UGA hoops team brushes up on Italian

ATHENS, Ga. -- Not only has Brandon Morris been practicing to become a college basketball player since he arrived on Georgia’s campus last month, he has also taken time to sharpen his international etiquette.

The freshman forward and his new teammates leave for Italy on Friday and they’ve already received some basic instructions on the differences between Italian and American culture.

“It’s a certain way you’ve got to go eat in restaurants, like a way you’ve got to hold your fork, a way you’ve got to place things,” Morris said.

The NCAA permits college basketball programs to make such a trip every four years and Bulldogs coach Mark Fox targeted this summer as an opportune time because of the youth on his roster. Morris is one of four UGA freshmen and five sophomores -- including returning starters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the team’s top returning scorer, and Nemanja Djurisic -- all of whom will benefit greatly from the 10 practice days leading up to the trip and the three exhibition games they will play while in Italy.

“I think the trip really for us began with the practices,” Fox said. “We started being able to really practice with this team and see what they can do so I think without question we see it as a business trip and as an educational trip. They’ll certainly have some chances to do some fun things, too.”

The Bulldogs will face two Italian all-star teams and a Lithuanian team in the exhibitions, with Fox serving as an assistant coach and allowing each of his assistants to be head coach in a game apiece.

And sandwiched between the games on Aug. 6, 8 and 11 will be a great deal of sightseeing for the Bulldogs. Their itinerary features stops in 10 different sites including Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Vatican City and Cortona, where UGA operates a study abroad campus.

“I know when I got the list of the cities, I went on Google so I could see the images and see what I’m going to be seeing,” said forward Donte Williams, who instead of saying there is a site he is particularly excited to see, replied, “Not really. I’ve got the whole trip circled.”

The trip represents several Georgia players’ first opportunity to visit another country, allowing for the memorable cultural opportunities that Fox referenced -- such as visits to the leaning tower of Pisa, Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence, the Coliseum in Rome or the Sistine Chapel.

But Fox also referred to the Bulldogs’ European vacation as a “business trip,” indicating that his team must make good use of the extra practice and game time to become a better-prepared team by the time the regular season arrives in November.

The exhibitions will allow Georgia’s coaches to experiment with players at different positions, like Sherrard Brantley at small forward and Caldwell-Pope at point guard. But most of all, the trip helps the coaches continue to work with the newcomers and get them ready to contribute as early as possible.

“Kentavious, I love him, but he’s not playing 40 minutes a game,” Fox predicted of the Italian exhibitions. “I know what he can do.”