Come next week a group of Americans visiting Europe will be a basketball team in name only.
They won’t practice basketball. Won’t talk basketball. Won’t strategize basketball.
Sure, the University of Toledo will play four basketball games, but this 11-day trip to Greece is designed to be more than a jump-start to a season studded with championship designs. The Rockets will bond over dinners and bus rides, immerse in historical culture, and even snorkel.
Games — and results — will be irrelevant.
“This trip is not about basketball,” coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We’re just going to play four games against really good players.”
The athletic benefit of the trip came here in Toledo, with Kowalczyk taking advantage of an NCAA rule and conducting nine of a possible 10 practices leading in to the trip. The team will leave Detroit on Monday and arrive in Athens the following morning, local time. Time in the air: About 11 hours.
It was Kowalczyk’s decision to tour Greece, choosing stops to Ancient Corinth, the Island Mykonos, and the citadel Acropolis over a pricier stay in Italy. The NCAA allows teams once every four years to take an international trip. The Toledo women’s basketball team visited Israel two summers ago.
“Seeing the other side of the world is a great experience,” guard Justin Drummond said. “A lot of people don’t get to do it for free. I’m ready for it, and I can’t wait to embrace it.”
Drummond, who will make his Rockets debut this season after sitting out last season, has agreed to provide daily updates to be published in The Blade.
The entire team plus support staff will make the trip, as will the two seniors on last year’s squad. Kowalczyk said he wanted to bring along Dominique Buckley and Brendon Schwiebert as acknowledgement of their helping the program to a share of the Mid-American Conference West division’s top record in a season undermined by NCAA penalties.
“I want to reward our guys for doing a great job under unbelievable adverse situations, and they were part of that team,” Kowalczyk said.
Not participating in games will be forwards Matt Smith and Angel Aparicio. Smith is rehabbing from a minor knee surgery that has sidelined him all summer, and Aparicio is likely out for the season with an ACL tear. Another forward, Rian Pearson, rejoined his teammates this week after spending the summer home in Kansas City.
The first two games, on Wednesday and Thursday in Loutraki, will be against all-star teams consisting of nearby professional players. A matchup the following Tuesday against a successful Athens team could stand as Toledo’s stiffest challenge. The finale will be the next day against a team from France that is being commissioned to play Vanderbilt in an exhibition. Vanderbilt, which is touring Athens, will foot the bill.
“The games will kind of tell us where we are as a team and how we’re meshing,” Drummond said.