Poehler has been a nice surprise for Burlington High boys basketball (but not too nice)

Burlington High has a foreign exchange student on its boys basketball team.

Sort of.

Senior Ben Poehler is a guard/forward for the Red Devils.

He’s from Sweden and was quite a basketball player there before agreeing to spend the next few months in Burlington.

BHS has had plenty of exchange students over the years, but probably none quite like this.

His “host family” is his grandparents, who still reside in Burlington.

And, yes, it’s THAT Poehler family.

His father Greg, a former standout for the Red Devils basketball program 30-something years ago, is a big deal. He has a Wikipedia page. He’s an actor, comedian and lawyer that lives in Sweden with his wife Charlotta, and their three children.

Ben’s aunt is kind of a big deal too.

Amy Poehler is described as one of Hollywood’s most versatile and sought-after talents, with credits including actress, writer, executive producer, and bestselling author. 

In June, she’ll be in Boston as part of her “Restless Legs Tour” alongside Tina Fey.

While Ben’s bloodlines are exciting, these days at 123 Cambridge Street, Ben is the one making the news.

“He’s been unbelievable,” said BHS coach Phil Conners. “We got extraordinarily lucky. He is so skilled, he plays hard and he’s become a great defender. He’s had perfect attendance and he’s the nicest kid in the world. We’ve actually tried to make him a little meaner.”

After Burlington’s recent state tournament victory in Canton to start the Div. 2 playoffs, Ben smiled at the notion of getting meaner.

“I think I got a little more mean,” he said with a shrug.

Watch him play defense for a few minutes.

His mean-o-meter is just fine, thanks.

“He’s got a little bit of mean in him now,” laughed Conners. “I was really worried about him as a defender in the fall league and stuff, but now, he’s just been unbelievable.”

Why was Conners worried?

To say basketball for teenagers in Sweden is different could be understatement.

The sports are not directly affiliated with schools in Sweden, meaning most of the games are played in front of relatives and teammates in small gymnasiums where the bounce of the ball echoes off of the walls.

Trash talk is most likely not existent.

“You just play in empty gyms all of the time,” Conners said. “We had a (preseason) scrimmage against Lawrence and Ben said it was the biggest gym he had ever played in.”

“In Sweden they don’t talk trash,” added BHS captain Eric Sekyaya with a laugh. “Here, it was a little different for him, but he adjusted pretty well.”

And quickly.

Poehler first joined his teammates-to-be in some summer and fall leagues.

That’s when Ben got his glimpse of balling in the USA.

“There are a lot more skilled players and a lot higher pace,” he said. “It’s defintely harder and more challenging, but I’m enjoying every second of it. I’m having a blast.”

On Friday, Ben and his teammates started their state tournament journey in Canton with a 62-50 victory over the Bulldogs.

Poehler was instrumental in the victory, starting with a powerful lefthanded layup to start the contest, continuing with a second quarter that saw Poehler’s defense force two traveling violations, a frustration foul on a Canton player that simply shoved Poehler out of the way and a steal at the halftime buzzer before Canton could get a last-second shot off.

He added two big 3-pointers in the third quarter and then tossed in a layup that stopped a 6-1 Canton spurt late in the game and pushed Burlington’s lead back to 10 (57-47). He chipped in with two foul shots to close out Burlington’s scoring.

“He is super skilled,” Conners said. “He hit those big threes when we had struggled against the zone (defense) a little bit. He’s awesome.”

Interesting side note.

The conditioning that allows Poehler to play just about every second of every game?

After Canton’s Caden Mirliani hit a long 3-pointer in the second quarter to make it a four-point game, Conners put Poehler on Mirliani.

That turned out to be a good move.

“The scouting report was don’t let him shoot so I just tried to do my job and stay up on him,” Poehler said.

Mirliani had two more baskets the rest of the way, both 3-pointers, but both came with the Red Devils ahead by double digits. Mirliani finished with 11 points and bad cramps in his calf in the closing moments of the game that forced him out of the game.

“I’ve never played in a gym this packed,” Poehler said afterward. “It was an awesome atmosphere. It was a great game, a great win. We really stepped up our defense.”

The Red Devils will be back on the court tonight, Tuesday, for a 6 p.m. game in Sharon, the third seed.

A win would put Burlington into the quarterfinals, the Elite Eight.

“We knew coming in that he was going to be a good guy, with a high IQ and very good skill,” Sekyaya said. “Not many people knew he was coming in. We knew with him that we kind of replaced what we lost last year, which is huge.”

“It’s been amazing,” Poehler said. “The guys have been great, coach has been amazing, all of the coaches have been amazing. It’s been such an amazing year so far. I hope to go as far as we possibly can. Coach always has us really prepared.”

Ben’s father wore No. 22 during his days as a Red Devil. Ben’s grandfather wore No. 33 when he played growing up.

Ben choice of No. 11 for the Red Devils just kept the tradition alive.

Conners admits, however, he would change one thing when it comes to Poehler’s experience with Burlington basketball.

“I just wish,” he said with a laugh, “it was a four-year transfer.”