Bob Walsh seldom passes up the opportunity to talk basketball or to promote his men’s program at the University of Maine.
Starting Thursday, the Black Bears’ first-year head coach planned to do both — in the Middle East.
Walsh is spending three days in Beirut, where he is the featured speaker at clinics for Lebanese players.
“It’s a little bit of a different place to go for the weekend,” Walsh said before his departure.
The clinics are organized by Lebanese representatives of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), which contacted the UMaine staff in the hope of enlisting Walsh’s expertise.
“They run a bunch of clinics trying to grow the game and basketball’s actually become pretty popular in Lebanon,” Walsh said. “I thought to myself, when am I ever going to get an opportunity to go to a place like Lebanon?”
Even given Beirut’s location in the turbulent Middle East, Walsh is not overly worried about his personal safety during the visit.
“Beirut, it’s not the same city, by all accounts, that it was years ago when it was in the middle of bombings and stuff,” said Walsh, who knows three Americans playing professionally in Lebanon and whose brother has experience working in the Middle East.
As recently as November, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning urging U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of general safety and security concerns stepping from the frequency of terrorist bombings.
“There certainly is a little bit of anxiety when you think about where you’re headed, to that part of the world,” he conceded.
Neighboring Syria is under a state department warning for all U.S. citizens against traveling there and urging those who are in the country to depart.
Walsh said his brother’s advice was, “You just want to make sure you’re aware. There’s certainly some people that know you’re a Westerner, and they know you’re a little bit different.”
Walsh has a handful of basketball connections in Lebanon. He trained former University of Vermont player Joey Accaoui in Rhode Island and coached Lebanese professionals Herb Hill and Garnett Thompson when he was an assistant at Providence College.
His speaking duties will involve teaching Lebanese players at clinics designed to aid the growth of basketball in the country. Walsh said most of those involved speak English, so he won’t require a translator.
Walsh said that he also hopes to further UMaine’s relationship with Serbian coaches who are involved with the clinics. The Black Bears have two Serbs on the current roster, senior Zarko Valjarevic and junior Stefan Micovic, and Ilija Stojiljkovich will be a freshman next season.
Walsh is scheduled to return to Boston on Sunday night.