Naugy import relishing American adventure

Sports aren’t all about winning or losing. Sometimes the experience is most important.

Naugatuck boys’ basketball team member Dennis Spanhaak is getting the experience of a lifetime.

While the Greyhounds enter the week 1-9 overall, they have at least one player taking advantage of every moment. Four months into his stay in America, Spanhaak traveled to the U.S. from his native Holland to see America, go to school and play basketball.

Don’t worry, he’s found time for other things as well. When asked what his biggest memory to date was, he pondered the question then gave a blunt answer.

“I think it was when I got that big pizza,” Spanhaak said. “I thought it was huge.”

That was how Spanhaak described America—large.

“It’s all so big,” Spanhaak said. “The cars, the people, and the school, of course.”

Spanhaak said he’s wanted to visit America since he was a child. He worked to make his big dream come true.

While here, Spanhaak earned a spot on the Naugy basketball team. He’s blending his interests with his education.

The 17-year-old Spanhaak spends these winter days balancing his classroom studies with a higher-level of basketball learning. Though he played basketball in Holland, defensive schemes, such as a zone, were new to him.

Each day has become a learning opportunity.

“I was really confused because so many things are new,” Spanhaak said. He later added, “I’m learning every day. I learn new things.”

Eager to make an impression on his new teammates, Spanhaak said he’s had to focus on the details.

“I ended up putting pressure on myself,” Spanhaak said. “I was thinking about what I have to do and what they expect of me. So I just work hard.”

The team has embraced Spanhaak, who hears some playful humor from his cohorts. But it’s all in good fun.

“If I do something bad, they’ll tell me there must have been a windmill in the way,” Spanhaak said with a smile. “My teammates treat me like a friend, not an outsider.”

Off the court, Spanhaak said he’s made trips to New York City and Massachusetts. He’s trying to take in as much as possible, until he departs in June.

He’s learning about the U.S. and himself.

“It’s more than only basketball—it’s the language, the people; you learn so much,” Spanhaak said. “You’re not with your family. You’re with other people, and you learn more about yourself.”

Spanhaak considers himself lucky to have the chance to spend time America.

“Two or three times a week, I’ll stop, look around and think, ‘Wow, I’m in America in high school,’ and that makes me really happy,” Spanhaak said.