Both Illinois State basketball teams will soon be traveling to Italy in preparation for the upcoming season.
The 11-day trips are intended to be part basketball and part culture. Both teams will play three exhibition games and take in some of the sites, including the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and Roman Colosseum.
Women's coach Kristen Gillespie's team will play three exhibition games and will visit the Vatican and the Roman Colosseum.
“For a lot of our players, this is going to be a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we are going to try to jam pack as much culture and different things like that so when they come back they will have memories that last a lifetime,” Gillespie said.
ISU men's coach Dan Muller said the biggest part of the trip is team bonding.
“When you go overseas, two things; a lot of people don’t speak English, so you are forced to come together because you’ve got to hang together,” Muller said. “The second part is a lot of times, no cell phones; it costs a lot of money to be on that phone all day,”
Redbird players and coaches acknowledge they won't know the language or have use for their cell phones, but ISU junior Matt Chastain who went on an overseas basketball trip as a freshman at Loyola, said it's not that bad.
“Once you are over there, you forget about friends back home or your phone or social media because that stuff doesn’t really matter,” Chastain said. “You just take off with your friends.”
Senior guard TeTe Maggett said that time as teammates pays off when they get on the floor.
“The team bonding with the new players, just really getting to know everybody getting closer with our teammates so when we actually get a chance to play basketball, we’ll be closer,” Maggett said.
Coaches like the overseas trips because they are allowed to hold 10 extra practices in preparation for the season.
The men look ahead to a season of uncertainly after graduating four seniors, including top scorers Milik Yarbrough and Phil Fayne, from a team which finished a disappointing 17-16.
“Last year was my most difficult year personally as a head coach because I thought we were furthest away from our potential,” Muller said. “That was hard for me to take.”
Muller said last year’s team simply didn’t compete hard enough.
“We didn’t handle adversity well enough, so what can I do better, what should I have done better to help our guys when they get to those situations?” Muller asked of himself.
He hopes the addition of five new players who are excepted to return from injury or have gained eligibility after transferring will give the team a new identity.
The ISU women’s team is looking to build on Gillespie’s first two seasons which have shown significant improvement. ISU finished 19-12 last season and advanced to the Missouri Valley Conference Championship game.
“I absolutely love the team we have this year,” she said. “As a coach, you know early on how special this group can be. I think we have a chance just because of how close they already are and I know those 10 days it’s just going to get us closer.”
The NCAA allows teams to travel overseas every four years.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in Central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.