On Friday, I discussed the importance of the foreign trips that some teams take during the offseason. These trips really benefit the players both as people and students. We examined the major programs that took trips and how they did on the court. Today, let's take a look at how mid-major programs did on their offseason foreign trips.
Sophomore Eric Fanning led the Terriers in scoring on their trip to Italy. John Papale and Cedric Hankerson played well, according to coach Joe Jones, who also praised the play of junior forwards Justin Alston and Nate Dieudonne. Jones said he split up the point guard duties vacated by Maurice Watson (transferred to Creighton) with a committee that includes Hankerson, Eric Johnson, Cheddi Mosely and Cam Curry.
The Bison went to Belgium, France and Switzerland way back in May. Coach Dave Paulsen said he prefers that timing so his players won’t be burnt out after returning in August. Junior guard Chris Hass averaged 28 PPG and has a chance to be a dynamic scorer. Paulsen and the Bison visited Normandy on Memorial Day weekend, and the coach called it “transforming” for the entire group.
Chattanooga won all three games on its trip to the Bahamas, and was without its top returnee, Casey Jones, and Ronrico White; both were held out for precautionary reasons because of hip injuries. Coach Will Wade said that 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Chuck Ester, a junior college transfer who has three years left, was the leading rebounder.
“I had no idea how good he was,” Wade said. “He only averaged eight points and four rebounds in junior college.” Wade, a former Shaka Smart assistant, stressed how athletic this group is and said the Mocs will press plenty this year. He also said the perimeter shooting will be better with the addition of Ester and two transfers -- Justin Tuoyo (VCU) and Tre’ McLean (Queens College). Don’t be shocked if Tuoyo and McLean both wind up starting.
Dartmouth went to Italy and played without Gabas Maldunas, who suffered a torn ACL in January and is on track to return sometime in December. Alex Mitola won two Player of the Game awards while John Golden earned one. Kevin Crescenzi and Brandon McDonnell both played as though they will be ready to make jumps in their junior campaigns. Oh yeah, coach Paul Cormier added about 10 pounds on the nine-day trip.
Standout Damion Lee, who missed all but five games last season, did not play on the team’s trip to China for precautionary reasons. Bruiser Flint said that Lee, who averaged 13 points before suffering a torn ACL, is cleared to play full-speed. Tavon Allen got hit in the head in the second game and sat out the rest of the trip. The standouts were 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Rodney Williams and a pair of freshmen: guard Rashann London and forward Tyshawn Miles.
The Colonels went to Australia and went 1-3, but coach Jeff Neubauer said that the competition -- teams from Australia's National Basketball League -- was difficult and that EKU lost two last-second contests. Corey Walden averaged 20 points per game and made quality decisions on ball screens. Timmy Knipp, who was a reserve role player last season, averaged 16 PPG and shot well from beyond the FIBA arc. The Colonels did more than just play games -- they also went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef and did an "Amazing Race"-type scavenger hunt through Sydney.
Coach Tom Pecora said two freshmen stood out on the trip to Canada; the team won all four games. Eric Paschall scored 36 points against Brookwood and is a lock to start this season, while 6-foot-7 forward Christian Sengfelder of Germany also played well. Ryan Canty (back) didn’t play and won’t return until December, while Manny Suarez (shoulder) also didn’t play but should return next month.
The Patriots won all three games in Spain, and coach Paul Hewitt said that former Top 100 player Erik Copes is in the best shape of his life and just needs to stay healthy. Marquise Moore (knee) and Eric Lockett (partially torn quad) didn’t play, and freshman Therence Mayimba still hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA, but Moore and Lockett should be back for the start of practice.
Junior college transfer Shevon Thompson, a left-handed big man from the junior college ranks, also played well. “He’s an old-fashioned throwback who rebounds, blocks shots and makes jump hooks,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt also said that Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal, who sat out last season, has dropped about 10 pounds and can score in a variety of ways.
