Pitt basketball team hungry to bond during preseason trip to Italy
When Jeff Capel’s Pitt basketball team begins its nine-day, five-city tour of Italy on Monday, he wants to learn about that nation’s people, their culture and ancient architecture.
There also will be time for hoops, with his team playing three games against European players who are beyond college age and will test the Panthers’ physicality.
But it’s also a chance to sample “the food, the wine” of Italy, Capel said with a smile.
Added sophomore guard Xavier Johnson: “I heard the food is really, really good.”
Perhaps guard Ryan Murphy summed up the trip best, when he said it’s a chance to “have fun, hang out, win some games.”
Capel is accustomed to taking trips with his teams. When he was at Duke, he visited the White House and Fort Bragg (N.C.).
As coach at VCU and Oklahoma, he took his players to England and Vancouver, British Columbia. Last year’s Pitt team went to Washington, D.C.
The trip to England was a fulfillment of a promise he made to Nick George, one of his players at VCU who was born in Manchester.
“When I recruited him, I told him I’d get him home,” Capel said.
Such close relationships are what Capel is trying to build with and among his current team. Pitt returns only five regulars from last season, including Kene Chukwuka, who might be out until at least January after hip surgery. There are seven players who played elsewhere last season.
“We’re not a team right now. We’re just a group of guys,” returning junior center Terrell Brown said. “We need to become a team, come the season. That’s what this trip is really about.
“I feel like the core guys, we’re familiar with each other and we would like everybody else to buy in. It took us time last year. I feel like with this group we can do it faster.”
Capel thought about taking a trip last summer, but it was too soon after he was hired in March. This year, with so many new faces, the bonding every team needs to develop will be facilitated by traveling together.
As an example, for safety’s sake, Brown said the players have been told to travel in pairs.
“To me,” Capel said, “it gives us an opportunity to see if things, with our returning guys that we tried to work on since April, where are we with those things? How can we incorporate those with real-life game situations?
“What does the team look like right now? Who are we right now? What are the strengths? What are the things we’re not so good at?
“When we get back, we have a chance to evaluate where we are.”
The trip has allowed Capel to schedule 10 practices this summer, beyond the NCAA-mandated four hours of week coaches normally can work with their teams. It also gives players a chance to compete against someone other than teammates.
“Players get tired of playing against each other,” Capel said. “For (coaches), it’s a chance to see, for our new guys, how long can they play before they get tired. What are the rotations like? How do you react to a whistle, not just our coaching whistles in practice?
“What do you do when someone is really coming after you? We’re going to be playing against men, grown men.”
The travel party will visit five Italian cities: Rome, Florence, Bologna, Vicenza and Venice. They will see the Colosseum, Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, visit food and leather markets in Florence and take a walking culinary tour of Bologna.
They will play games against The Netherlands National B team, Florence All-Stars and the Vicenza All-Stars.
Duquesne and West Virginia have scheduled similar trips this month to The Bahamas and Spain, respectively.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .