In some sporting circles around the world, including Asia, it is common for teams to exchange badges or trinkets after games. So as the Singapore Dragons AAU girls' basketball players shook hands following an early morning contest at the Blue Chip Basketball USA Invitational on Saturday, they also took turns passing out the keychains to their opponents, players from a team called the Maryland Attitude.
"Most people don't know where Singapore is," Dragons coach Jerome Hewlett said later, "so we decided we're going to give them something so they can understand that we really are from Asia."
The four-day Blue Chip event, which wraps up today at the York Expo Center, has already attracted some of the top high school girls' basketball players from up-and-down the East Coast. Hundreds of college coaches have followed them here, hoping to evaluate known talents and unearth new ones.
But basketball has entrenched itself as a global game, and the 248-team tournament has also drawn a handful of teams from across the globe. A group from Spain made the trip. So did four teams from Canada.
Then there are the Dragons, a team of American, Canadian and Asian teenagers, ages 14 to 16. All attend and play basketball together at the Singapore American School, a private school with an American-based curriculum.
Hewlett, the team's head coach, was born in Harrisburg and grew up in Cape Cod. He moved to Singapore six years ago and works in finance. Hewlett coaches the team with Mike McMullen, an Indianapolis native who works in Singapore for IBM.
Hewlett said this is the Dragons' third consecutive year playing a tournament in the U.S., and their second straight year at the Blue Chip Invitational.
"The girls' love basketball. We don't get to play a lot of competition in Singapore," Hewlett said. "For the East Coast, we don't know of a bigger tournament."
The travel from Singapore to the U.S. can be grueling -- a nonstop flight to New York takes about 19 hours. Luckily, many of the team's eight players have been in the U.S. for a few weeks on summer break.
Hewlett, on the other hand, flew in on Tuesday.
"I think it's affected my coaching," he said jokingly.
Invariably, the team's name -- and those keychains -- have elicited some intrigue.
"We get common questions," said Justice Hewlett, Jerome's daughter. "Did you come here just for this tournament?"
"Are you really from Singapore?" another Dragons player, Caitlin Hewitt, chimed in.
Not long after the Dragons had finished their morning contest and left in search of
For many of Espana's players, the majority of whom come from Barcelona or Madrid, this was their first time playing together.
"It's different basketball than what we are used to in Spain," said Claudia Baraut, a 17-year-old guard from Barcelona. "I think that makes us play harder, because the rules are different."
Baraut said the team will spend the rest of the month in the U.S., participating in a series of camps.
For both the Dragons and Espana, success has proven hard to come by at the Blue Chip Invitational. The Dragons, lacking both height and top-level experience, lost each of their first five games. Espana suffered a similar fate, losing its first four games while playing in the tougher "Platinum" division.
Still, the wins and losses can only capture part of the tournament's value, Hewlett said.
"While most of these kids are American, they haven't spent much of their life in America," Hewlett said. "So coming to something like this, not just the basketball but the whole cultural thing, it's a big difference."