Coach Ron Hunter sat former Louisville guard Kevin Ware for the first game of the trip to Costa Rica, and then early in the second contest Ware went in for a layup and was clipped from behind.
“He hit the wall, went down, stayed down for a little bit, and the entire team froze,” Hunter said. “I was scared to death when he didn’t move at first -- but then he got up and sprinted back.” Hunter said that Ware played 30 minutes the last three games and had 17 steals. Hunter said he also used the trip as a chemistry builder -- especially for his son, R.J. (a junior guard), senior guard Ryan Harrow and Ware, a redshirt junior. Hunter said he’s had only three freshmen start in his 21 years as a head coach: His son, George Hill and Alex Young. Jeff Thomas, a 6-foot-5 shooter, will be the fourth.
“We stole one,” Hunter said. “He’s a big-time shooter who knows how to play. He’s an R.J. Hunter-clone. He shoots it more consistently, but R.J. has better range.” Thomas will likely play as an undersized power forward, which will allow Harrow and Ware to operate in space.
Coach John Gallagher and the Hawks went to Australia, and freshman John Carroll was terrific in the practices leading up to the trip. He wasn’t cleared until after the first two games of the trip because the arrival of his transcript was delayed, but he had 15 points and 10 boards in his first game after being cleared. This team is built around six seniors who have been in the program, but Carroll will make an immediate impact thanks to his physical play, motor and skill level. Gallagher said this team is deep and will have a healthy Nate Sikma, who missed a good portion of last season due to an ankle injury. Gallagher said point guard Yolonzo Moore is healthy and has displayed another gear that he hasn't shown the past 18 months. “He was also better with the ball in his hands and made good decisions,” Gallagher said.
New coach Jon Coffman said that standout big man Steve Forbes was terrific in the two games in which he got extensive playing time, but the coach tried to balance the minutes on the team’s trip to Canada. Coffman brought a “mental coach” with him to work on mental toughness and leadership training. Other players who stood out included junior forward Joe Reed, sophomore guard Mo Evans and senior guard Joe Edwards. The team went to a Blue Jays game, went paddleboarding on Wasaga Beach, went to Niagara Falls, and also toured the CN Tower.
Coach Jimmy Lallathin's Owls went 3-1 on their trip to Italy. The two standouts were sophomore forward Bernard Morena and junior guard Yonel Brown. Morena was extremely active on the glass while Brown made shots and led the team in assists on the tour. Transfers Damien Wilson (Memphis) and Kendrick Ray (Quinnipiac) did not play on the trip, but Lallathin is hopeful they will be cleared to play this season.
The Bulldogs went to the Bahamas, and coach Mike White finally had a healthy Raheem Appleby back. Appleby, the team’s leading scorer two seasons ago, missed most of league play last season and wasn’t 100 percent for the C-USA tourney with an ankle injury. “The highlight of the trip was Raheem getting his mojo back and gaining confidence,” White said. While Appleby played well, last year’s leading scorer -- junior guard Alex Hamilton -- sat out due to turf toe. White said Hamilton will be 100 percent for the start of practice. White has four core veterans back, but also has a group of nine new guys – including Murray State transfer Erik McCree. White said that two freshmen -- Xavian Stapleton and Qiydar Davis -- each averaged about 14 points per game on the trip. White also said he appreciates the officiating in C-USA even more after going to the Bahamas. “The officiating down there is horrendous,” he said.
Coach Sean Woods took the Eagles to the Bahamas -- and he was without four injured players. Bakari Turner is still recovering from the ACL he tore last November; starting center Billy Reader (shoulder) is close to 100 percent; and LSU transfer Jalen Courtney (knee) and Marcus Fuggins (dehydration) also sat out the trip. Woods said the surprise was the play of former UNLV forward Karam Mashour, who missed nearly all of last season with a back injury. Mashour averaged a double-double on the trip.
