aspect of college ball for Bradley's international freshmen is learning how to compete, and it's a constant point of emphasis for coach Brian Wardle.

''Make everything competitive. Shooting drills, free-throw drills, rebounding drills, everything's competitive,'' Wardle said. ''There's a winner or loser. Mano a mano, and you got to be the more aggressive player and make the play. So you just try to teach them how to, just, constantly, (in) everything they do have that game speed and aggressive, competitive mindset.''

There is a lot of teaching going on these days at the small private school that last made it to the NCAA Tournament in 2006. Wardle replaced Geno Ford after Bradley went 9-24 last season, and the former Wisconsin-Green Bay coach filled out his 14-man roster for his new program with a whopping 10 newcomers - including nine true freshmen from five different countries.

Okafor was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but played high school ball in Indiana. Barker, who is from the Australian island state of Tasmania, had a year of prep school in Massachusetts before coming to Bradley.

But this is the first extended time in the United States for van Bree, a native of Venray, Netherlands, and Lautier-Ogunleye, who is from London.

''It was a lot of like small things, like I feel like people apologize for everything here, a lot,'' van Bree said. ''Stuff like that. And people say thank you for everything and like, you don't use your knife and fork when you eat. ... Minor stuff, there's nothing really major that's different.''

Van Bree, Barker, Lautier-Ogunleye and Okafor are part of a steady rise in international players for the top rung of men's college basketball, from 376 for the 2010-11 season to 506 Division I players this year with a listed hometown outside of the U.S. and at least one appearance for their school this season, according to STATS.

Bradley is tied for the 15th most international players in the country. New Mexico State leads the way with nine, followed by Canisius and St. John's with six apiece, and then a large group with five, including Harvard, Oregon State and South Carolina.

''We have a lot of international players here and different languages,'' said Jamal Murray, a freshman guard for No. 20 Kentucky who is one of four international players to appear in at least one game this season for the Wildcats. ''I've been in this position before playing with new guys with different cultures, different styles to the game. So it's fun coming here and having a school that's multicultural.''

A slight increase in the number of Division I teams has provided more opportunities for international players in recent years. Wardle also points to the popularity of basketball around the world and the international players in the NBA as two major reasons for the growth in college hoops. And the Internet helps international players draw attention from American colleges.

When it comes to recruiting internationally, relationships are a big deal, and success with an international player can lead to more players from one country coming over to a specific school.

''As long as I'm here, we're going to continue, and hopefully we get tipped off on more African players and more foreign players,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

Pitino, who helped Gorgui Dieng develop into a first-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, also has four international players on his roster this season: Matz Stockman (Norway), Mangok Mathiang (Australia), Anas Mahmoud (Egypt) and Deng Adel (Australia).

''The great thing about the Gorgui Diengs and Mangok and Matz and Anas is what great people they are, totally unspoiled by (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball in terms of the name on the back,'' Pitino said. ''It's a pleasure to coach those guys.''

While the 16th-ranked Cardinals and the Wildcats are gearing up for the postseason, Bradley is looking to build a foundation for the future.

Lautier-Ogunleye, van Bree and Barker are among the leading scorers and rebounders for the Braves, who are 3-18 heading into Wednesday's Missouri Valley Conference game against Northern Iowa. While the losses have piled up in a hurry, they remain optimistic about where the program is headed.

''Starting young, it's tough because we have the growing pains of learning everything from the start,'' Lautier-Ogunleye said. ''But I believe it'll be beneficial in the long term just because we would have all experienced everything from the beginning and then we'll see the end result.''

---

AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, and AP freelance writer Josh Abner in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

---

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

You May Like