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Gilford’s Crecco goes to Luxembourg to keep hoops dream alive

The basketball dream faded at Dartmouth for Kirk Crecco. He starred at Gilford High and proved himself on the national AAU circuit, but things never clicked in college.

There were three coaches in four years, and Crecco got lost in the shuffle. He played only garbage time his first two seasons, then started 11 games as a junior, only to return to the bench as a senior in 2011-12. In the end, he averaged just 9.5 minutes and 2.7 points per game for the Big Green.

“I honestly thought that in March I had played my last basketball game. I had done the whole corporate recruiting thing with everybody else and basically had a job lined up in Boston,” Crecco said. “But some part of me said maybe you should try to pursue this basketball thing and give it one last shot. And I’m really glad that I did.”

That last shot landed him a tryout in Luxembourg, and Crecco’s perseverance has paid off overseas. He’s averaging a team-high 28.5 points per game for Grengewald Hostert, his contract has been guaranteed through the end of the season, and the basketball dream is rekindled, even if it’s in a different language.

“What they actually speak is a dialect called Luxembourgish, which is just an informal, verbal language, and I’m learning enough words from my teammates to get by,” said Crecco, a 6-foot-3 guard. “The nice thing is

when the crowd is heckling me, I never really understand what they’re saying.”

That may be the only occasion Crecco shelters himself from European culture. Part of the reason he chose Luxembourg over Ireland (where he also drew some interest) was its location in the heart of Europe. He’s soaking in the customs of his new home in Hostert, a suburb of Luxembourg City, and he’s already traveled to Paris, Amsterdam and multiple cities in Germany.

In an email interview with the Monitor, Grengewald Coach Karel Achten said that, in his experience, embracing foreign culture is unusual for American basketball players in Europe. He’s been impressed with Crecco’s willingness to learn, explore, and eat, “almost everything that the sponsor’s restaurant cooks for him.” This open-minded attitude is also part of the reason Crecco’s basketball transition has been so successful.

“He worked hard in the gym (European clubs are notorious for grueling practice schedules), and learned a lot during his first games,” Achten said. “European refs call things differently and teammates have a different point of view of basketball.”

Crecco’s mental flexibility didn’t come as a surprise to Achten. When the coach was looking for another American player last spring (Luxembourg teams are allowed three foreigners each), he was searching for someone with a high basketball IQ, and was even pinpointing the Ivy League, when he heard from Crecco.

“When I got several emails from Kirk I could see that he was a smart kid, and that – due to his stats – he would never find a team in a strong European league like Italy, Spain, Greece,” Achten said. “So, after I spoke to my GM, I decided to go for Kirk. The fact that he “only” averaged less than five points per game told me that he could really show how good he was if he was given the chance to.

“Furthermore, I did not want to have a “superstar” from a college who would not be happy at a low level league like Luxembourg. Last, but not least, I wanted to have an NCAA player from a good college so that he would have seen a lot of solid fundamental basketball work, and my whole team could use these skills and learn from him. I guess it was a smart decision , and I think it was the right one.”

Crecco had never been to Europe before he arrived in Luxembourg in early September, so there was some culture shock. He also had a bit of anxiety about his contract, which was in a tryout period through Oct. 21, during which time the team could send him home for any reason. But it didn’t take him long to start relishing the foreign experience, or make his mark with Grengewald.

At the preseason conditioning test, a six-mile run through the local woods, Crecco said he, “finished 35 or 40 seconds ahead of the second-place guy, so I knew I was physically ready.” Then he scored 23 points in his first European game and, “after that, the nerves were kind of gone.”

The points have kept coming for Crecco, who’s playing both shooting guard and point for Grengewald. The team needed a scorer and Crecco has provided points from all over the court – 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, floaters and drives to the basket. He’s the first option on many offensive sets, and he’s the focal point for other teams, who have used some box-and-one defenses on him.

Crecco hasn’t received this much attention since high school, and he more than welcomes the action after his frustrating college days.

“Basically at Dartmouth it was play good defense, try to get as many rebounds as you can, and if you have an open 3 take it, otherwise, give the ball up,” Crecco said. “Here they told me early on they thought I had the potential to be a good scorer and they needed someone capable of putting up a lot of points, and I’ve honestly kind of surprised myself a little bit in being able to do that as well as I have.”

Grengewald is currently 14-3 and tied for second-place in its league, Natioanle 2. That’s the middle-tier league of the three in Luxembourg, but the N2 teams play against the top-tier teams in Natioanle 1, and there is a relegation and promotion system where the two worst teams from N1 move down and the top two teams from N2 move up.

Crecco is focused on helping Grengewald make that leap, even if he’s not sure he’ll be in Hostert next year to experience it. He may return to Luxembourg, or try another league, or move on from basketball altogether, but that decision can wait until the season ends in April.

“Honestly, I’m just taking the time to enjoy the moment and I’m not getting ahead of myself,” Crecco said. “When I was in high school, I was always thinking about where I would play in college. Then in college, I was worrying about if I would ever get a chance to play professionally. So now, for the first time, I’m really soaking it in and enjoying the moment.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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