By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
A basketball trip to Italy appeals to Yvonne Sanchez’s New Mexico Lobos in several different ways. Of course, there is the bonding and the basketball. That’s the main thrust of this 10-day, four-game sojourn. However, there will be a few leisurely trips on the side.
The Lobos will be athletes. The Lobos will be tourists. The Lobos will eat gelato.
Coach Sanchez says the side trip she most looks forward to is visiting Vatican City which is located within the city of Rome. Sanchez is the head honcho. That trip probably will happen especially since the final two games will be played in Rome (Aug. 12-13) against the Netherlands National Team. UNM also will play two Italian teams on the four-game swing to Italian courts.
The side trip that junior point guard Bryce Owens is pushing at Sanchez might not happen. Owens wants to hit a water slide in Sicily that slices down the side of a cliff and dumps the sliders into the Mediterranean.
Yeah, you can bet Sanchez is just dying to see her 2014-15 team sliding down a cliff into a shark-infested body of water.
OK, there might not be any sharks, but we won’t hold our breath waiting for Instagram pictures from Italy of Owens jetting down that slide. We might get some shots of Owens at the Vatican.
Antiesha Brown says the slide isn’t high on her list because she can’t swim. The 5-10 Lobo says she’s looking forward to the trip to foreign soil, but also is looking forward to kicking some Italian rears.
“I would say just Italy in a whole,” said Brown what part of the trip most appeals to her. “I know I don’t have the money to go to Italy whenever I feel like it and especially play basketball.
“You get to see all these beautiful things and whup up on some Italians. All in all I think it will be a great trip.”
The Lobos leave Albuquerque Monday morning, have about a five-hour layover in Atlanta and then come down in the Malpensa Airport just outside of Milan. The Lobos will play four games on Italian soil, but also will have more time to practice.
The games obviously are a bonus for Sanchez’s Lobos, but the benefits aren’t simply from the competitive encounters. The NCAA allows college teams to make international trips every four years, but the NCAA also allows those teams extra practice sessions prior to the trip.
The Lobos still get to play ball in Italy, but they also have been playing ball in The Pit.
“The team bonding is huge for us,” said Sanchez.
Said Owens: “It will help us learn to play with each other.”
The preparation for the trip to Italy also introduced the Lobos to some new twists. The 3-point line is further back in international ball. “The first three days of practice, there were a lot of air balls,” said Sanchez.
The shot clock has less time on it (24 seconds) and the lane (paint) is wider. They also use a different ball in international games.
“The ball is so different. That’s what messed me up the most,” said Brown. “There is no traction. It’s a lighter ball. It’s a change. It’s a really big change.”
Brown does like the 24-second clock: “We’re so long and athletic. Bringing that faster pace helps us out so much.”
Sanchez plans to throw out a team in 2014-15 that is up-tempo and the trip to Italy – and the 10 extra team practice sessions prior to that trip – will help iron out some wrinkles. Italy will be fun, but maybe the real dividends will not be seen in August.
“I’m more excited about what it is going to do for us come November,” said Brown. “I think getting the freshmen in here and having them adjust to the college-paced game helped us out so much. It gives us a jump start.”
Lobo Notes: Sophomore forward Tori Henderson has been released from the UNM program. The transfer from Missouri State last year would have been eligible after the first semester of 2014-15 … The Lobos traveling party to Italy will be around 25 with most of the funding coming from the women’s basketball program. Coach Sanchez said the UNM two walk-ons, Maddie Muraida and Marissa Perry, will be in the travel party, but had to fund raise in order to make the trip.