ST. LOUIS Differences are clear, but Rob Loe views himself as a student of the game regardless of borders. In America, he sees basketball as a sport grounded in strength and speed an activity of brawn over brain. Elsewhere, he sees it as a mental release an outlet where strategy and critical thought are rewarded.
Managing those differences has become part of his life this summer. Loe, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound rising junior forward at Saint Louis, is a member of the New Zealand national team attempting to qualify in early July for the London Games. The Auckland, New Zealand, native plays for national pride and personal gain: He hopes what is learned in overseas competition strengthens his skillset at Chaifetz Arena next winter.
"It's always interesting playing with different players, especially international," Loe told FOXSportsMidwest.com. "It's a completely different game. I'm learning from the older guys who have been around playing in professional leagues across the world. You learn quite a bit, and you've got to learn it pretty fast or you get in trouble.
"Basketball is basketball. It's always pretty similar. But the game style is completely different. I'm learning things about the game that I haven't had the chance to learn yet, and I'm working on things that I've wanted to work on over summers. It's a great chance for me to improve my basketball skill and knowledge but also to go around the world and see how people live in other countries. I learn from that, and hopefully, I will become a better person."
There's that chance, and Loe has a hardwood aptitude to make it happen. He's somewhat of a prodigy in New Zealand basketball circles. He became a standout talent at Westlake High School, where he was named Most Valuable Player of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championship. At age 17, he became the youngest member ever of the "Tall Blacks" national team. He was part of the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships. And when Loe signed with SLU in April 2010, coach Rick Majerus called him "a jewel of the Pacific."
A commitment to Loe's country was an important topic during Majerus' recruitment of him. One day, before Loe signed with the Billikens, the coach looked at the prospect and told him to keep those ties strong as he began a new phase in his career. Majerus admired the player's ambition.
"Rob, you should be a career-player and a cornerstone of the New Zealand national team," Majerus recalls saying. "That's one of our big goals. You should be able to play professionally at some level for 10 to 12 years, if you want to."
More than two years later, Majerus sees the international play helping Loe in several ways. The coach said Loe must become more aggressive and develop his core muscles. Loe has the skills to be an impact player in the paint, Majerus said, but he must grow as a competitor to reach his potential.
The international competition should assist in the process. Loe averaged 6.7 points and 3.5 rebounds in 17.5 minutes played per game during his first season with SLU. He followed with an average of 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 16.3 minutes in his sophomore campaign.
"Rob's issue is not talent," Majerus said. "Rob's issue is combativeness. Rob has got to become feisty, and he has got to become aggressive. The more he can play against men, and the more he can play in a tougher, more physical environment, the better off it is for him. Rob is a really bright guy. He's a really good guy. He wants to do the right thing. He's got to become more contact-oriented, and he's got to become more assertive. He's challenged a bit athletically, but he's got great skills."
Loe is learning more about those skills, as well as other parts of his personality while overseas. He said "you always grow up a little bit every year every time you go on tour," and New Zealand's national team has logged plenty of recent miles.
The Tall Blacks played a team of young Australians, which included rising SLU senior forward Cody Ellis, during an exhibition in Canberra, Australia on June 22 and 23. They also were part of a three-game Brazilian tour from June 26-29 in Sao Paulo. From July 2-8, they will compete in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, where the top three teams from the 12-squad field will advance to the Olympics.
No matter the result in South America, though, Loe understands he's working to become a more rounded player. Above all, that is his focus. He trusts the experiences in the pursuit for an Olympics berth both on and off the court will make him a deeper athlete and person.
And in the end, for him, personal growth is the ultimate gold.
"There's a lot of good competition and a bunch of different styles that we don't see here during the regular college season," said Dwayne Evans, a rising SLU junior forward. "Just seeing bigger, more athletic or more skilled guys internationally will be a big help come next season.
"I think he's really unselfish. He'll work to get other guys open shots. I think he spreads the floor really well."
Sure, basketball is basketball no matter the borders in which it's played. But as Loe has discovered this summer, what you take from it is the greatest lesson of all.