Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Como And Then Home

The Panthers have returned to Milwaukee, with an extremely long travel day wrapping up at the Pavilion about 5 p.m. Milwaukee time. The team actually left the hotel in Como at 4 a.m. Italy time, with a 6:45 flight from Milan to Rome followed by the 10-hour flight home to O'Hare. Throw in the bus ride back, and the Panthers were in transit for a good 20 hours today. Everyone should sleep well tonight.

We still owe you a wrap up of the stay in Como, which included a ballgame Monday night. The Panthers again found themselves in a nice little gym for the contest. It was actually located right in the middle of a residential area near the Milan Malpensa International Airport.

That game wasn't close on the court, as the Panthers cruised to a 117-61 victory. But, as is often the case overseas, the home team is just happy to have gotten the chance to play a team from the U.S.

Tuesday sent the Panthers on a tour of Lake Como. The boat tour took the team past all of the fabulous villas up and down the coast. The density of the housing is amazing, as in many of the spots where one villa went up, a lot went up. Some of the villas do have amazing privacy, but so many others are stacked one on top of another.

For many, the highlight of seeing the villas on the tour is the chance to see where some of the most famous people stay when visiting Como. George Clooney (top) and Richard Branson (bottom) are two regulars in the area.

The boat tour eventually took the Panthers to Bellagio, a famous village located along the shore of Lake Como. The village has some hotels and plenty of shopping.

The Panthers showed plenty of good teamwork on the court, but in Bellagio on Tuesday morning Tony Meier and Kyle Kelm team up to handle a big gelato cone.

One of the day's optional activities was a tram ride up one of the mountains for an overhead view of Como and the other communities surrounding the lake. I'm guessing if you have some issues with heights or don't like tight spaces, this trip up and down might not be for you.

Once up the tram, the views were great, just as you would expect. It was a combination of hazy and cloudy Tuesday, but you can still see the density of the city of Como tucked between some of the mountains.

In the end, I think most of the guys made the trip up to the top. Perhaps this group - including Tone Boyle, Ryan Haggerty, Chad Boudreau and Ronnie Jones - is reconsidering the trip down.

Tuesday's team dinner brought the Panthers yet another menu of unique food items. The antipasto included a great variety of meats, including a roast beef filled with creamy cheese. The four-cheese risotto was quite popular, and then chilled chicken and beef entrees followed. Fabio told everyone to be generous with the olive oil on the meat, and those that followed the instructions got the full flavor - literally - of these popular local dishes.

Fabio even got a cake for the guys for their final night on Como. Here he is with the team and the owner of the restaurant.

And so the Panthers' tour of Italy came to a close. What a fabulous 10 days it was, on and off the basketball court. We will be uploading more photos and a little more video for you over the next week or two, so be sure to check the Italy page of the main site for some of that. And, as I mentioned yesterday, I'll have final stats from the trip up shortly, as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Quick Goodbye

I will post a full report with pictures on our day in Como once we return to the States, but as we pack our bags and get ready to leave for the airport in a few hours, I did want to check in with just a couple of things.

First, the day is Como was very nice. Everyone enjoyed the boat tour and a free afternoon to see the city. It seemed most of the guys were busy trying to wrap up some final souvenir shopping, and many were found wandering around with one last pizza or gelato cone.

There was also one last team dinner tonight. Fabio actually said this was one of his favorite restaurants and the food did not disappoint. He made sure the menu was different every time, and was representative of the area we were in. This time, there were cold chicken and beef entrees, plus salad, antipasto and cheese risotto. Again, it seemed popular. And the restaurant even made a special cake with a Panther logo on it to help us wrap up our trip to Italy.

Finally, the team gave Fabio a special gift for his efforts - an autographed pair of size 18 shoes courtesy of Mitchell Carter. Cool, cool idea by the guys, and we were all happy to sign. A big thumbs up to Fabio, who just might have been convinced to come and visit Milwaukee this year.

