ALBANY — They regularly check in with family and friends back home to make sure they’re OK. Beyond that, the three members of the UAlbany men’s basketball program who grew up in Australia rely on news coverage and social media to keep updated with the latest regarding the fires back home that have raged for months.
“I wish I was more connected to it because I’m not really going to have a chance to see what’s happened or what’s going on until I’m home this next summer,” said UAlbany’s Cameron Healy, who grew up in Sydney, Australia. “It is tough to see, but we can’t really do much from here except watch from a distance. It’s hard, though, because we’re locked into what we’re trying to do, as well.”
Each of Brent Hank, Adam Lulka and Healy — all redshirt sophomores — said they haven’t had any immediate family members affected by the fires, which have reportedly burned millions of acres, destroyed thousands of homes, been responsible for more than two dozen human deaths and countless animal fatalities. Hank is from Port Lincoln and Lulka is from Blaxland, while Healy’s parents now live in New Zealand.
“But there’s definitely families struggling in Australia right now, which is tough to see,” Hank said at Thursday’s practice. “So we’ll spread word from there, but unfortunately that’s all we can do.”
Through its athletic department’s main social media account, UAlbany released a video Thursday of Hank, Healy and Lulka speaking regarding the fires in Australia. Those three players are the latest Australians to play for UAlbany, whose head coach Will Brown has regularly had Australians on his roster for years.
“I just wanted to say that on behalf of all the UAlbany basketball team, we send our thoughts and prayers back to Australia during this hard time. I know the country’s burning. I know it’s hard there right now, but we’re all thinking of you, and you’re always in our thoughts and prayers,” Lulka is shown saying at the end of the social-media video.
Lulka said he’s seen images of fires burning “close-ish” to where his family lives.
“I talk to my mom and my dad all the time about how it’s traveling,” Lulka said. “But, as of right now, they’re pretty safe.”
UAlbany, 1-0 in the America East Conference and 8-8 overall, next plays Saturday vs. Maine. Like the rest of its teammates, Hank said UAlbany’s Australian trio’s primary day-to-day focus is on winning basketball games.
“But,” Hank said of the fires back home, “obviously, it’s in the back of our minds.”
VERMONT FALLS IN OPENER
In an upset, America East favorite Vermont lost its league opener Wednesday to Stony Brook at home.
Vermont dropped to 10-6 overall with the loss, while Stony Brook improved to 11-6 overall with its 81-77 victory.
“I’m not surprised the game was close. I’m surprised that they won up there,” Brown said of the Seawolves’ win. “But Vermont’s got two really good players in [Anthony] Lamb and [Stef] Smith, so if those other guys aren’t making shots, maybe some teams can hang around — and I think . . . Stony Brook made some shots, and Vermont got scoring from two guys and they were able to hang around.”
“I’d hate to be the team that plays them next,” Brown said of Vermont, which plays Saturday against UMBC.
Healy said the result caught his attention since the Catamounts have “been the ones running our conference” in recent years. While seeing Vermont start 0-1 in conference play could suggest the league is more open than previously thought, Healy said his focus is more on his own team’s success than another team’s loss.
“We can’t just hope for other teams to beat them,” Healy said.