Coach Jack Murphy said that 6-foot-7 sophomore big man Ako Kaluna and 6-foot-9 junior post player Zach Reynolds were the two most consistent players on the trip to the Bahamas. Reynolds grabbed 15 boards in one game. Freshman Tate de Laveaga also played well on the trip. Starting guard Aaseem Dixon didn’t make the trip due to academics. The team played pool volleyball and softball on the beach, and Murphy said he “dominated everyone in pingpong” and wants a shot at me.
South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits were without Wisconsin transfer George Marshall, who becomes eligible after the first semester, for their trip to Brazil. Marshall went on a tour with college players to Europe to help shake off some of the rust. Jackrabbits coach Scott Nagy has nine players who haven’t played a minute of college ball, but 6-foot-4 junior Jake Bittle – who averaged 8.4 points last season -- was as impressive as anyone. Bittle is versatile and has added weight. Nagy & Co. went 3-1 on the trip.
St. Francis (Pa.)
Coach Rob Krimmel said that 6-foot-6 senior forward Earl Brown, who led the team in scoring last season (14.4 PPG), was a standout on the trip to France and Spain -- along with juniors Ben Millaud-Meunier and Ronnie Drinnon. Krimmel was impressed with his team’s ability to dig out of deficits, and was also happy with the way the players defended and rebounded.
Six-foot-10 big man Charles Jackson, who played at College of Southern Idaho last season, averaged a double-double on the trip to the Dominican Republic. The Golden Eagles played four games in the first three days -- and also did a couple of community service projects (give coach Steve Payne credit) -- before relaxing on the beach for the last four days and playing just one game in that span. They worked at a feeding station in Santiago, where they helped feed children from the area. They also ran a basketball camp at an outside court.
Coach Jerod Haase has nine newcomers and said that freshmen Chris Cokley and Nick Norton both stood out in Spain. The 6-foot-8 Cokley showed his explosiveness and has huge upside, while Norton is a point guard who can really shoot. The Blazers went 2-1 on the trip and were without a few players, including sophomore point guard Denzell Watts, who will be out another month or two with a torn pectoral muscle. Virginia Tech transfer Rob Brown was also solid on the trip.
Coach Howard Moore said the primary objective for the Flames' trip to Canada was to re-establish a defensive identity. He spent all 10 practices working heavily on defense (they allowed 72 points per game last year). In five games in Canada, the Flames held opponents to 35 percent shooting and 61 PPG. Junior guard Gabe Snider, who scored 90 points all of last season and averaged 3.0 PPG, scored 72 on the trip and led the team in scoring with 14 PPG. Senior forward Ahman Fells and junior forward Jake Wiegand made significant improvement from last season.
Coach John Becker lost a ton from a year ago, and he was without prized freshman Ernie Duncan (stress fracture), the projected starter at the point. Becker said Duncan should be good to go for this season, but another freshman point guard -- Trae Bell-Haynes -- took advantage.
“He was better than I thought,” Becker said. “He’s quick, athletic, explosive and super-cerebral.” Becker will contemplate starting them together in the backcourt. Becker also said that sophomore guard Dre Willis, who barely played last season, has improved his offensive skills to go along with the defense and toughness he’s already shown.
Coach Mike Young admitted that for his veteran team, which went to the NCAA tourney last season and returns just about everyone, the trip to Costa Rica was as much a reward as anything else.
“These guys are smart, savvy, high-character guys who just get it," Young said. "They make it easy for me and a lot of fun.” Young said that two players made strides from last season and will bolster the quality of the team's depth: junior forward Justin Gordon and sophomore guard Jaylen Allen. Young said he’d be shocked if this season's group doesn’t score with more regularity than last season's.
“We were unbelievable defensively last season,” he said. “But we didn’t score real well. If a couple of guys didn’t ring the bell, it was a tractor pull. This year, we have the ability to score a lot of points -- and a chance to still be special defensively.”