For now, thanks for following during this trip. But again, check back later this week for a full travelogue from Como. And, I'll be uploading a ton of pictures from the trip once we are back, and I'll post some photo galleries. I should also have some final overall and game stats to add to the website, too, so look for those. And, it will be November before we know it.

Reactions From Game #4 In Italy

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Day In Venice

Sunday's day of touring sent the Panthers into Venice, another of those once-in-a-lifetime spots. It was well worth the three-hour postgame drive Saturday, and with touring starting at 11 am there was a little extra time for everyone to get some rest.

There's only one way into Venice, and that is by boat. So, our bus dropped us at the terminal and off we went to our watercraft to take us into Venice. While this part of the trip isn't intended to be a scenic tour, there was no shortage of sites to see as we toured our way in. That had all of the guys gazing outward to get their views and pictures.

Our trip over on the boat also provided the perfect opportunity to give you a face to put to the oft-referred-to name ... Fabio. When he is talking to us on the bus, it's hard to get a good shot. And, when we are touring around, he is often in the background trying to make sure no one gets lost. But on the boat over, Fabio took the mic to tell us all about what we would be seeing, and thus we got the perfect shot.

There's always time for a team photo on these stops, this time right along the waterfront as we get the day underway.

One of the first things we did as a full group was to get a glass blowing demonstration, as Venice is well known for its glass. The demonstration was truly remarkable, with the whole process of creating a glass statue taking mere moments. As you can see, the team was mesmerized by the process. Admittedly most everything in the store was a little pricey for this group, but it was very kind of them to let us see the demonstration.

There was also a full group walking tour of the main square and Cathedral. But there was also plenty of time for wandering. Of course, Venice means boats and canals.

Some of the players also decided to use some of their time to ride one of the famous gondolas. But we didn't let them take the first boat so we could get this picture of them waiting patiently. (And see Fabio hanging in the background so no one is left behind).

The team also enjoyed dinner along the water in Venice. The menu was seafood this time, appropriate for the region. The seafood salad included octopus, and it seemed like most everyone tried it. The seafood risotto was a favorite. And, how can you go wrong with fried shrimp and fried calamari?

After dinner was complete, it was time to head back to the bus. So, yes, it meant another boat ride. This time, everyone loaded into three water taxis to get the true scenic ride back out the main canal. This 30-40 minute ride was the perfect way to wrap up the day.

Monday led the Panthers back on the road, this time with a rather lengthy four-hour drive from Venice to Como via Milan. There was another snack and restroom stop at the AutoGrill, and the movie choice was Alexander The Great. But I think sleep was in order for some of the trip, too, knowing a game awaited.

There was some time in Como Monday afternoon for eating and wandering, but the main day of touring comes Tuesday. There's a boat tour, a stop at Bellagio and then an afternoon for everyone to explore on their own. The final team meal of the trip is also tomorrow night, and the trip home begins very, very early Wednesday morning.

Italy Game #4 - Live Blog

Reactions To Game #3 In Italy

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Women's Soccer Live Blog - Aug. 22 @ #4 Notre Dame

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More Of Italy In Pictures

The last two days for the Panthers have involved a lot of time in a bus and plenty of basketball. Friday, the trip from Florence to Pisa was about 90 minutes, with two hours alloted for seeing the tower and checking out the small town. Indeed, the tower does lean.

Only some of us went to the top of the tower - 300-something steps worth and yes, even the steps lean. The guys did have a game that night, so they stayed at ground level and bought some souvenirs while eating something for pregame. The view from the top was quite nice, though, and well worth the trip up. If you don't like heights or have bad balance, I would not recommend this trip up.

Even though we were only in Pisa for a short time, we did get a quick tour from Carlotta. I think I surprised her by taking her picture. Bringing her up does remind me that every time we tell someone from Milwaukee they say "Ahhhh, Happy Days!" Carlotta sounded like she was a big fan of The Fonz when she was a kid.

