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South Jersey basketball teams feature talented foreign players

Bishop Eustace's Will Humer, St. Joseph's Alanas Urbonas and Holy Cross Prep's Gianmarco Arletti and Giovanni Cessel project as impact players this season.

Holy Cross Prep’s  Gianmarco Arletti, right,  drives up court during a scrimmage against St. Augustine Prep on Dec.6, 2018.    CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Holy Cross Prep’s Gianmarco Arletti, right, drives up court during a scrimmage against St. Augustine Prep on Dec.6, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff PhotographerRead more

For two of them, their first language is Italian. For another, it’s Lithuanian. For another, it’s Swedish.

All of them seem to have a pair of second languages. They all can communicate in English, but they also speak basketball.

“Basketball is something we all have in common," said Gianmarco Arletti, a 6-foot-6 junior at Holy Cross Prep.

Arletti and Giovanni Cessel, a 6-9 junior, have landed at Holy Cross from Italy, creating an air of excitement around new coach John Valore’s program.

Bishop Eustace, the No. 8 team in the Inquirer’s preseason rankings, also has a pair of European players in 6-6 senior Mattia Morini, a holdover from last season and a native of Bologna, Italy, and newcomer Will Humer, a 6-7 sophomore from Stockholm, Sweden.

St. Joseph, the No. 10 team, has an intriguing European player as well in 6-8 junior Alanas Urbonas, who arrived from Kalipeda, Lithuania, after spending last year in Canada.

Holy Cross, which was No. 24 in the preseason list, will be powered by Arletti, who is from Bologna, and Cessel, who is from Sienna.

“This is a dream for them,” Valore said.

The international players have to adjust to living in the United States, to different cuisine and to different educational systems at their new high schools. But the thing they seem to have most in common -- and the thing that bonds them with each other as well as with many of their new teammates and opponents -- is their feel for the sport.

“There’s an American style and a European style,” Bishop Eustace senior Matt Kempter said. “We try to mesh them together.”

The arrival of Humer, Urbonas, Arletti and Cassel on South Jersey basketball courts continues an international trend that gained traction last season, when Morini made his debut along with Gloucester Catholic senior Nico Ferrari, another Italian exchange student, and Rancocas Valley sophomore Damilola Mosaku, who hails from Saitama, Japan.

Morini, who averaged 14 points and eight rebounds, and Mosaku are back on the court for their teams along with Camden Catholic’s Uche Okafor, a Nigerian who lives in the school’s Nazareth House on campus.

During a recent scrimmage against Woodbury, Humer displayed a deft touch from three-point range and the ability to play in the paint.

“He’s going to help us a lot,” Morini said of Humer.

Humer said the basketball in American is “more physical” than in Sweden. The academic environment at Bishop Eustace has challenged him as well.

“There was not lot of homework [in Sweden],” Humer said. “It was like one big test, and you get a month to prepare for it. Here, it’s homework, homework, homework, and ‘Oh, you’ve got a test tomorrow.’ ”

Urbonas played last year for Orangeville Prep in Ontario, Canada. He is a versatile player with vision, touch from deep and an “intense handle” according to coach Paul Rodio.

One of Urbonas’ biggest adjustments this fall was learning about football at a school where the Wildcats won their ninth state title in the last 10 years.

“In Lithuania, nobody plays football,” Urbonas said. “I didn’t understand, but I was trying to.”

Arletti and Cessel are the foundation of Valore’s efforts to build a prominent program at Holy Cross Prep.

During a recent scrimmage against St. Augustine Prep, Arletti displayed strong ball-handling skills and vision, while Cessel was a presence in the paint.

“In Italy it was ‘Shoot, run, shoot, run, shoot, run,’” Arletti said. “Here we are learning patience.”

Like the other European players, Arletti and Cessel live with host families.

“Everyone has been very friendly,” Cessel said. “We like it here very much.”