Lorenzo Vola has made a smooth transition to America as a senior exchange student at Bangor High School from Fossano, Italy.

He’s adapted to the U.S. accents that can complicate conversing in English for anyone whose introduction to the language came in a classroom, and his energy and optimism around school has been a bright spot at a time when most locals are moping about frigid cold and deep snow.

But even Vola has his challenges, like trying to comprehend “help-side” defense — when a basketball player two or more passes from the ball is in position to help a teammate in defensive distress.

“I’m guessing basketball’s a lot different in Europe,” said Bangor senior center Josiah Hartley, “because he doesn’t quite get off-the-ball defense yet. But as far as covering his man, he knows what to do.”

And that latter quality may be part of the reason Vola landed a spot on this year’s Bangor boys basketball team. While he may not be the impact exchange-student player who draws the under-the-breath ire of rival programs, he’s not without skill. His playing time has come sparingly, but when he got his chance in game against Lewiston on Tuesday, the 6-foot-2 forward had a basket and two rebounds in less than three minutes.

“I’m used to playing more back home,” Vola said. “But it’s fine with me, I’m happy I got onto the varsity.”

Vola’s presence on the varsity likely has more to do with chemistry than caroms. Originally he was named to the team — with the endorsement of his teammates after playing with them during open gym in the fall — as a 16th player on what is typically a 15-player roster. 

“The kids think the world of him and he’s a real good team player, very positive,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed. “We’re very happy to have him on the team, and I know he’s happy to be here. He’s just a great joy to have around.”

And that’s not an insignificant contribution to any high school basketball program, particularly one striving to be the best in Maine.

“He brings a lot of intensity every night,” said senior forward Zach Blodgett, “and he loves the game.”

Vola has played basketball since age 8 on age group teams organized by his city rather than his school, but the differences in basketball on opposite sides of the Atlantic involve more than who sponsors the teams.

“I think we are more technical in how we play in Italy,” Vola said. “Here I bet there are more skilled guys, guys like Blodg who can shoot incredibly. Something else I noticed is they are more competitive here at times, and they run way more sets. In Italy we ran only four or five sets with my team. Here, we run so many sets.”

With Bangor poised for another deep tournament run, Vola is just beginning to see the competitive nature of high school basketball in Maine. And while he’s not likely to master help-side defense in the next month, who knows, his willingness and ability to guard his man all over the court may come in handy for the Rams one day.

“I really think if I could get him to understand the concept of help-side defense he’d be a pretty good defender,” said Reed, “because if I need to lock up somebody, he can go out there and lock him up. He’ll guard you real hard.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...