From Pisa it was on to a 45-minute drive to Liverno for Friday's game. Livorno is a city of about 160,000 situated on the shores of the Ligurian Sea. We did get to see the waterfront a bit on our way into town, where we also got to see the candidates for Miss Livorno being driven around town in convertibles. For those that followed the live blog during the game, you also know those same candidates came to the game for the second half. What none of you know is that those were the people that presented the exchange of gifts to our guys after the game. We do have some video of that we'll get up at some point. Here was the gym in Livorno.

The trip back to Florence after the game Friday night was about 90 minutes, and then some did a little last-minute shopping Saturday morning before an 11:30 a.m. departure for Forli. Fabio warned us the trip to Forli could be filled with traffic, and he was not kidding. It was slow moving much of the way as we climbed up and up. At least that did allow for the chance to get some decent pictures while we were slowed or stopped on the bus. It is beautiful countryside.

The drive did flatten out once we got to Bologna, looking a little more like driving through rural Illinois or Indiana.

There was also a big traffic jam at one point thanks to a car with a flat tire in the right lane. And, if the scenery wasn't your thing, Million Dollar Baby was the movie choice, after Fabio gave the group a reminder about Clint Eastwood's history in the Spaghetti Westerns made in Italy.

In the end, the group rolled into Forli about 2:30 p.m., with a pregame meal waiting at a local hotel. The meal of pasta and chicken (hey, did they check our menu for regular season pregame?) was provided by the local club, and doing it at a hotel allowed some space in the lobby for the guys to relax before we headed to the gym.

By now, you probably know it was a very good game and Panthers pulled out the win. From there, it was back on the bus for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Venice, which was in the dark and looked like any other nighttime interstate drive. We did watch Blues Brothers on the drive, though. Did anyone on the bus ever think they would be sitting on a bus heading toward Venice watching Blues Brothers? Arrival into Mestre, just across from Venice, came just before 11 p.m. and everyone went scrambling to find a little food before wrapping up for the night.

A full day of touring Venice awaits tomorrow, as the group leaves by boat at 11 a.m.

Live Blog - Italy Game #3 Milwaukee vs. Forli

Reflections On Game #2 In Italy

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections On Game #1 In Italy

Italy - Game #2 Live Blog

Women's Soccer Live Blog - Aug. 20 @ Ohio State

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Experiencing Florence

Wednesday morning the Panthers rose early to get on the bus and head to Florence. We were actually on the road by 8:30 a.m. – impressive promptness – and the movie Gladiator was thrown in the DVD player. So, everyone could either watch that after our visit to the Colosseum or observe the rather amazing scenery outside the bus windows.

The trip itself was on what we would know as an interstate highway. There was even a stop halfway at the AutoGrill to use the restroom and get some snacks. The bus itself had no bathroom on board, and I think we’d all say the seats were a little tight when it came to the legroom. But otherwise it was the same kind of bus we’d have on a regular season road trip. The ride itself was full of the ups and downs of the Italian countryside. Some steep grades, some tunnels and some amazing views. Most amazing, I would say, are the towns literally built into the sides of the hills. I guess California would be our most apt comparison as you have so many homes there built onto hillsides. But this was well beyond that. I suppose you could spend days traversing into each of them on your way between Rome and Florence.

Little time was wasted after we pulled into Florence about 1 p.m. Everyone went their own way for lunch and then our walking tour of the main sites of the city started at 2. That trip took us first to the Accademia Gallery, famous for being the home of Michelangelo’s David. Indeed, it was another thing the group probably never thought they would see in person, yet there we all were nearly at its foot. It is a strikingly large sculpture – ole Michelangelo certainly kept himself busy back in the day – and no pictures are allowed. There is actually a small barrier around it, too, as I guess someone did some damage to it some years ago and they decided full access probably wasn’t a good idea.

It should be noted, too, that the trip to the Gallery was another reminder of how EVERYONE notices this group of bigger guys here. There were even some autographs signed on this day, and there have been more than a few requests for pictures with some of the biggest guys – big Mitch and Q are usually the most popular.

