VICENZA, Italy- A month after their first face-off at Caserma Ederle, the Mestrino Raptors basketball team from nearby Padova hosted the Vicenza CYSS Yellow Jackets for a re-match at the Lissaro Gym Feb. 27.

"The re-match with the Mestrino team was all that it was made up to be," said Yellow Jacket head coach Carl Wilkerson. "It was a great game and experience, and I was very proud of my team and very impressed with the Italian players. They all played very hard," he said.

The Raptors started strong and won 53-40 holding the lead throughout the entire match.

"After the game we played in Vicenza, my team really wanted a chance for a re-match," said Raptors coach, Maurizio Benetollo, known to his team and friends as 'Chuck.'

"Having the home-field advantage, we really tried to do our best and, even if it is just a game, after the match in Vicenza our kids were determined to win this time."

"We won the first game and they were victorious on this one," Wilkerson said. "Hopefully, we can get together soon for the tiebreaker."

Benetollo said that his team is ready for a third game. He is looking forward to seeing the Italian and American youth have another opportunity to come together and do some very good quality training.

Notions of winning and losing are muted during this type of play. Both coaches promote teamwork and good sportsmanship, aware of how important it is for young players to move out of their comfort zones and make an effort for engagement and for new friendships to blossom.

"The Raptors are a very good team. They have a lot of stamina and their style of play is very fast paced. They pressed our team the entire game," Wilkerson said. "No. 13 and No. 10 for the Raptors are very good players and I would love to have them come play with the Vicenza Yellow Jackets," he said.

While continuing to engage in a little "basketball diplomacy," Wilkerson said he would love to have the opportunity to coach a team made up of American and Italian kids. Benetollo, who admired the good athletic preparation of the Yellow Jackets, said he felt the same way.

The players had similar feelings.

"The game was very challenging, but it was fun for everyone," said 14-year-old Yellow Jacket Daniel Ash.

"It was a great experience for me and everyone involved," said 12-year-old Justin Shuler.
Raptor Luca Castagna, 12, said the American players were strong. He especially liked No. 22 and No. 24 for their style and the way they kept the ball rolling, he said.

"It was an interesting game, not my favorite team to play against because they are very good," admitted 13-year-old Emily Pena. "It was nice to have pizza at the end."

The Mestrino team's parents hosted all the players after the game.

"The pizza party was a nice touch," said Wilkerson. "The American kids got the opportunity to mingle with Italian kids of their age group and there were smiles and laughter everywhere."

Credit for the initiative goes to Andre Luster, supervisory lead for CYSS Vicenza and father of Raptor Eric Luster, said Wilkerson. The younger Luster attends Vicenza Middle School in Villaggio and trains with an Italian basketball team near his home in Grisignano.

Luster said the idea of bringing the two teams together came because of his son's unique connection with both squads. "In the end it is a nice, friendly competition, a win-win situation for both the Italian and the American kids and a good warm-up for all," he said.

Already making plans for the third encounter, the two teams continue training and competing in their respective leagues that attract players under 14.