In more than 10,000 miles of travel through Italy, Slovenia and France, BYU's men's basketball team recorded two victories in five games and hundreds of memories.
"Basketball was the vehicle that allowed us many educational opportunities," said BYU Coach Roger Reid, who led an 11-player Cougar contingent along with coaches, administrators and boosters.Every four years the NCAA allows teams to travel to foreign countries, and approved BYU's itinerary.
Among the Cougar players were seven returned missionaries, three of whom are bilingual (Russell Larson, Spanish; Shawn Lindquist, Portuguese; and Kurt Christensen, French) and three of whom were able to bring their wives.
The Cougars enjoyed sacrament meetings in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Nice, France, conducted in hotels by Bishop Wallace Brown of the Brookstone Ward in the Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake. Bishop Brown and his wife, Pat, missed three of the five games as they journeyed to nearby Bormeo, Italy, where they did genealogical research and visited distant relatives. Originally the Cougars were to play in a tournament at Bormeo, but Sunday play precluded BYU's participation.
BYU's basketball team's presence led to referrals for the 20 missionaries and 60 members who reside in Slovenia, a country created from Yugoslavia. Among the Slovenians who played against BYU were two former teammates who played alongside Cougar All-American Kresimir Cosic, now the deputy ambassador to the United States for neighboring Croatia. BYU has had two former players with Slovenian-Croatia-Slavic connections: Misho Ostarcevic, now residing in Bountiful, Utah, and employed by the Church, while Mihovil "Nick" Nakic is now the director of the Croatia Basketball Federation.
Randy Reid, a 6-2 junior-to-be, and Russell Larson, a 6-11 senior-to-be, led BYU in the five Slovenian games averaging 13.8 and 13.2 points, respectively.
During the 16-day trip the Cougars toured Rome, Florence and Venice in Italy; Ljubljana, Polzela, Domzale, Bled, Postonja and Litija in Slovenia; and Nice and Paris in France. Among sites they visited were St. Peter's Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. They also visited the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Team members saw works by some of the world's greatest artists.
Atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris, forward Shawn Lindquist and manager Greg Jacobsen were interviewed by a Brazilian TV station in their missionary language of Portuguese.
The toughest competition for the Cougars was an 83-80 overtime loss to the Smelt Olimpija team, composed of many Slovenian National Team members. BYU will host the Slovenian Junior National Team in the Marriott Center in Provo on Nov. 19.
The tall Cougars were noticeable wherever they went, including a humorous incident at the Vatican. BYU's tour guide was interrupted by a fellow guide who relayed an Italian message that these tall people were blocking others' view of "Pieta," Michelangelo's statue portraying Mary cradling Jesus after the crucifixion.