On Monday, July 31, Tennessee’s men’s basketball program will begin its trip to Italy to compete in three scrimmages ahead of the upcoming season.
This comes a month after the Lady Vols took a similar trip that took them to Italy and Greece.
While the Vols will stay within Italy’s confines, they plan to spend 10 days abroad while mixing basketball and sightseeing. A boat tour of Lake Como, a tour of the Florence Cathedral (Duomo) and breaks at the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum and Vatican City are all on the agenda.
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In terms of basketball, Tennessee will face the Lithuanian U21 National Team in Florence on Aug. 4 and 5 and wrap up the trip with a match against Italian club team A.S. Stella Azzura on Aug. 7. The games will air on FloSports but a subscription will be required to gain access.
The over week-long trip serves multiple purposes for Rick Barnes’ Tennessee squad. Not only is it an award for the team’s hard work thus far, but it also will give them valuable experience.
This will help the team this year as they will play tough competition and also the players on an individual level. Plenty of college basketball players continue their career overseas and getting exposed to the culture while in school could be beneficial.
“I think when you go on these trips, it is as much to reward these guys for a commitment to us and give them an experience,” said Barnes. “As you know, they all want to be professional basketball players. Some of them have been to different countries. You can think about the guys we have had here that are playing overseas, I think it is a great time to get exposure to a different country and to people that will see them, as well, realize there is a vast world out there.
“There are a lot of basketball opportunities around the world. As much as I like would like them to, and they would like to, play in the NBA, it is difficult. We have had some guys, I could name and sit here for an hour naming guys that have gone abroad and done extremely well. With this team, we’ve been going at each other here all summer. Going out and playing a couple games over there is a good thing but it is more than just games on this trip.”
This isn’t Barnes’ first time leaving the country with his team, though. The last trip came in 2017 as the Vols took to Spain and France while posting a 3-0 record.
Currently, the Vols hold a 19-7 record in scrimmages played overseas. They haven’t lost a match of this type since 2007.
Barnes also prides himself on finding talent from outside of America. Last year, Santiago Vescovi, Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic all came from outside the states. Quentin Diboundje, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander and Ray Kasongo all also played for Barnes at Tennessee with backgrounds outside the United States.
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Due to this familiarity outside of America on the recruiting trail, Barnes loves taking these trips. He also has a large amount of respect for the style of basketball played in Europe.
“We have been there. We have recruited so much in Europe through my career as a head coach,” said Barnes. “I started recruiting back in the early 90s because it is something we latched onto and we feel good about it. I love it. I love going there. I think their brand of basketball is great. I remember back in the day, we would play exhibition games and European teams would come over whether it be a national team or whatever. Back then, they played the exact opposite of what American teams did. They exposed you. They were playing the way that the NBA has become today, spread offense and always talking about help defense. They took great advantage of help defense back then.
“Looking back on it, I am really amazed it took all of us college coaches, and even pro coaches to an extent, so long to adjust to what they were doing because they way they play has always been so difficult to guard. Now, a lot of people are just spreading people out and it has become a positionless game in some ways. The fact is, it is fun seeing different styles. I love it. Every chance I get, I will watch European basketball. I think they have great concepts.”
Now, Tennessee will hope to use the team bonding experience to build into a successful 2023-24 campaign.
The Vols will kick off the season at home against Tennessee Tech on Nov. 6 with high expectations after reaching the Sweet 16 the year prior.