By Joe Guistina
For The Daily Item
DANVILLE -- Michael Rudy has always been a basketball junkie.
From the time he was a Daily Item All-Star during his senior year at Danville High School all the way through his junior year at Lycoming College, when he set the college's blocked shots record, his motor and desire to succeed was always evident.
Now, he is going to get to peek at a different level of basketball when he heads to Europe as part of the East Coast All Stars for the Four Nations Cup. The All Stars -- led by Lycoming head coach Guy Rancourt -- will represent the United States at the event, as they take on the national teams of Estonia, Belarus and the Slovak Republic during the three-day tournament in Talinn, Estonia, from July 25-27.
"I've never left the country, so this will be the first time," Rudy said. "It's my first plane ride. Saying I am going over for basketball, the thing I love the most, is a bonus. Playing against current and former NBA players, it's something not too many people get an opportunity to do."
Besides Rudy and Lycoming teammate Justin Miller, the East Coast All Stars, will consist of high-end Division I talent, including Louisville's Russ Smith, who was the MVP of the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas and Providence's Kadeem Batts.
Rudy will meet up with his teammates, which also includes players from West Virginia, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Iowa, Northern Colorado and Binghamton, for a two-day training camp at Fordham University on Saturday.
"I never thought I'd be able to say that I'd play with this talented a group," Rudy said. "Having watched a lot of these guys play (on television), getting to play with them is something I'll never forget."
For Rudy, his development has taken him from a player that walked into Lycoming's Lamade Gym as a freshman getting accustomed to a late growth spurt that added three inches to his frame, to becoming the team's top returning scorer as he enters his senior year.
"He's just blossomed," Rancourt, who has been taking team's overseas as the head coach of the East Coast All Stars since 2007, said. "The one thing that he has always had is a tremendous work ethic. His motor never turns off. The work his coach, Lenny Smith, did with him during his time at Danville really has helped give him a foundation that has allowed his work ethic to catapult him to where he is today."
At 6-foot-7 and 175 pounds as a freshmen, it took Rudy time to adjust to the college game, but there was no doubt about his talent and hungry work ethic. In the team's exhibition game against Division I Duquesne that began his career, he pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
"The No. 1 thing was adjusting to the physicality," Rudy, who has added some weight to his frame in the past three years, said. "I had to catch up strength-wise to be able to survive down low without falling apart towards the end of the year."
During his junior year, Rudy's importance to the Warriors, as they made a trip to the Commonwealth Conference Championship game for the second straight year, seemed to multiply each game. His scoring average rose from 5.0 points per game in mid-December to 8.4 points at the end of the season. He scored in double figures in nine of the last 11 games.
Maybe more important was what he provided defensively, where he blocked a league-leading 61 shots. He swatted away a school-record six in a game twice during the season, including doing so in the conference semifinals, an 80-78 win over Albright.
Soon after the season was over, Rancourt extended the offer to Rudy to be a part of the trip to Europe, and Rudy said he didn't have to give it much thought.
"I was ready to go as soon as the offer was made," he said.
Now, nearly four years after first seeing Rudy run up and down the court during a summer camp at Lycoming College, Rancourt is looking forward to getting to see how Rudy fares against the international competition during the three-day tournament.
"It's going to be an eye-opener for him because he is likely going to be guarding small forwards over there that are his size and weigh more than him," Rancourt said. "He has done so much off the court and in the classroom and on the court, he has led by his actions. He really deserves this opportunity."