‘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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Miami (Italy)

When Miami head coach Katie Meier first saw her players again following the team’s trip to Italy and then a few weeks off, they greeted her with the Italian, “Ciao, Coach!” “I was like, whoa, they’ve changed,” Meier recalled with a laugh. “… [They were] trying to be Italian and cultured and I thought, they are really proud of themselves and they definitely were impacted by this trip. … They learned a lot.”

At Meier’s directive, her players had prepared for the trip by taking an Italian religion class, and she predicted that the Colosseum would “just blow them away.” However, flight delays forced the team to go straight from the airport to meet their tour guide at the Colosseum, skipping a shower and a nap. To make matters worse, it was extremely hot. “I expected them to be falling asleep,” Meier revealed, “… [but] they were just hanging on every word … I thought, wow, I really respect this group because the learning was more important than their comfort. … I’ll never forget just that image of my 13 players sitting there with the sun just blazing, beating them down and them listening … I was proud.”

Over the next nine days, Miami’s adventures included visiting Rome; Florence; San Gimignano, a town known for its medieval architecture and white wine; and Venice. The final dinner of the trip was in Verono, an island off of Venice that closes to boats after 7pm. The team had to take a private boat for the 45-minute ride back to Venice, at which time the players convinced athletic director Blake James to be their DJ so they could cap the trip with a dance party on the boat’s upper deck.

Miami also secured two wins in three games against the Netherlands Women’s National Team, the Florence All-Stars, and the Venice All-Stars despite playing without star forward Beatrice Mompremier, who had commitments with Team USA. Meier mixed up her starting lineups, aiming to “create stress on purpose, to see if it would be stressful or if it would just feel like pressure.” For the most part, she said, her team handled it well—even the Dutch team’s half-court traps, which the Hurricanes hadn’t practiced.

One thing the Hurricanes had prepared for was the Italian gyms’ lack of air conditioning. Back home, they turned off the air conditioning in their gym, allowing the temperature to rise to about 85 degrees, until the men’s team insisted on a compromise. “A Miami team is not going to complain about being hot,” Meier declared. “We have too much pride.”

Despite the heat, Miami played very fast in Italy and will look to continue that throughout the season. “Our rebounding was terrific, which allowed us to run at a really high pace,” Meier explained. “… We really got the ball up the court and attacked. So that was fun because we didn’t do a lot of that last year, but we will do a lot of that this year.” Playing with Mompremier, the ACC’s leading rebounder in 2018-19, should make the Hurricanes’ transition game even more dangerous than what they showed in Italy.

The Hurricanes were particularly excited for their game against the Dutch national team and two former Hurricanes, Laura Cornelius and Emese Hof. “I loved them the first time I saw them play, and now, six years later, seven years later, here we are again. Full circle,” Meier said in a video posted on the Hurricanes’ social media. “I couldn’t sleep for two nights, probably, because I was so excited to see everyone again,” Hof revealed, grinning from ear to ear. But at least one person in the gym wasn’t in on the excitement. During the game, Meier was jokingly yelling at Hof and Cornelius, saying things like, “You traveled!” or telling her players to push Hof out of the lane. “I realized the Italian ref was looking at me like, gosh, you’re really rude to the other team,” Meier said, “[so] I finally had to call him over and … let him know that I was just having fun with my ex-players.”

For the first two games, Miami’s large travel party (45 people including players and coaches) gave the Hurricanes what felt like a home crowd. But it was against the Venice All-Stars, in a blowout win and a true road environment, that Meier said one of the most meaningful moments of the trip took place. “It was a big event for the town,” Meier recounted. “… There were little kids and grandparents and we were winning by a lot, 50 or something. But when the other team would score, the town was just so proud and so happy.” Afterwards, the city named an “all-tournament” team, despite playing only the single game, and gave Mompremier a pendant in honor of her making Team USA, and then the players signed autographs. “That was the real experience about what basketball brings us,” Meier said.

A little over a week after the group returned from Italy, Meier had an all-staff meeting and a Miami Hall of Fame reception on the same day. “The word had gotten out,” she said. “I had about 15 people in the course of [the] two meetings come up to me and say how much they love my team” because of how engaging and warm-hearted the players are. Meier continued, “It was just really touching. And I was just like, ‘You guys finally understand what my every day is like.’ … That’s why I’m the happiest coach on campus.”