Just before the last time Arizona played a foreign exhibition game back in 2012, the Wildcats took off for a little jet-skiing in the Bahamas.
Then, hours later, something occurred to UA basketball operations director Ryan Reynolds.
“I’m not sure,” Reynolds said, “but I think the same guy who rented us jet skis played against us that night.”
And why not? Scraping up opponents for college teams on summertime exhibition tours isn’t always easy, since most pro teams around the world are out of season and, besides, the talent level in the Bahamas appeared to be a little on the thin side.
On that trip, the first foreign tour the Wildcats took under coach Sean Miller, the UA beat the “Real Deal Shockers” 136-76 and the “Bahamas All-Stars” 99-57.
That might compare to an experience Lute Olson’s final Wildcats team had in British Columbia during Labor Day weekend of 2006.
While that team managed to play four exhibition games against legit Canadian college teams, an opponent hyperbolically named the “Vancouver All-Stars” featured players with different colored jerseys and a shooting guard who designated himself as No. 1 by strolling on the court with a single, vertical strip of duct tape on his back.
That guy shot 0-for-6 in the first half. Arizona won the game 106-78.
UA’s three opponents this week in Spain, starting with “Combinado Valenciano” on Sunday, should be more competitive thanks to a stronger pool of local talent and organizing help from the Basketball Travelers outfit. Arizona is expected to face plenty of mid- and lower-level pro players, though it won’t be anything like the high-level ACB teams, one of which former UA guard Kyle Fogg played for last season.
ACB teams “would lose by 25 or 30 to an NBA team but crush good NCAA teams,” says Erik Evans, Basketball Travelers’ VP of events. “Then they’d probably be better than or right in there with a top-five NCAA team.”
ACB players won’t return until late summer to begin training for next season. As a result, Basketball Travelers and other team organizers are forced to find the best players possible wherever they can. In some cases, executive director Nels Hawkinson says, teams are even imported from Eastern European countries to play games in Italy or Spain.
Basketball Travelers is organizing the trips and opponents of 48 college teams taking foreign trips this summer, including Oregon State’s trip next week in which the Beavers will visit Barcelona, Valencia, Granada and Malaga.
Evans said he doesn’t know yet exactly which players will show up for UA’s games in Valencia and Mataro, but that he’s hoping for at least one or two high-level players and maybe four or five from a lower-tier pro team.
“We have a contract over there to try to get the best available players,” Evans said.
But in any case, they won’t be finely tuned teams so much as collections of players who have been quickly meshed together.
That may be why the name of UA’s opponent Sunday can literally be translated into “Combined Players from Valencia” and their next opponent will be the “Mataro All-Stars,” a game to be played Aug. 16 about 30 miles up the coast from Barcelona. “Mataro Parc Boet” will be UA’s final opponent.
There’s a pretty good chance UA will return home with an easy three wins, but that’s secondary for Miller.
“I don’t know what the competition is going to be like, but I don’t even think that’s our end game,” Miller said. “If we play a great team and we lose, or we play a bad team and win by a lot, that’s not the purpose.
“The purpose is to get the camaraderie, build the familiarity with each other, in these (pre-trip) practices and then the trip. And we have a lot of players who haven’t been to Europe, quite a few who haven’t been to Spain, so from a cultural experience, it will be an opportunity for them to learn and see a place they would normally not have a chance to see.”
The opponents probably won’t see UA at its best, either. Miller said he has only about “50-60 percent” of his offense in place, mostly using the 10 allowed practices before the trip to go over concepts that are certain to be used in the upcoming season.
“With that, the repetitions we get in practice, and everything we talk and learn about on the trip, will have carryover,” Miller said. “When we rejoin each other in the fall and begin the practice after the trip that we can almost pick up where we left off as opposed to than reinventing something.
“But as often is the case, you learn more about your team when you’re around them and maybe some things that we think are true maybe aren’t. That’s the value of a trip like this: You learn a lot about the value of what you have.”
- All three of UA’s games in Spain will be streamed live on Flohoops.com. The games start at 10 a.m. Sunday against Combinado Valenciano, at 10:10 a.m. Wednesday against the Mataro All-Stars and at 10:10 a.m. on Aug. 18, against Mataro Parc Boet. A $30 monthly subscription is required to access Flohoops, which also features a number of high school and special basketball events.
- Four-star Florida forward Nassir Little has included Arizona on his list of finalists, along with Miami, Duke, North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
- The Wildcats have offered a scholarship to 2018 Massachusetts stretch forward Nate Laszewski, whose strong play in July earned a number of high-major offers.