The afternoon was supposed to be free and easy. Temperatures were in the low 80s, the sun was out, and the Arizona Wildcats had finished taking the morning’s scheduled tours of Barcelona.
It was the perfect time to get out and explore the city on their own, go wherever they want, see whatever they had yet to see, eat whatever they had yet to try.
“We gave our guys some free time, probably the most we had given them the entire trip because we were coming down the home stretch and wanted them to experience Barcelona in more of an unstructured way,” coach Sean Miller said. “It was an amazing afternoon.”
Then Aug. 17 became a terrible afternoon. At about 5 p.m., a van driver plowed through an area of Barcelona’s famed Las Ramblas, starting just five blocks from the Wildcats’ hotel, killing 13 people and injuring 120 others.
It was the worst time to be out exploring the city. Miller and his staff scrambled to find out if anyone part of the traveling party was in danger, a task complicated by the fact that not everybody had phones with international data and calling plans.
“If they weren’t on Wi-Fi, there wasn’t a way to get a hold of them,” said Ryan Reynolds, UA’s director of basketball operations. “You’re at the mercy of when everybody returned to the hotel.”
The Wildcats’ Pac-12 counterparts from Oregon State could view the atrocities from their hotel windows. But because the Beavers were gathering there for a pregame meal, they were able to quickly account for everyone.
The Wildcats instead had to wait until their players, staffers and families returned to the hotel, some having felt an especially acute panic. Arizona took three hours to confirm that its entire traveling party was accounted for and safe.
“We had a couple of players experience the flow of people running,” Miller told the Star on Wednesday from McKale Center. “Not necessarily like you were part of it as much as you could kind of sense something was wrong.”
Miller said none of the Wildcats were along the street where the van wreaked deadly damage, but the team’s Seattle-based tour guide and his family were. They spent five hours holed up in a supermarket, having seen the attack unfold and wondering if there was more to come.
Everyone wondered. In Barcelona and all over the world.
“It was very frightening,” Miller said. “When something like that happens, at first you worry about everybody. Hopefully you get through that first phase where everybody’s OK, and once you do, there’s so much going on that it’s almost as if you don’t completely recognize and realize what is happening.
“If you’re following it in the United States, you follow it almost like we’re following it, the difference being that we’re just down the street.”
The Wildcats stuck around Barcelona’s Hotel Majestic pretty much for the next 36 hours, having canceled their final exhibition on Aug. 18 but unable to move up their flights up by a day. Staffers had to make sure there was enough food while they waited, since many restaurants were closed in the wake of the attack.
“It wasn’t hard to keep them in the hotel,” Miller said. “It wasn’t like anyone was champing at the bit to get out of the hotel. Our guys did a great job of sticking together and doing what everybody was telling us.”
It made for a grim and empty end to the Wildcats’ 10-day trip to Spain, a trip that included two UA exhibition wins and a number of sightseeing tours in Valencia and Barcelona.
Maybe those good times will be remembered, too.
“It was a fun trip,” Miller said. “It was a trip where I think our guys got a lot of value in their own lives being able to see a country they might not ever see, taking tours that people might look at being once in a lifetime experience.
“And just the fellowship, the bonding, the team camaraderie that follows a trip like that. You’re just together a lot. That’s great, especially in the summer, because if we weren’t there we’d all be back in our respective hometowns.”
Saturday’s trip home was uneventful. A 10-hour flight across the Atlantic. Then five hours in Atlanta, clearing immigration and changing planes. And a final four-hour flight to Tucson.
Uneventful and boring. Which, at that point, of course, was good.
They had a day off on Sunday, and started classes on Monday.
For them, life went on.
Even if the Wildcats know now, more than ever, that it can be taken away in an instant.
“Once we got back, once the story was really out, (you think of) the aftermath of what happened,” Miller said. “You feel terrible, but at the same time, I think we feel very, very fortunate because it could have been a lot worse.
“We could have been the people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In some ways, we happened to be in the right place at the right time. So all things considered, I think we feel really good about being here.”
- Tests confirmed walk-on guard Kory Jones tore his left ACL during the UA’s Aug. 16 exhibition game in Mataro, Spain, and Miller said he will miss the season. Rawle Alkins (shoulder) and Emmanuel Akot (knee) were fine after Alkins missed the Aug. 16 game and Akot missed the second half.
- The Wildcats were the most popular choice of college coaches (40 percent) to be the best team in 2017-18, according to a CBS poll.
- Five-star big man Naz Reid of New Jersey announced his final two choices are LSU and Arizona. Reid has been considered an LSU lean but is a close friend of UA commit Jahvon Quinerly.