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Callahan: From CYO to BBL, Vasturia and DiLeo's connection travels the globe

01/29/2020, 10:30am EST
By Kevin Callahan

Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
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In the team picture, Steve Vasturia and Max DiLeo sit next to each other.

Sure, the Philadelphia connection of Vasturia, the all-time leading scorer at St. Joseph’s Prep School, and DiLeo, the son of former 76ers coach and general manager Tony DiLeo, is deeply rooted and now expands across the ocean to Germany as teammates with Rasta Vechta.

However, these unique ties for Vasturia and DiLeo reach all the way back to grade school, when the two played against each other.

The two Basketball Bundesliga League teammates competed in South Jersey’s Burlington County Catholic Youth Organization League. 

Vasturia, who had his No. 32 retired at The Prep, starred at St. Mary of the Lakes in Medford, while DiLeo, whose brother T.J. played at Temple University, starred at Sacred Heart in Riverton.

And the two Rasta Vechta starters squared off against each other in the league championship game in 2007 at Holy Cross Academy in Delran.

“I remember them being a great team and Max being one of the best players we played against all year," Vasturia said when contacted in Germany last week. “It was always fun to play against them, especially at Holy Cross in a great atmosphere.”

Vasturia, who became a four-year starter at the University of Notre Dame, started as a sixth grader for the Lakers when facing DiLeo, who was an 8th grader, in the league tournament title game

“Max was definitely one of the best players that we played against all season,” Vasturia said. “He was older than me and I remember him being super athletic, and could do pretty much everything on the floor. It was always a challenge to match up against him.”

While at St. Mary’s, Vasturia helped the Lakers win three-straight Burlington County League varsity CYO championships as a sixth, seventh and eighth grader.

“I do remember battling Steve in CYO games multiple times and getting angry that someone so much younger was doing so well on the other team," DiLeo said with a laugh.

 “I remember him being very calm all the time, didn’t really show much emotion or say much," DiLeo added from Vechta, which is in Lower Saxony and borders the Netherlands and the North Sea. “I also remember getting frustrated because there was not so much competition back in that league and the best player we played against was a few years younger than us.

“Two years younger is a big deal when your 13 years old.”

Steve Vasturia (top row, second from left) and Max DiLeo (bottom row, squatting in the center) go back to playing CYO ball against one another in South Jersey. (Photo courtesy Steve Vasturia).

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A dozen years later, Vasturia starts at small forward for Rasta Vechta and is averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 assists per game as well as 4.5 rebounds in 30.9 minutes a game while DiLeo starts at shooting guard and averages 4.4 points and 2.2 assists in playing 20.7 minutes a game.

“Steve is very similar in that he doesn’t show his emotions much on the court and he always stays locked in," DiLeo said. “Nowadays I don’t get frustrated when he plays well, obviously, it’s the opposite. He is really a good leader for the team and someone we can always rely on.”

Vasturia, the Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year as a senior for Hawks coach Speedy Morris, similarly still sees the same determined qualities and outstanding athleticism from DiLeo, who was a multi-sport star at Cinnaminson High School, playing together now in the top German League.

“Max plays as hard on both ends of the floor as any player I have ever been around," said Vasturia, a four-year starter at Notre Dame. “Whether it is a practice or game, he leaves everything that he has on the court. He is the epitome of a guy you would hate to play against, but love to have on your team, and I think that is the ultimate compliment for an athlete.”

Vasturia, 24, signed his first professional contract in Germany with Alba Berlin in January of 2018. He then signed with Chocolates Trapa Palencia of the Liga Española de Baloncesto in August of 2018. The LEB Oro, is the second basketball division of the Spanish basketball league system. At Palencia last season, Vasturia averaged 15.9 points. Last July, Vasturia signed with Rasta Vechta.

“It’s awesome to have a teammate from South Jersey on the team," Vasturia said about DiLeo. “Being so far away from home for most of the year its great to have somebody that you can really relate with. We watched most of the Eagles games together on Sundays, and bonded over trips down the shore and missing the food from back home.”

DiLeo, 26, is playing in his fifth season overseas and second year with Rasta Vechta, where he played 32 games last year and averaged 6.5 points in 21 minutes a game. He played his first two seasons with the Oettinger Rockets Gotha and then Rhein Stars Koln in the German second division. He averaged 7.2 points last year in 24 minutes a game after scoring six a game the first two seasons.

“We always have someone there to relate to, joke with, or just talk about how much we miss Wawa," DiLeo said about Vasturia. “After the season, we will definitely meet up down the shore and golf together a few times, which is nice because more often than not you lose contact with a lot of team mates after a season is over.

