While the globalization of Maine interscholastic basketball may not be as advanced as it is in the NBA or Division I college ranks, the hoops world is growing smaller here, too.
Student-athletes from around the world are trickling onto rosters at both public and private high schools, either through exchange programs or as immigrants who have made the Pine Tree State their home.
The influx of international student-athletes has been met with mixed feelings. While the camaraderie generated among students from different cultures is celebrated, criticism of the increasing diversity within high school basketball typically involves some schools having greater access to international student-athletes than others, perhaps translating into a competitive edge.
But as more schools both public and private explore recruiting foreign students to address budget issues associated with the ever-shrinking pool of Maine teenagers, its impact on all facets of education — including extracurricular activities — seems likely to grow.
Phil Bofia can appreciate all sides of the debate.
Born in the west-central African nation of Cameroon, Bofia came to the United States as a teenager to attend high school in upstate New York. A 6-foot-6 forward, Bofia ultimately went to the University of Maine, where he was named to the America East All-Rookie Team as a freshman and went on to earn conference all-academic honors before a knee injury ended his career.
Now the 23-year-old Bofia is working at Stearns High School in Millinocket, where in his first season of coaching he guided the JV boys basketball team to a 13-2 record.
“For me the big thing was learning to manage kids on a daily basis, dealing with all of the different personalities and adjusting to them and to the subtleties of the game from game to game,” he said. “At the beginning I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m passionate about basketball and to have the great group of kids I had makes me even more passionate about coaching.”
Despite how his life has evolved through his relationship with basketball, Bofia is sympathetic to concerns that some schools may have greater access to international players than others and how that might change the competitive dynamic.
“I understand that all coaches would like to be working from the same playing field,” he said. “But from my point of view, I also want to play against the best to know where I’m at. I look at it from a competitive standpoint, that playing against the best pushes you harder.”
Bofia also suggests there are benefits from having that aren’t directly reflected on the scoreboard.
“The players have different strengths,” said Bofia. “Here there’s a lot of speed and strength and slashing. Where I came from it’s more technical and maybe not so much strength. The kids see different ways of playing basketball, and there’s the cultural exchange, too, just from meeting and playing with people from different places.”
One thing is certain, no matter Phil Bofia’s international upbringing, Stearns has been glad to have him on the coaching staff this winter.
“He’s been invaluable,” said Greg Marter, the Minutemen’s boys varsity basketball coach. “Depth-wise and turnout-wise obviously Millinocket has been down the last few years, so we needed someone strong to be able to step in and really teach the kids we do have some fundamentals. Phil does a great job communicating with the kids, and his teaching of the fundamentals really paid off for them. They’ve had a great year.”