From the Accademia Gallery it was on to a parade of churches, most notably the Cathedral here in Florence. It is known for its dome but the entire structure is amazing. The sheer size, the architectural detail on every part – it is a striking landmark in the middle of this city. Another stop on the walking tour was the Ponte Vecchio, better known as the Old Bridge.

After what turned into a two-and-a-half hour tour, it was time to give everyone a few hours of free time to explore or rest up. Another team dinner followed, and again the entire grouped seemed to enjoy it. Fabio certainly has the hookups for all of the hot spots in Italy.

What are we eating at these team meals? Well both have includes your typical antipasto selection of Italian meats, joined by grilled veggies the first time and pate tonight (not sure if the guys knew one of them was chicken liver - not a favorite among the staff at my table, but everyone finished). There has also been a pasta course – carbonara the first night with lasagna and pesto ravioli tonight. Then, a main course – saltimbocca the first night and a steak prepared Florentine-style tonight. Finally dessert, with tiramisu the first night and gelato with fresh fruit these evening. Not bad at all. Fabio has two more team meals set up, including a fish dinner along the sea in Venice on Sunday night.

I think everyone will have a fair amount of the day tomorrow on their own. It sounds like Pisa is on the way to our game tomorrow night, so I believe the Leaning Tower will be a stop on the way. Then it is a very late game – 9 p.m. local time if the other team shows up on time – so Saturday morning might involve a little sleeping in before traveling to the next game on Saturday.

We should have more video here at some point soon, and there are some great pictures. I’ll try to upload a few more at some point, but we should have some great photo galleries upon our return, too.

More Of Italy In Pictures

The Panthers have certainly been busy learning plenty of things away from basketball, but this trip includes basketball learning, too. Before Wednesday's game, the team gathered in a meeting room at the hotel in Rome to review play calls and other game details. In this case, assistant coach Duffy Conroy is reviewing some of the offensive plays.

The gym the Panthers played in Wednesday night was nice for a small club. I don't think I pointed it out on the live blog, but the only fans there were the people traveling with us. I suspect that might be different in a couple of the smaller towns we're headed to for games.

The two teams posed for a picture after Wednesday night's game. Obviously no hard feelings after the 84-50 Milwaukee win.

Our trip to Florence included a stop at the AutoGrill.

The Panthers got right to sightseeing in Florence, waiting here to get into the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo's David.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Reactions To Italy

Vatican Video

Game #1 - Live Blog

Let's Talk Basketball

Much of this blog will continue to be about things besides basketball, and even when we talk hoops it will probably be in a fluffy, feature-like sense. Say grading the officials, perhaps. But, before we get started on any games over here in Italy, let’s get down to some real basketball talk.

Here are five things I’ll be watching for in Italy, in no particular order.

#1 – The ‘4’ Spot – Arguably this is the most competitive spot for the Panthers’ starting five. Tony Meier? Ryan Haggerty? Kyle Kelm? Go small and go with Ryan Allen? The answer is probably a combination of guys depending on the matchups, but just having four guys that could all play gives you an indication of the competition. And, I didn’t even throw in some minutes from Christian Wolf or a super-big lineup with Anthony Hill and Mitchell Carter on the floor at the same time. Jobs will not be won or lost in four foreign-tour games, but I know every guy on that list is eager to show what they can do. And there are plenty of options, many of which bring something different to the table.

#2 – Pace Of Play – Some of this will be forced because of the 24-second shot clock here in Europe, but there is little doubt the Panthers want to play faster in 2010-11. Why not? With a host of guards, great depth overall and a number of guys that can really shoot it in transition, the Panthers look like a team that could really score points in bunches. But, trying to do it and doing it successfully – picking the right quick shots and not throwing the ball into the balcony – might involve a pretty big learning curve. When you get past some of that learning, though, you have freshman Evan Richard scoring 10 points in a two-minute span of a scrimmage during practice this past week in Milwaukee. How much of that will we see here? It will probably come in fits and spurts, but that’s exactly what this trip is for.

#3 - Tone Boyle – Honestly, I am 100 percent confident Tone is completely back. He gives no indications of any physical issues on the court, nor does he speak of any at any time off the court. But it is possible – as I talked with him about before the trip – that getting in actual games on this trip could be the perfect way to get him truly back in the groove. So, while I won’t draw many conclusions if he misses a few shots, I will be watching him to see that he feels good and is comfortable and confident to begin his senior season. I go into these games fully expecting a positive answer on this front.

#4 – Kaylon Williams – I just want to see him play in a game. His teams have consistently been the best in practice, whether he is with the first team, the second team or a mix therein. He will be UWM’s point guard come Oct. 15 (I’m allowed to give away starting jobs now), but of course everyone has a lot of work to do between now and then. All of this expectation heaped on him won’t be easy to handle, and in the long run it will probably take Kaylon some time and a few turnovers to truly settle in. But the Panthers have a “true” point guard to run their offense – and to guard on the other end – and I can’t wait to watch.

#5 – In Your Face Defense – I almost didn’t put this on the list because, honestly, it is hard to know what you learn about your defense with a 24-second shot clock in exhibition games. But, if Kaylon Williams, Ryan Allen and Jerard Ajami all make their way to the floor at the same time, they will be completely locked down on the other team’s guards and/or small forwards. The Panthers have options for guarding in the backcourt now, and that will be extremely helpful come January and February in a guard—oriented league. So I hope that comes out at least a little bit here, perhaps to the dismay of a few opponents that would like some easy shots. C’mon, I have to mention defense, right?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Italy Day Two

Another day of touring Rome is in the books for the Panthers, who just wrapped up a team dinner down the road from the hotel. While everyone had time to do their own thing this afternoon, the traveling group got the once-in-a-lifetime experience of touring Vatican City this morning.

The tour started with the museum, where people lined up early in the morning to buy tickets. But, groups with reservations speed by those lines, so everyone was inside in good order. Our second Italian guide, Flavia, again led the way with all of the details, everyone listening intently on their radio transmitters.

I don’t know if anyone in the group really knew what to expect. I mean, everyone has heard of the Vatican and everyone has seen the Pope on TV, but how often do you truly consider the incredible things that lie inside the smallest nation in the world? Yes, that’s right, the Vatican is its own sovereign state, with its own laws, police, embassies, etc.

I’m not here to write an Italy guidebook, so I will spare you all of the minute details on everything we saw in the museum. But, perhaps the most striking and memorable things were the tapestries. The three-dimensional qualities of the work make it seem as though some of the subjects and items are moving as you move. So, a subject might be looking “at you” when you approach from one side, and then still be looking “at you” even once you are to the other side. Not sure that’s the best explanation, but I’ve never seen anything like it.

From the museum you head into the Sistine Chapel. I couldn't find the words to do it justice, but it is perhaps the most amazing thing I have ever been inside. Flavia actually explained what we would see in advance as guides aren’t allowed to talk in the Chapel, but even she couldn’t prepare us for what we would see. Michelangelo worked some four years painting in the Chapel, creating some of his most memorable works. You don’t have to appreciate art – or religion – to realize you are staring at something incredible.

The team also spent a fair amount of time in St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church. And, of course, out in St. Peter’s Square as the tour wound down.

You can read more about the Vatican Museum here.

It is also important to stress just how into this tour the entire group was. Our friends from Basketball Travelers said that sometimes teams will fly through the Vatican without really soaking it in. But, with the players stopping at every turn to take pictures in the museum, then clearly taken aback by the amazingness of the Sistine Chapel and finally checking out every corner of St. Peter’s Basilica, it was clear the Panthers were soaking in a famous spot many probably never thought they would see.

Attention will slowly shift to basketball tonight with the first game of the tour set for tomorrow night against Lombardia. We’re only about 30 minutes or so away from the gym, so there will be some time for on-your-own touring tomorrow. But, I’d guess a fair amount of the guys may get off their feet at some point and get ready for some game action.

A few other notes … Big Kudos to Fabio, who hounded Alitalia and got my bag delivered. I won’t have to rock the white t-shirt for a second day … Fabio also gets a shout-out for tonight’s team meal. No one walked away hungry … Wake-up calls were a little sporadic this morning they were ordered for 7 a.m. for everyone but some came as early as 5:30. I think a few others never came. But, the breakfast that awaited at 7 was solid, and may have everyone out of bed by 7 tomorrow morning.

I will have a basketball-related posting for you in the morning, Italy time, with five things to watch for in the four games of this trip. We also have been taking some videos but I don’t know that we’ll be able to get a strong enough and length enough internet connection to get them uploaded. If we do stumble into that, we’ll get them to you. Otherwise, we’ll get them up upon our return to the States.

Panthers At The Vatican

We're back at the hotel after a full tour of Vatican City. I'll put together a full report on something that may well be the highlight of the trip, but in the mean time here are a few photos from this morning.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Italy - Day One

The first full day for the Panthers in Italy is in the books.

First, let me get the bag news out of the way – there is none. But all credit to Fabio for bugging Alitalia all day long about where it is at. Hopefully it comes on the flight from Chicago in the morning. I did get a snappy white t-shirt from Alitalia for my troubles.

The flight itself was relatively uneventful. The dinner meal involved a choice between beef and fish, which brought up a few “Airplane!” comments among those of us that are a tad bit older. I will note that those of us that had the fish had no troubles, unlike those on that fateful, Ted Striker-led flight. But, there were plenty of other “Airplane!”-related jokes on the rest of the flight and throughout the first day of the trip.

Now, on to the touring, and a full day it was, especially when you consider a lot of the group was operating on just a couple of hours of sleep. Fabio actually met us in baggage claim, and then once we passed out through customs, Craig Jonas and Cal White of Basketball Travelers also joined us. We were on the bus for only about 30 minutes – with the first blog post and tweets coming about 15 minutes into that journey – until reaching the city center. From there, another guide hopped on board to give the group a guided tour of Rome as we tooled about the city on the bus.

Eventually, we all got off the bus at the Colosseum and, after 15 minutes of wandering outside for pictures, our group headed in and received a guided tour of the awe-inspiring ancient monument. While I don’t think any of us are signing up for gladiator duty any time soon, you can certainly see how a crowd of 73,000 Romans cheering and jeering might spur you into action. It truly was a “sports” stadium centuries before its time.

Our tour continued on foot to the Roman Forum and the City Square. It is hard not to be struck but the sheer amount of ruins that are “maintained” in the middle of the city. While you don’t have any truly modern buildings next to the Colosseum or anything like that, these ruins are situated within a few blocks of what I am sure are nice condos/apartments with decent views of those ruins from a fifth or sixth floor. It’s hard to say you even have a feel for it after just one day, but the city truly blends the very, very old with the semi-new or new.

Lunch saw the group split up in three or four directions, all pointed out by Fabio. He made sure to tell the group that Italy is the country of “slow food.” So, if you sit down in a restaurant and you’re hoping to be in and out in 30 or 45 minutes, forget it. Instead, look for “snack bars” or sandwich stands and grab your lunch from there. So, we all did just that, with most of the group sampling some kind of pasta or sandwich for our first official meal in Italy.

The team did then get a chance to check into the hotel and catch a quick cat-nap, though much of the group followed Craig and Cal to the local grocery store about five blocks away to buy water, fruit, bread, snacks, etc, for those in-between meal times. You can’t forget these guys will be playing four basketball games, and it is unlikely on those days that three meals will cut it.

The late afternoon and evening brought about a trip to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, both accessible via an underground walk from our hotel. Despite the fact it was optional and will be a likely stop on Wednesday, about half the team made the walking trek to a pair of popular tourist attractions. Those visits led to dinner, with no shortage of choices from the snack bars to the sit-down restaurants. As advertised, though, if you want to eat for real you need to be prepared to shell out a few euros.

