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Thursday, Apr. 17, 2014

Australian exchange student finds he's at home on court

Sunday, March 9, 2003

PORTAGEVILLE -- When Kyle Tatam arrived as a foreign exchange student in Southeast Missouri last fall, little did he know he was setting foot on the ground where one of his professional basketball idols started out.

The 6-foot-7 senior at Portageville High School finished his first basketball season in America Thursday night and overall, Tatam's experience was a positive one, he said.

"I've gotten a lot of talk from the crowd," Tatam noted. "You know, they tried to mess up my game, but that's all right They're just having fun."

A few minor differences in rules of the game do exist between Australia and America, admitted Tatam, whose been playing basketball since he was 8 years old.

"The main difference is that the competition is a bit harder over here," Tatam said. "Practices are tough, but I'm having a good time."

Tatam adjusted just fine, said Portageville boys basketball coach Jim Bidewell. Tatam has a good personality and everyone thinks it's fun to listen to him talk because of his accent, Bidewell pointed out.

"Kyle has a lot of natural talent. He played more than any of the exchange students I've ever coached. With another year or so of playing, he could be really good," Bidewell said.

During the season, Tatam had another learning experience. He found out he was playing in the same area where Australia National Basketball League player Marcus Timmons began his career.

Area high school basketball referee Jay Cookson was refereeing a tournament at Oran when he asked Tatam if he'd ever heard of Timmons.

"Kyle said of course he'd heard of Marcus Timmons. Then I told him that Marcus got his start in this area and played in this gym. I thought he was going to pass out," recalled Cookson, whose father, Ronnie Cookson, coached Timmons at Scott County Central High School.

Tatam hails from Perth, Australia, where Timmons played from 1999-2001. Timmons, who currently plays for the Melbourne Tigers, won NBL Grand Final MVP in 1999-2000 season. He was instrumental in winning two team championships, one with the Melbourne Tigers in 1997 and the other with the Perth Wildcats in the 1999-2000 season.

While the NBA is the professional basketball choice for Americans, the NBL is the popular choice for Australians, said Tatam, adding that Australians watch the NBA, too.

"Marcus Timmons came over to Australia as an American import player. He's as well-known in Australia as NBA players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, are known in the United States," Tatam said.

Cookson said he's heard Timmons is considered a hero in Australia. He's also heard Timmons' jerseys are available for purchase and that a candy bar has been named after Timmons.

Tatam agreed Timmons' jerseys are available, but admitted he didn't know if a candy bar has been named after Timmons.

After talking with Tatam, Cookson said he and his father are going to try and set up a visit between Tatam and Timmons once Tatam returns home, since the Cooksons still keep in contact with Timmons.

"It sure will be excellent," Tatam said about possibly meeting Timmons. "But it's quite a long distance. I live in Western Australia and he plays in Eastern Australia, but it'd be pretty awesome."

Tatam keeps his parents well informed on his stay in America. Every two or three days, Tatam e-mails his parents and talks on the phone with them about every two weeks. His father also reads local sports articles via the Internet.

Tatam is scheduled to return home at the end of May, but he would like to play basketball at a college in America in the future, he said.

"He's a real good kid and it's a pleasure to have coached him," Bidewell noted. "I'm sure he'll do a good job wherever he plays."