Overseas trips have spawned winners
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 8/9/2001

In the summer of 1998, the University of Connecticut team toured Israel. The following spring, the Huskies won the national championship.

Many of the players on that team said the seeds of team chemistry were built overseas, helping to fuel the title run.

Boston College has a similar story. Last summer the Eagles, who'd been a lousy 11-19 in 1999-2000, went to Europe. The Eagles played well overseas and built off that last season, going 27-5, winning the Big East championship, and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

As the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team gets set to depart for its 10-day trip to Greece, there are no guarantees that the Minutemen will experience success similar to their New England rivals. But there is some precedent for optimism.

Boston College coach Al Skinner and Dayton coach Oliver Purnell, who took his team to Australia in June, both considered their trips abroad very positive experiences.

"The cultural experience is tremendous," Purnell said. "It's a great opportunity any time you get 10 extra days to practice. Particularly in UMass' case, with a new coaching staff."

Skinner said the key is trying to get what you can, basketball-wise, without going overboard.

"Our purpose was to go out and play and ... have our players explore their games under some supervision," Skinner said. "We didn't try to do much. We kept it simple. It definitely helped us to start the season."

More than just a chance to play together, Purnell said Dayton's trip may have helped develop intangibles for his team.

"Those situations create leadership-type challenges, and I'm happy the way our team responded," he said. "Plus, it helps develop toughness. You're far from home. You're eating food you're not always comfortable with. The officiating is different. The style of play is different. If you're not tough enough, you'll get run over."

Coming off a difficult season, Skinner said the camaraderie his team developed went a long way.

"With us, guys realized they liked each other and things went well," Skinner said. "It can work the other way, too, if guys don't like each other. Other teams have done it and not necessarily experienced the same success that we did."

Both coaches said Lappas is on the right track in trying to make the trip a learning experience on and off the court.

"We tried to - especially on our off days - do something cultural together as a team," Skinner said. "The fact that the players got a chance to experience something they've never seen before made it all worth it."

Purnell was pleased with his players' interest in learning about Australia.

"The players wanted to be involved in experiencing things. We did a lot of sightseeing. We went to the (Sydney) Opera House and toured the prison system and some of the historic jails. We went to a wildlife preserve, and saw different type of wildlife."

The Minutemen are playing four games in 10 days, as well as seeing many of the famous Greek landmarks.

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