Hoop Dawgs prep for 'bellissimo' summer

MACON, Ga. -- When he arrived at the University of Georgia, Mark Fox circled the summer of 2012 as the ideal time to take his Bulldogs basketball team on an NCAA-permitted summer tour.

Because of the leadership turnover on his roster, the Bulldogs’ nine-day trip to Italy in August will be particularly valuable as a team-building exercise. Georgia’s four new signees -- Kenny Gaines, Brandon Morris, Charles Mann and Houston Kessler -- will even be allowed to join the team in Italy, so the practice and game time allotted before and during the trip will give the Bulldogs a head start in preparing for life without departed guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware.

“We thought this might be the time to go,” Fox said Tuesday at the UGA Day gathering in Macon. “It’s unfortunate that it’s an Olympic year, but it’s a perfect time for our team to go because we had a lot of young guys that played a lot last year. We return all those guys, and we’ve got a lot of new, young faces. It’ll give all those guys a chance to jell, figure out who the leader is on the court and get used to each other.”

Sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic would have missed the trip had he decided to compete for the national team of his home country, Montenegro. Djurisic was a member of the national team several times as a junior player, but decided the timing was not right for him to join the team this summer.

“He had an opportunity to, but just felt like the time commitment was just too great,” Fox said. “He was going to have to be gone for nearly two months and he just didn’t feel like that was the wisest thing to do. So he’ll hope to play for them again later.”

The NCAA permits a basketball program to take such a trip every four years, allowing teams to practice 10 times leading up to the trip.

The Bulldogs’ window for such an excursion is fairly narrow, so they will travel in the space between the end of summer session and the start of fall classes, Aug. 3-12. They will fly into Milan and travel south to Rome over the course of the trip before flying home. Included in the trip will be a stop at the UGA Studies Abroad campus in Cortona, Fox said.

“We’ll get 10 days to practice prior to the trip, get to travel together, get to know each other, play a few games over there, have a couple practices over there,” Fox said. “It should give us a head start on next year.”

Fox estimated that planning for the trip is 85 percent complete. The final piece will be to set up the Bulldogs’ Italian exhibition games. The London Olympics create a scheduling obstacle, as basketball competition there runs between July 29 and the gold medal game Aug. 12, directly overlapping with the time the Bulldogs will be in Europe.

But putting together a game schedule is almost secondary to the other useful elements of the trip -- most importantly the practice time that will enable the signees to get an early start.

“The year we can go, the best year for our team to go, happens to be an Olympic year and the gold medal game’s Aug. 12, I think,” Fox said. “So putting the games together is going to be the most difficult part and it’s always the last piece that they put together. But everything else, we know where we’re starting. We know what route we’re going to take through the country and where we’re finishing. But they’ll set the games up as the final piece.”