“Steve is definitely the team mate that I hang out with the most on the team. Usually we will just chill, watch football, or meet somewhere in the city for food.”

And, as if playing with Vasturia isn’t cool enough, DiLeo played against Telekom Baskets Bonn and his older bother T.J., who has played overseas since 2013 after playing for Temple, earlier this season in a BBL game. The younger brother won, but there is a rematch later in the season.

While playing in over 100 games over in his college career at Monmouth University, Max DiLeo wanted to follow the footsteps of his father and brother and play professional basketball overseas. Tony, who worked 23 years with the 76ers in various roles, met his wife, Anna, who played for the German national team, while he played in Europe. Tony DiLeo is currently a NBA scout for Washington.

“My parents visited in the beginning of the season and they plan on coming back here at the end sometime in April," DiLeo said. “My brother is only two and a half hours away so I try to visit him whenever an opportunity presents itself.”

Vasturia, who scored the most points in the Prep’s prestigious history with 1,764, also hails from an athletic family. His mother, Kathy, was a star point guard at Dickinson College, where she’s in the athletic Hall of Fame and his father, John, was a football and baseball standout at Cardinal O’Hara, where he was a teammate of Penn coach Steve Donahue – an ace pitcher with the Lions, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he’s in the baseball Hall of Fame.

His older brother, Pat, was a three-year starter at Bishop Eustace, where he scored over 1,000 points, and played at Ursinus College. His younger brother, Michael, played basketball and baseball at St. Augustine and was a pitcher at Maryland.

“My dad visited in November and saw two wins for Rasta," Vasturia said. “Both of my parents are visiting again soon, which will be really great. They have visited me the last two years overseas, and it is always such a fun time. I’m so lucky to have them travel such a long way to watch me play.”

Last week, Vasturia played a full 40 minutes and collected seven assists, six points and four rebounds in an 82-70 lost to Teksut Bandirma. DiLeo played 13 minutes and scored two points for coach Pedro Calles.

Rasta Vechta bounced back on Sunday and edged over .500 at 7-6 in Group B with a 73-65 win over Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt in the BBL as Vasturia scored 11 points and DiLeo added 7 points.

Vasturia speaks a “little German, but I know Max can speak it pretty well.”

“It’s only ever English on the court. English is the common language in basketball usually because you may have people from three or four different countries on your team," DiLeo said. “I have picked up a good amount of German in the four and a half years I have been here, but I still can’t have a full conversation without getting stuck a few times.”

The 6-foot-5 Vasturia, who reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament twice with Notre Dame, was called by Mike Brey “a beautiful basketball player,” and the veteran Irish coach said he was the “best all-around player he coached.”

As a senior, Vasturia started all 36 games for the Irish and finished with 127 straight starts - third best in Notre Dame history. He was selected All-ACC Honorable Mention when he averaged 13.1 points a game while shooting a Notre Dame single-season free throw record at 91.0 percent (91-for-100). 

Vasturia, who was the Prep’s first player to be named team Most Valuable Player and All-Catholic League for three consecutive years, left South Bend with 97 victories over four seasons, matching the 2012-13 Irish graduating class for the school record.

The 6-foot-1 DiLeo started at point guard as a senior at Monmouth, averaging six points in 25 minutes a game, after arriving at the West Long Branch, N.J. campus as a walk-on.  At Cinnaminson, he was named first-team All-South Jersey and was a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and also was All-South Jersey in soccer. 

 “I have become a German soccer fan, starting two and a half years ago when I played in Cologne I started supporting FC Koln,” said DiLeo, who in high school placed second in the state with a triple jump school record of 44-7 and also set the school high jump record at 6-8. “I’m not a crazy fan, but it’s a lot of fun to follow and go to games when I can, the atmosphere at soccer games here is unbelievable.”

Naturally, they both still follow American football.

“I follow the Eagles and try to watch most of the games but I don’t get to with the six-hour time difference, Steve is definitely more knowledgeable with everything going on in the NF," DiLeo said.

“I follow the NFL as much as I can and would watch the Birds every week," Vasturia said. “Sometimes its difficult with our schedule and the time difference, but always find a way to tune in.”

Besides following the Eagles closely, the two guys with Philly ties are spreading their own wings.

“With our schedule, we have been able to travel to some pretty cool places, not just in Germany, but all around Europe which has been a really unique experience," Vasturia said.  “Two of my favorite places that we've been are Jerusalem and Athens. Being able to see those amazing cities has been really fun.”

And it’s certainly amazing that Vasturia and DiLeo are globetrotting together after first playing against each other as kids in CYO ball.


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