The game of basketball helped take Max Vickers to Aurora University, where the senior-to-be has developed into an all-conference star for the Spartans.
This summer, it took him even further.
Vickers — a 2015 Streator High School graduate, Times All-Area basketball performer and All-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference player last winter — spend the tail end of June touring and playing the game he loves in Italy as part of the Beyond Sports Italy Basketball Tour.
"Benedictine (University) had a couple players who got lucky enough to be selected for the same thing last year," said Vickers, "and I was always asking my coach, 'Do you think we could get an opportunity like that?' It was always something in the back of my mind I wanted to do. Then one day I got an email from Beyond Sports that said I'd been selected based on statistics and coaches' recommendations.
"I immediately knew I just had to go. When am I going to get the chance to play basketball in Italy again?"
From there it was just a matter of making arrangements.
As a member of the Beyond Sports D3 team, Vickers played alongside other Division-III standouts against local Italian teams in between both guided and unguided tours of Italy. Vickers and his teammates went 2-1 on the court, defeating HSC Basket Roma and Selezione Basket Veneto before dropping their tour finale to Dream Team Select.
The basketball "went really well," Vickers said, but it was the tourism aspect of the trip he really appreciated, visiting the Coliseum, Venice and the Vatican, among other famous Italian sites.
"I think if I had to (pick a favorite), I'd say the Vatican," Vickers said. "St. Peter's Basilica was insane, and it's breathtaking the amount of detail in the architecture from so long ago that's been kept up all these years. And Florence was also one of the coolest places I've ever been."
Vickers' breakthrough junior season at Aurora helped pave his way to Italy.
The Streatorite averaged 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game his junior season, shooting 47.9 percent from the field and earning all-conference honors. Aurora posted a 20-9 record and made the NCAA Division III Tournament.
"I would say the main thing that was different for me last year was, going into sophomore year I was pretty successful at Aurora, but I didn't necessarily feel comfortable being one of the younger guys," said Vickers.
"This year, coming in knowing I'd be a leader and having expectations to perform, I was just much more comfortable, and I kind of had a chip on my shoulder (after not being named all-conference as a sophomore). And it was just a great group of guys, probably the most fun I've ever had playing basketball, right there with Streator."
Not that Italy was bad either.
"It was once in a lifetime, and I'm going to forever remember that," he said. "I'll forever be able to say I experienced that."