George Mason (Italy)
This year’s trip will be the first-ever foreign tour for George Mason women’s basketball. Head coach Nyla Milleson said that the program has been planning it for over a year and that she hopes that this trip is not a one-off, but rather the start of a tradition of traveling overseas every four years. With five international players on this year’s team, including four from Europe, Milleson is excited for the team to “experience a little bit of what the European culture is of some of their teammates.” Part of the reason George Mason settled on Italy specifically was because none of the team’s players hail from the country. Spain was another attractive option, and Milleson admitted that junior Nicole Cardaño-Hillary would have been “a great tour guide” in her home country, but she ultimately wanted Cardaño-Hillary to be able to experience a new country, too.
Milleson also views the trip as a way for her players to experience some of the cultural aspects of a study-abroad program. Study-abroad is popular among Mason students, but the basketball players cannot participate in those semester- or year-long programs. Obviously, the 10-day trip will be quite abridged compared to a full-year program, but Milleson is excited for her players to have “a chance to do some things abroad that a lot of other regular students at Mason get to do.” Senior Jacy Bolton is particularly eager to see the Colosseum in her first trip to Europe. “I have heard about the places we are going and never thought I would actually get the opportunity to go,” she told High Post Hoops.
Besides the cultural experience, Milleson cited the basketball benefits and the increased opportunity for team bonding as other reasons to pursue a foreign tour. On the basketball side, Milleson especially wanted her four seniors, a group that she credited with helping “push and turn us around,” to experience a foreign tour before they graduate. “We’ve got really, really good senior leadership,” Milleson said, “and then [Cardaño-Hillary] was [Atlantic 10] Player of the Year as a as a sophomore last year … so we’ve got a really, really, really good group of returners. A lot of good experience, but I can also say that we’re going to have some freshmen that are going to be in the mix.” Six freshmen are on this year’s roster, and Milleson said that their arrival for summer school has helped create “really intense” practices.
Like many of the other coaches interviewed, Milleson said her team had mostly focused on the basics in those practices. However, her response suggests that her team might have been able to implement more of their sets than other teams that are traveling abroad. Before the team’s eighth of ten practices, Milleson said, “We’ve tried to get a little bit of our offensive things in, just enough to … have some structure into what we do. And then we’ve been able to introduce a lot of defensive concepts that we probably wouldn’t have … with just our regular [eight] weeks of summer school.” Bolton added, “This year, we are a bigger and fast-paced team trying to utilize our versatility.” In Italy, Milleson and her staff will try out different combinations of players, which will allow them both to assess that versatility and to introduce the freshmen to college-level competition.
Finally, the team bonding will be important for a group that hails from six countries and eight U.S. states. Bolton had high expectations for that aspect of the trip in particular: “This trip will really maximize our team chemistry since we will be sharing such an experience together. … To get to share this experience with my team means everything.” Milleson is excited to have a front-row seat to “watch the bonding and the growing … the overall experience is going to be life-changing.” And, in addition to developing those deeper relationships on the trip, Bolton said the players have already been bonding over a more superficial aspect of the trip. “The main thing that the players have been in charge of is clothing,” Bolton revealed. “Allie [McCool] and Cam [Gatling] have been the two that have decided what matching outfits we have to wear and even made a PowerPoint on what we all have to bring.”