Every four years, NCAA basketball programs may travel abroad to play offseason exhibition games. These trips give teams the ability to stay in game shape over the offseason, while also having the chance to play teams who otherwise would not ever cross paths with American collegiate squads.
But more importantly, these trips give teams the chance to bond and have fun memories together, cementing the glue to the bonds of brotherhood that holds teams together come March. Since student-athletes don’t have the chance to participate in traditional study abroad programs, this is also their main chance to see new parts of the world.
Because the Men’s team last went overseas in 2014, they were due for another excursion in the Summer of ‘19. Sticking with the Mediterranean theme set in the ‘14 trip to Spain, Jim Larrañaga’s team picked Italy this time.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to take our program on this incredible trip abroad,” Larrañaga told HurricaneSports.com before departure. “This will be a special experience for our student-athletes, who will learn about Italian culture, as well as visit some of the most historic and beautiful sights in the world. Along with providing us three competitive games in the summer, the trip will be an excellent bonding experience for our players and should be great for team chemistry.”
Some of the players had taken similar trips before, such as Kameron McGusty, who went to Australia and New Zealand as an Oklahoma Sooner before finding his way to Miami. For others, such as Anthony Walker, this was the farthest they had ever been from home.
Those who were in Europe for the first time were faced with the routine challenges that come with international travel, with jet lag being an obvious hurdle.
“The first day was pretty hard. I was still on Miami time,” said Walker. “But I got used to it pretty fast while opening up to a new culture.”
The scaled-down size of almost everything presented another task to grasp.
“(In Europe) the elevators are really small, so instead of fitting six or seven guys in the elevator, we had three,” said McGusty, who noted that food portions were also not as large, a small shock to the big bodies of the team.
But the food quality more than made up for the smaller quantity, with pasta and gelato being consistent team favorites.
“It was my first time having gelato,” said Walker. “That’s one thing I’m going to miss.”
Men’s Trip Overview
August 9: Evening departure from Miami
August 10: Rome Arrival
August 11: More Rome Sightseeing
The large group (both the amount of people in the traveling party and the size of each individual athlete) attracted a lot of attention from locals, who would often stop the team for pictures. The friendliness of the Italians took the players by pleasant surprise.
Nysier Brooks (a.k.a. Nas) took the camera and with a little help, captured everything the Canes got up to today in Rome. pic.twitter.com/nzesYb56tZ— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) August 12, 2019
August 12: Game in Rome against Stella Azzurra Academy, 6 p.m CET/Noon EDT*
Squad putting on a show in l̶a̶y̶u̶p̶ dunk lines pic.twitter.com/ek74RH6gPX— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) August 12, 2019
August 13: Travel Day (Rome to Florence)
One of the biggest off-court highlights occurred in Florence, where the team visited the original and flagship Gucci store.
While the shop gave the players an opportunity to take home high-end souvenirs at a significant discount compared to prices back home, finding an item in the right size was impossible for some of the taller guys.
August 14: Game in Montecatini Terme against BC Šilute, 7 p.m. CET/1 p.m. EDT*
August 15: Leaning Tower of Pisa
August 16: Travel Day (Florence to Como)
The boat ride on Lake Como was another player favorite, with the team taking in the picturesque mountains and homes overlooking the water. Star Wars enthusiasts on the squad noted that Lake Como was a backdrop for the series’ second episode.
August 17: Game in Costa Masnaga against LCC International University, 7 p.m. CET/ 1 p.m. EDT*
Showtime Canes lead LCC Int’l University, 50-35 at the half.— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) August 17, 2019
Wong: 13 Pts
McGusty & Vasiljevic: 9 Pts
Lykes: 8 Pts pic.twitter.com/tWcZ6IRglK
August 18: Return to Miami
*CET is Italy’s time zone. Miami runs on EDT
Men’s Game Recaps
The Hurricanes played three games during their trip. Each of the opponents were European squads, presenting a unique challenge compared to what players are used to finding stateside.
