ST. LOUIS — “Quite a lot, really,” Rob Loe answers. Saint Louis University’s 6-foot-11 senior forward then starts clicking off the countries he has ventured to play basketball.
“Finland, Estonia, Italy, Germany, China, New Zealand, Australia, here, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil,” he says.
Whoa. There might be another nation or two that Loe doesn’t remember off the top of his head. But 12 countries on five continents make the point. Basketball has taken this 22-year-old around the world.
For going on four years, Loe has been living halfway around the world from his home in Auckland, New Zealand. And to think, until then-Billikens assistant coach Chris Harriman started recruiting him in the summer of 2009, Loe never had heard of St. Louis.
The Gateway to the West isn’t likely to ever become a permanent home for Loe, but he has made the most of his time in the Midwest. He has witnessed firsthand our unhealthy nutritional ways and, as someone who grew up on cricket, has learned how to watch a baseball game. Far more important, he is scheduled to earn his degree (in business) in the spring.
“I’ve had a great time here,” says Loe, who chose SLU over Georgia Tech and Colorado, among others. “The main reason I chose the school was because of the players. The team is such a team group. When I came on my visit, it showed. That’s what really did it for me and I’m happy with my decision.”
If Loe’s career averages of 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds have fallen shy of the buildup that came with being one of New Zealand’s top recruits (hey, hype is everywhere), his time at SLU still rates as an unqualified success. He has started 79 straight games and helped turn a team then went 12-19 his freshman year into conference champions with back-to-back seasons of 25-plus wins. If all goes according to plan this season, Loe will end up playing in three NCAA Tournaments alongside three other senior starters who have been with him since the start.
“That program underwent a transformation under Rick Majerus, and Rob Loe has been a big part of it,” says Harriman, now an assistant coach at Nebraska. “He has been a starter pretty much since the day he stepped on campus, and now he has become an ambassador to New Zealand kids looking to play basketball.”
Harriman, an Australian who makes several recruiting trips a year Down Under, first saw Loe at the Under-19 World Championships in Auckland during the summer of 2009. As a 17-year-old, Loe averaged 18.8 points in a performance that “put him on the basketball map,” according to Harriman. Loe’s play also earned him the opportunity to become the youngest player on New Zealand’s national team.
Before Harriman even made a home visit, he had talked enough on the phone to know Loe was more mature than the typical American recruit. As a seasoned international recruiter, Harriman knows the importance of sizing up how a teenager might handle living so far from home.
“With Rob, there never was a question,” Harriman says. “He was like 17 but talking to him, you thought you were talking to a 22-year-old. He knew what he was getting into. He was very level-headed about what he wanted.”
Loe wanted to play for a coach known for developing big men, not one who would just stick him in the low block and anchor him near the basket. Loe is a capable 3-point shooter, a skill that figures to open plenty of doors at the next level. Though he still could amp up his aggressiveness inside, Loe has gotten stronger and bigger in his time at SLU.
That’s in spite of American dietary ways, he says. Loe puts New Zealand food at the top of his list of what he misses most about home besides family and friends.
“American is a lot more processed food, lot more sugar, salt and things like that,” Loe said. “New Zealand is a lot more organic, I guess you would say. It’s definitely harder to eat healthy here.”
He says living so far from family and friends hasn’t been that difficult, except for this time of year when the holidays approach. Loe started traveling internationally for basketball in his early teens, and has gotten home only once a year for two to three weeks since enrolling at SLU.
“In New Zealand, you grow up a lot quicker,” he says. “A lot of people, as soon as they finish high school, they move out of their house and into their own place. Whereas here, you go to college but you’re still relying on your parents quite a bit. You’re never too far from home.”
Loe’s contact with his parents these days is limited mainly to emails and weekly Skype sessions. His parents made it to San Jose to see the Billikens in the NCAA Tournament last March but otherwise are limited to watching his games online.
Still, Loe has no plans to return home when he finishes his time at SLU, not with pro basketball in his future. “I want to be able to play and do something for money that I love to do,” he said. “Definitely, my options are open.”
A big man who can shoot figures to have options. That Loe, who was born in England, has a European passport will open even more doors since he will not count against any limits that European teams have on foreign imports.
“I’m already getting calls from agents about him,” says Harriman, who remains close to Loe. “With his size, skill and basketball IQ, he’s going to make a lot of money.”
He also figures to see a lot more of a world of which he’s already seen plenty.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.