Eyes follow Maryknoll’s gentle giant
(Here’s the extended version of today’s prep sports feature story on Maryknoll basketball player Tobias Schramm.)
Everywhere he goes, eyeballs follow.
Especially at Maryknoll School, where pre-teen tykes have gotten used to the sight of 6-foot-9 Tobias Schramm. His calm demeanor and easy smile make him a magnet for many of the youngsters.
“He’s friendly. Toby gets along with all the kids,” literature teacher Sheila Worley said. “The little kids that go up to him, they call him and he goes over to them and they give him a high five. People see him and think he’s this huge guy, but he’s a teenager.”
The unusual thing about the Spartan center is that his route to prep hoops stardom — Eutin (pronounced oo-TEEN), Germany is more than 7,300 miles from Makiki — has been paved by mastering the basic, fundamental elements of academics and basketball.
With an eye for detail and the light heart of a prankster, Schramm has found his niche at the Makiki school. With Schramm toiling under the basket, in the backcourt, at the foul line, the Spartans have gone 23-2 this season and have the No. 1 seed in the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships, which begin tomorrow.
But it began in a small, flat town in Germany, where basketball games don’t get much attention at this level. Eutin is located close to the water, between the cities of Kiel and Lubeck, on the northern coast of Germany. Copenhagen, Denmark is closer than Berlin.
“Eutin is really flat. The most thing I did was play basketball and hang out with my friends,” he said. “In Germany, basketball is not connected to school, so it doesn’t get that much attention. Here, the whole school gets into it, not just a few people. Maybe 20 people would come to our games. But here against Punahou the other night, it was about 600.”
With the 57-53 win, the Spartans earned their first ILH title since the 1986-87 season. But the Spartan crowd, extremely loud and occasionally rowdy during the regular season, was much more refined at this point in the year. In fact, instead of storming the court like a hysteric college hoops scene, the post game was almost orderly. There were hugs galore between players, coaches, players and friends, former players and coaches … but no storming of the castle type action.
Even as they cut down the net, after much of the crowd had left the gym, it was a serene setting among roughly 100 fans and the team. Only after coach Kelly Grant cut down the last strand and hoisted the net high did everyone there belt out a loud yell.
Grant, who played on the 1983-84 state championship team at Maryknoll, had longed to see a more civil approach by Spartan fans. He was one of those old Spartans who knew nothing of playing home games on campus in a gym. The cerebral approach is something he shares with Schramm, who is a hard-nosed, blue-collar banger in the post with soft hands, nimble feet.
“His basketball IQ is pretty high,” said Grant, who, like Schramm, is a huge North Carolina fan.
The Punahou game was another solid demonstration of discipline and role playing. Schramm had eight points and 13 rebounds and hit both of his free throws, and for the season he’s averaging 11 points, nine rebounds and one block per game, but his total value goes beyond numbers.
Schramm is also a huge, huge part of Maryknoll’s press-breaker, a presence in the backcourt who is a mountain and tower of safety for guards Danny Danbara and Kaleb Gilmore. When needed, Schramm will dribble up the left sideline and break pressure himself, always protecting the ball. His court vision also materializes in the post, where he’ll find teammate Hyrum Harris across the key for easy buckets.
“The ball goes through him every time we break the press. Because we use him that way, he’s not averaging 16 or 17 points a game,” Grant noted. There’s not a lot of 6-9 lefties out there. He can shoot the 3-pointer. We just don’t let him. The rule is the team has to be up by 20 points before he can do that.”
There are games when Schramm faces extra defensive pressure in the post, but rather than force things, he trusts his teammates and goes to another option.
“If I could get the ball every time, I’d ask for it, but I know that won’t help us to win. Somebody has to give up something for us to win, and not just me. We have to play as a team in order to win,” he said.
THE PHYSICAL PART of basketball is often forgotten, even overlooked. In an age of hand-check fouls, some officials will allow much more pushing, elbowing and leverage play to happen late in big games. And yet, Schramm rarely gets into foul trouble.