“While guys (in the US) are more athletic, the guys overseas can shoot a lot better. One to five, they all can shoot. They (overseas teams) are very fundamental. They run their sets perfectly,” said McGusty.
UM did not hold a practice on the east side of the Atlantic Ocean, but they got 10 practices in at the Watsco Center before embarking.
Opponent: Stella Azzurra Academy
Where: Rome’s Arena Altero Felici
Result: 73-69 Win
The first game of the tour didn't look like it was going to end in the Hurricanes’ favor, down four points in the fourth quarter after leading by as much as 20. It took an 11-3 game-ending run to defeat the globally prestigious Stella Azzurra Academy. The final UM scoring surge was just one run in a game with plenty of them, with Miami taking a halftime lead behind a 19-0 surge just before halftime. Stella Azzura’s 19-6 run in the final quarter would set up the Canes’ game-winning answer.
Although this was an exhibition game, it was the first time incoming freshmen Walker, Harlond Beverly, and Isaiah Wong played as Hurricanes against any outside competition. McGusty—a transfer from Oklahoma—also logged his first unofficial UM minutes. He did so playing against his former Sooner teammate Khadeem Lattin, who found his way to Europe after playing at OU. McGusty enters his junior year after sitting out the 2018-19 season.
“It was fun to get back on the court,” said McGusty. “It was great to be able to represent the University of Miami.”
For Walker, the first time on the floor with teammates in a game situation matched the anticipation.
“Being around my teammates for a couple of months before allowed me to build a great relationship with them,” said Walker.
DJ Vasiljevic led Miami in points with 20. Chris Lykes and McGusty followed with 13 each. Sam Waardenburg and Rodney Miller both led UM in rebounds with seven a piece.
Opponent: BC Šilute
Where: Montecatini Terme’s Pala Terme
Result: 105-75 Win
While in Florence, the Canes traveled 30 miles out of the Tuscan capital into the commune of Montecatini Terme for game two of the trip. BC Šilute—a professional team in the second division of the Lithuanian basketball system—looked like they were the ones heading to an easy win. Instead, Miami turned a 16-point deficit and the game upside down throughout the first and second half and ran away with a 30-point victory.
Miami puts up + to defeat BC Silute by 30.— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) August 14, 2019
Vasiljevic: 20 Pts | 6 Reb
Wong: 17 Pts | 7 Reb
McGusty: 16 Pts | 7 Reb | 7 Ast
Waardenburg: 10 Pts | 13 Reb pic.twitter.com/DrGRfBccpr
Vasiljevic once again led UM in points with 20. Wong meanwhile scored 17, and McGusty had 16. Waardenburg led Miami in rebounds with 13, while Nysier Brooks scored his first points in a Hurricane uniform on his way to six points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.
Opponent: LCC International University
Where: Palazzetto Costa Masnaga
Result: 81-61 Win
Miami put a bow tie on its trip to Italy with a win over LCC International University, the second game against Lithuanian competition. Stepping 15 miles out of the City of Como into Costa Masnaga, UM built an early lead and didn't look back, winning by 20.
That’s a wrap on in— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) August 17, 2019
Wong: 17 Pts | 4 Stl
McGusty: 13 Pts | 5 Reb
Miller: 12 Pts | 5 Reb
Walker: 11 Pts | 4 Stl pic.twitter.com/hFC3ga0Fbk
Four Canes reached double figures, led by Wong with 17 points. McGusty, Miller and Walker each had 13, 12 and 11 points respectively. Waardenburg again led in rebounds with ten.
While no trip can last forever, the memories never go away. Whether it’s going through museums, haggling with street vendors, drowning a piece of bread in olive oil, or simply playing Fortnite in the hotel together at night, the trip is certain to help team chemistry down the road.
“Just being around each other for that long and being that close, we now know each other in the back of our heads. We all have the same goal when it comes to basketball and it’s going to impact us positively,” said Walker. “I just want to publicly thank the coaching staff for taking us.”
Stay tuned for a recap of the womens’ team trip.