Oregon State (Italy)
Oregon State is the last of the six teams to depart because its academic calendar follows the quarter system; the Beavers’ last day of final exams for the spring term was June 14, and fall classes begin on September 25. In fact, when I spoke with redshirt junior Destiny Slocum in early August, the team had not yet held any of its allotted ten practices, and the itinerary was still mostly under wraps. But Slocum had a pretty good idea of what to expect: three years ago, she traveled to Italy as a freshman at Maryland. When I commented on the coincidence, Slocum chuckled and said, “Yeah, I know. … How many times can you say you got two trips, all expenses paid … because of basketball?”
Slocum is particularly excited to return to Florence with the Beavers. “I fell in love with Florence,” she said. “I think the nightlife and just, like, everyone is out all times. … It feels like it never slows down. … to go back there and experience that with my team is going to be probably the most fun.”
Slocum also expected the Beavers to play more than the two games the Terps played three years ago, possibly as many as four. She didn’t know what opponents head coach Scott Rueck and his staff had lined up, but she expected the games to help the Beavers prepare for a loaded Pac-12 schedule. Her last time in Italy, Slocum scored 14 points against Italy Select, a team of mostly Italian national team players, and 10 points against German professional team TK Hannover.
Speaking perhaps both as someone who will have a leadership role for the Beavers this season and as someone who went on a foreign trip as a freshman, Slocum explained the value of taking a foreign tour in the offseason. “It’s a good experience and a great value for us, especially having four new players,” she said, “just to acclimate them, kind of let them get their jitters out before we start preseason.” It will also allow Rueck and his staff to experiment with different lineups and figure out how to make the most of the Beavers’ remarkable size. (Four players are 6-6 or taller, and two—redshirt freshman Andrea Aquino and freshman Jelena Mitrovic—are 6-9.) Whatever lineups Rueck settles on, expect Slocum to figure prominently: the point guard was eligible for the 2019 WNBA Draft, but returned to school to try to meet “a lot of goals [that went] unfinished” last season. Her first step in doing that will be leading her team in Italy, on the court and off.
As spectacular as these trips sound, they are not entirely a vacation for the teams involved. The teams are obviously playing some games, and they are also working hard to improve themselves on and off the court throughout the trip. Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper noted that she had to rearrange the team’s summer schedule to give them a break because August is when they usually take time off. She also emphasized the importance of “find[ing] a nice balance while we’re over there, that [the players] do find a little bit of downtime … because we’re just doing so much.”
West Virginia’s Mike Carey was also cognizant of the extra load his teams face when they go on foreign tours. When I asked whether he would like to go overseas more often, if the NCAA were to allow more frequent trips, he replied, “I definitely wouldn’t go every year, no. Because even though it’s great, and it’s great for team-building … [the players] don’t get much of a break. But every four years, it’s a great opportunity.” Miami’s Katie Meier disagreed, saying that the benefits of these trips are so important that she would love to go more often. “You always just come back a lot more humble … a little bit more worldly and way, way less self-absorbed, and certainly wiser and just way more appreciative.”
Whether your favorite team is eating crepes in France, learning the history of the Vatican Church in Italy, or meeting zoo animals in Greece, the takeaway is that foreign trips are, in many ways, not about basketball at all. The primary goals of these trips are generally to give players experiences and develop relationships that are bigger than basketball. However, they are likely to pay off on the court, too. When looking at eye-popping individual statistics or players’ WNBA draft stocks, it can be easy to forget that winning basketball relies on a strong team. Foreign tours are one of the many ways programs can develop that aspect of their games and, perhaps, set themselves up for late-season success.
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