In fact, he thinks out the game more like a point guard than a bruising post player. But it all goes back to his desire to leave Eutin. Coming to the U.S. as a junior, dealing with homesickness and a totally different culture, that was one thing. Returning as a senior was loaded with consequences. If he graduated from Maryknoll instead of a German school, financial aid for a German college would be wiped out. Two years ago, Moritz Krume, another German student-athlete, opted to stay home in Germany rather than return to Academy of the Pacific.
Unlike big Mo, Schramm won the battle with his mom. His dream is to play basketball for an American college.
“I made a deal with my mother (Beate) and father (Volker),” Schramm said. “If I can go to college here, I’ll go to college here. She’s fine with that. If not, I’d have to go back home and repeat all my (high school) classes.”
So, not far from the home of his host family, he ran the beach at Kailua every day. Four miles. He gave up the Snickers bars and late-night snacks tucked under his bed. Training became his comfort food. Even some of his newly adopted staples, like white rice, became stricken from the daily routine. His host family, already health-conscious, found it easy to support their friend, cutting back on starches and soda.
Schramm, an all-state honorable mention player last year, has morphed into an entirely different impact-maker as a senior. He is, arguably, one of the top five players in the state now with his consistent, intelligent and gritty play on both ends of the floor.
“On our preseason retreat, we did a five-mile run. He finished first,” Grant said. “It wasn’t because he’s faster than everybody. It’s because he was determined to finish first. The other guys didn’t have the mental strength to keep on going. Toby has the mind-set.”
He dropped at least 30 pounds during the offseason with all those core exercises at the school’s facility, with all that running — intervals of jogging and sprinting — as the school trainer advised. His love for a good steak, prepared by his host dad, Dwayne, was still intact. But the changes have borne fruit. Now he’s more than just a big presence.
“He can go longer and get up and down the court. Psychologically, it proves to him that he can accomplish something,” Grant added.
Schramm has a 3.4 grade-point average and enjoys a Forensics class immensely. Along with Harris and Tamamoko Green, who are transfers from New Zealand, Maryknoll is closer to lining up with its original task of missions work, as Worley notes. Her family is the host ohana for Schramm, which means there are four teenagers in the house.
“We have a huge family, with cousins always over, so they’re used to it,” Worley added. “They said, ‘Toby needs a (host) family.’ My husband built an extension to the bed for Toby. Toby said, ‘It’s the first time I haven’t slept curled up. I really slept well through the night.’ ”
As a mother of four of her own children, Worley has been in contact with Schramm’s family via Skype.
“As a mother, it’s hard to let your child go across the world for school. Toby’s always said he wanted to something special with his life and go to college in the U.S. He said it took awhile for him to convince his mother, a couple of years, before she finally said yes. His mom supports him in that. He’s a teenaged kid and he has goals. It’s not about basketball for us.”
But there’s just enough time, in between the studying and practices, for Schramm to catch up with his favorite TV programs: the Los Angeles Lakers channel and How I Met Your Mother.
OF ALL MARYKNOLL roundball watchers, Grant has the best view. He doesn’t expect anything to compromise the school’s values, no matter what critics may say about recruiting in athletics.
“We made it clear to Toby and his family that he’s coming here to get a great experience and graduate from Maryknoll, not as a German exchange student, but as a Maryknoll student. As one of 120 or so seniors,” Grant said.
He sees a promising future for Schramm because of his preference for simplicity.
“Being independent benefits him. When you’re a high school student, a lot of things can lead you astray. Girls. Drinking alcohol. And those things, he has no interest in. He’s really determined to succeed,” Grant said.
That also means other sacrifices that most teenagers won’t make.
“After winter ball night, he could’ve gone out with friends, but he was worried about maybe staying out late, guys having beer around. So he went home at a reasonable hour and trained the next day. That’s just part of his discipline,” Grant said.
Most schools in the PacWest Conference (Division II) have contacted Grant about Schramm.
“He’s having an OK high school career, but I think he’s going to blossom at the college level,” said Grant, who played for his high school coach, Tony Sellitto, at Hawaii Pacific. “My guys are getting better at passing to the post, but at the college level, it’s going to be a lot different.”
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser