SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah women’s basketball team arrived in Italy Saturday for an opportunity that is about more than stats and scoreboards.
“I think part of the purpose of being in college is to educate yourself in all sorts of ways,” said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts as she prepared for the team’s penultimate practice Thursday before they left for a 10-day trip that will take them to Rome, Florence, Venice and Como. “And certainly traveling to a foreign country and learning a different culture and seeing the history that you just don’t get to see in the United States is important. The cultural experience is really important.”
While the Utes have three games planned during the trip, Roberts said benefits to the program and players go far beyond what can be measured on a stat sheet or seen on game film.
First, the team gets 10 summer practices in preparation of the trip. That’s especially valuable to the Utes this season as they have five newly signed freshmen and a new walk-on joining a solid core of players led by seniors Emily Potter and Tanaeya Boclair.
“It’s definitely been different because this is the first time we’ve had an offseason like this,” Potter said. “Usually it’s just two hours a week with coaches and then strength and conditioning, so I think it’s been beneficial for the new girls and the returners to get familiar with each other quicker and kind of just thrown into the fire and see how we do.”
Roberts has taken teams on foreign offseason trips before, and she said there are a number of ancillary benefits, in addition to the games.
“There is the team chemistry, where the kids are not on their phones all the time,” Roberts said. “It kind of cinches the group up in a totally different way. And then, thirdly, the basketball side of it.”
The biggest benefit is the extra practices.
“We get to really work on stuff,” Roberts said. “Once we get over there, we’ll lace them up and compete, but you know it’s not outcome (focused). Everyone will play.”
The practices, the games and the time together will give coaches advantages that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“When you don’t do a foreign tour, you don’t get to see what they’re capable of until it counts,” she said. “It’s like a springboard for the season. You just have an ability for a head start. … It’s just a great springboard into the season so we can be way more strategic and intentional with workouts. It sets you up to just kind of be ahead of the game.”
Potter said the players are thrilled with the opportunity, and while she’s had the chance to travel with the Canadian National Team, some players have never been out of the country.
The players each gave a presentation at a team dinner Friday night that gave the group insight and information about the places they’d be visiting and the history they’d be discussing.
Still, Potter said, at the core of everything they do is basketball. And nothing feels better to a player than to compete — even if it technically doesn’t count.
“We’re just kind of showing up to play, but it’s nice to have a game in August when the last time we played was in March,” she said. “So, yes, obviously it’s going to be super nice to have a real game with referees, and it’s something to just look forward to instead of having to wait until November.”