Basketball star Larry Buell reflects on his experience traveling the globe for basketball

  • Buell tells his story about his travels around the world at the offices of the Athol Daily News recently. Athol Daily News/Adam Lewis

  • Pictured is the Springfield College team that traveled around the world as part of the “Round the World” basketball tour during their travels through Europe, Italy, Pakistan, China and other locations. Photo Courtesy of Larry Buell

  • Pictured is Larry Buell going for the dunk during the “Round the World” tour with Springfield College. Taken in 1965, the floor is made out of hardwood and the thin rim is made out of metal. Photo Courtesy of Larry Buell

Sports Writer
Friday, February 09, 2018

ATHOL — In 1965, Larry Buell, former Mahar Regional High School standout who lived, and still lives, on the 100-year-old Buell Farm located on Oliver Street in Petersham, sat on a bus, telling jokes with his Springfield basketball teammates. They were warned about pick-pocketing, according to teammate Leon Drury’s diary. What Buell had not been warned about was that he had just left the forests and farm stench behind for a trip that would change his life forever.

As part of the Springfield College basketball team, Buell and his teammates left to travel as part of the “Round the World” basketball tour. They traveled across the world to places such as India and China to play basketball against some of the best teams in the world.

“To get in that plane and realize that we were leaving, and we didn’t have that much confidence in the plane because it was still early age … I felt that my world was changed,” said Buell. “I didn’t know how, but there was a change happening in me.”

The trip exposed Buell to many ecological, eye-opening experiences. He watched a cobra kill a mongoose for pure entertainment purposes. He experienced poverty first-hand and was the first white person that some of the people he met ever saw. The experiences created a deep connection to ecology for Buell. He would later teach human ecology at Greenfield Community College. He devoted his time and life to the creation of the University of the Wild and Earthlands, a program out of Petersham that promotes wildlife protection, fosters personal growth and provides sustainability.

“I remember exploring,” said Buell. “There were shacks, basically people living in them and I just wanted to see what they were. I felt really safe … I never had that feeling of (not being safe). It was very different, so different.”

As part of the “Peace Tour” created to spread love and kindness during the Vietnam War, the team first traveled to Europe. Here, they spent a lot of time practicing and exploring. Drury explained in his journals how the team walked into Rome’s coliseum, saw beautiful mountains and shared Coke and Pepsi, a novelty drink to the area.

They then made their way to Italy. Again, they didn’t play much basketball, touring the area and meeting government officials more than anything else. It wasn’t until the team got to Pakistan where the serious games began.

“The way that it was set up,” said Buell. “We played the Olympic team of Tokyo. We played the best teams that were there and we beat them.”

In Pakistan, Buell was a star. They loved his height and his ability to dunk. At 6 foot, 7 inches tall, Buell was called upon as the main event. He would have to dunk for those watching.

“I was part of the show,” said Buell. “We had maybe 20, maybe 100 thousand people watching us in a big soccer stadium. I was supposed to dunk, so I had to dunk a lot. One time dunked and I broke the basket right off. I tore it right off the (hoop), so we couldn’t play that game, but that was a big deal.”

Then in India, the team played on hardened cow manure for a court. Sand flew up off the court, so much that Buell and others had to constantly wipe their eyes. Here, they ran a play called K, which too, became part of the show.

“When you said K, that meant you would let the person make the shot,” said Buell.

In India, the team faced the most adversity with living conditions. They stayed in an area with extremely hot temperatures and without much sanitation. Illness struck multiple players during this portion of the tour.

“A lot of us had dysentery,” said Buell. “We learned a trick, when you pick up a coffee cup; you always want to pick it up with your left hand. Remember, most of the people are right handed, so if you drink from a right-handed cup, you’re going to be putting your lips where someone else did, so those are tricks that you learn.”

From there, they went on to an area now known as Sri Lanka, a small island off the coast of India.

“We saw a little girl, little children there, whose arms had been cut off because parents didn’t have enough Rubles (the currency that people used),” said Buell. “(Natives) would cut the hands off (their) daughter to show you had no money and then people would give you money.”

Here, Drury explained in his journal that he bargained with a vendor, who climbed a tree to get coconuts for the team, which symbolized the freedom they had going forward.

They then went to China and played in Hong Kong. They earned the right to make purchases. Buell bought an engagement ring for to-be wife, Carmen DeFrates.

“I didn’t want to declare it, so I strapped (the ring) into my jock strap and carried it in and it never was exposed,” said Buell. “I came back, asked her to marry me and that’s part of the history.”

The team closed out their trip with a stint in Tokyo, where the Tokyo team came out practicing Jitsu, and then made a stop in Alaska. Three months from the start of the trip, Buell and his team arrived back in Springfield. His family held a welcome home party for him at what is now known as the Quabbin Dairy Bar.

“The police where there, they had their sirens on, and there were about 100 people in Petersham, welcoming me back,” said Buell. “There’s a big picture of me drinking milk, because, you know, I grew up on a farm and hadn’t had milk in three months.”

To this day, Buell still has vivid memories of the trip. He plans to co-write a book titled “The Springfield College 1965 ‘Round-the-World’ Basketball Tour” with friend and teammate Paul Wagner. The book doesn’t have a release date yet, but will document the trip through journal entries, personal stories and memorable events.

“People oohed and awed at us,” said Buell, recollecting on the tour as a whole. “There were these great connections and basketball was the vehicle for those connections.”

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