By Kevin Sweeney
While the college basketball season doesn’t officially get underway until daily practices begin in October, the journey to reaching the NCAA Tournament begins much earlier than that. It begins in the summer, where players work out relentlessly and try to improve their games individually without much time to work together with the entire team. However, international trips allow teams the opportunity to play exhibition games against international teams, develop chemistry, and provide valuable learning experiences off the court for the players. Allowed once every four years, international trips can oftentimes be a huge stepping stone into a successful season.
Because of these advantages, international trips are increasing in popularity. This season, 59 teams will make a trip abroad this summer, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com. These trips include places such as Costa Rica, Italy, New Zealand, and Japan. Teams taking trips this summer include defending national champions Villanova, Oregon, UCLA, Virginia, and Washington.
“You can start to mold your group, build your chemistry and get guys confident in July, instead of waiting until October,” Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey said in a USA Today article last March. It’s just so helpful. … Man, I’m a big believer in it.”
Not only do the teams build chemistry and play high level basketball, but the experiences off the court can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For many players, an international trip is their first experience outside of the United States. Players get the chance to learn lessons beyond anything they could learn in the classroom. This was the case for Washington, who opened the season in China last year. While not an international trip, the players still got the experience of traveling to a new country and playing competitive basketball. The trip included a weeklong class sponsored by the university that allowed the players to earn credit as they learned more about the history and culture of China.
Because of the clear value of these trips, there has been a strong push from some coaches to allow teams to make trips every other year, rather every four years. In the meantime, however, players can still make international trips with select teams. For example, Global Sports Academy, a tour company specializing in athletic teams traveling to foreign countries, sent a 10-man roster of college stars to Croatia to play against international competition. The team, which was coached by Siena assistant coach Greg Manning, featured players such as Siena’s Marquis Wright, Providence’s Jalen Lindsey and Drew Edwards, and Maryland’s Ivan Bender.
Overall, international trips are very beneficial for college basketball teams. Sometimes, they are the start of a season they will never forget.