‘There is no way to replicate this at home’: Six women’s college basketball teams share memories, lessons from foreign tours

Note: This is a list of the teams I spoke with about their foreign tours this summer. It is not a comprehensive list of all teams taking foreign tours in 2019.
Note: This is a list of the teams I spoke with about their foreign tours this summer. It is not a comprehensive list of all teams taking foreign tours in 2019. /
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Illinois State (Italy)

“Our tour guide said two gelatos a day keeps the doctor away. So I thought [I’d] roll the dice with one,” Illinois State head coach Kristen Gillespie quipped when asked about the food in Italy. “… It was all that it’s cracked up to be and more.”

The cold dessert must have been especially welcome after some hard-fought basketball games, which allowed the Redbirds to test out a brand-new offense and play with their six newcomers for the first time. “We have more playmakers, more shooters” than in the past, Gillespie explained, so they will play an up-tempo, guard-heavy style that she hopes will “showcase some of our kids.” The early returns in Italy were promising, and crucially, they gave the Redbirds game film to review ahead of the season. “I think that’s a big advantage that … we have three legitimate games that we can watch,” Gillespie said.

Adding to Gillespie’s excitement, Illinois State also faced several different playing styles overseas, which will only help as the team gears up for a tough Missouri Valley Conference slate. The University of Ottawa was “probably the most prepared team,” Gillespie said. “They had … been practicing all summer [and] watched film on us. I was like, ‘Oh, great, you’ll know our plays better than half our team.’” Hanover, a German team, was extremely experienced and physical, and Illinois State quickly fell into a 12-0 hole before making some adjustments. Gillespie rotated the starting lineups and distributed playing time relatively equally to get a better idea of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. She came away “pleasantly surprised” by the team’s rebounding despite frequently playing four guards and unpleasantly surprised by the technical foul she received. “I put my hands on my head and I got a technical. And I was told that ‘You’re not in America anymore. You can’t do this here.’” She added ruefully, “Come on, just make me earn it!”

When the officials weren’t directing play on the court, the team’s Italian tour guide, Mario, was a masterful director off the court. “He was absolutely amazing,” Gillespie said. In addition to his official duties, senior TeTe Maggett reported that Mario taught the team a few words of Italian and, alongside Maggett, showed off his dance moves at a restaurant in Venice.

The team soon departed Venice for Lake Como, which produced one of Gillespie’s favorite memories of the trip. “You’re driving through the mountains,” she recounted, “… and you come around this bend and the mountains just open up and overlook Lake Como. You don’t know it’s coming. And just in unison, the ooohs and the aaahs. I was a little worried that the bus was gonna tip over because everyone went to that side. But … to see our players really get excited about that was neat … I don’t think they [had] understood the beauty that they were going to see.”

Looking back on the trip and all of its sights, Gillespie concluded, “There was not one thing I would change, except for maybe make it about 15 degrees cooler.”