Vatican City awaits Tuesday in what promises to be one of the biggest highlights of the trip. I’ll have a full report with photos and more tomorrow.

Hello Italy

Just a quick post to say hello from Italy.

The flight from O'Hare was uneventful and it seems most everyone got at least a little bit of sleep. I think it is safe to say that the excitement of arrival in Italy will keep everyone awake most of the day.

Italy is seven hours ahead of Milwaukee, so our arrival was just before 8 am and we just got on the bus moments ago, a little after 9 am. On our way in from the airport, we're getting a full preview of the day from our Italian tour guide, Fabio.

We're headed to the city center of Rome to begin our touring, with check-in to the hotel slated for later today. So, check back for a full report later today.

And, oh yes, no lost bags except for one - mine.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

First Stop - O'Hare

Well, the Panthers have made it as far as O’Hare Airport in Chicago and are now awaiting departure to Rome. The traveling group left plenty early from campus and got to the airport in time to help the Alitalia staff set up the rope lines and signage for check-in.

The early arrival did benefit the tallest members of the group. Exit row seats were assigned - before the check-in was officially open - to the “really tall guys” the agents noticed hovering around the counter. That being said, somehow we wound up not being the first in line when actual check-in started.

We also had the chance to make friends with a few of the other especially-early arrivals, giving us a few extra tips on what to look for and enjoy in Italy. When you travel in a big, obvious group like we do, it is easy to make a lot of friends along the way.

Waiting in an airport with a large group usually means settling in to a food court, and that's exactly what the team did after check-in. At O'Hare's International Terminal, there's just a few choices and all pre-security, so it gave a few a chance for that last-chance McDonald's stop. Others went with the slightly more eclectic options like Chicago-style hot dogs or deli sandwiches.

The flight to Rome is slated for over nine hours, with a planned-for 8:05 a.m. Italy time arrival. For most of the players this will be their first trip overseas, and thus their first flight of this length. Hopefully they are ready for it, as well as the full day of touring on Monday after only sporadic midair sleep. The group is certainly plenty excited, and judging by the baggage in tow everyone followed instructions and packed wisely.

I am hopeful of getting an update online after we get through customs and get on the bus at the airport, but that will be only if technology works as planned. But, whenever that technology does get settled in, we’ll have regular updates in a variety of ways throughout the trip. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Previewing Italy With Anthony Hill

Anthony Hill is back for his fourth and final season with the Panthers. A Milwaukee native, Hill appears poised for a big year after finishing up the second half of last season as UWM's most consistent offensive threat.

As you'll hear Hill discuss with me, he has put together two great halves of seasons - the first half of his sophomore year and the second half of last season. He's sounds ready to put that all together this year, and seems all but locked into the starting five spot.

Check out our interview above.

Previewing Italy With Jerard Ajami

Jerard Ajami is back for his third season in Milwaukee. Remember he sat out the 2008-09 season as a transfer and then started every game last season.

Ajami is part of a very deep backcourt for the Panthers. Even if UWM uses three or four guards at a given time, the list of guys fighting for that playing time likely numbers seven or even eight deep.

Check out our interview with him above.

Previewing Italy With Tone Boyle

Tone Boyle is definitely excited to be getting back on the court in a competitive environment after sitting out the 2009-10 season with a back injury.

Boyle actually returned to practice late in last season and says he's been feeling good all spring and summer as the clock ticks down to the start of his senior season.

Boyle was an all-league performer in 08-09, and there is no reason to think he can't return to that level in 10-11. Check out the interview with him above.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

James Wright Talks Overseas Trips

Former UWM standout James Wright went on the Panthers' last overseas trip in 2003. UWM Assistant AD LeVar Ridgeway helped me out by catching up with James at the Banner Boys Charity Game last Friday to get his thoughts on how a preseason foreign trip can be a big benefit during the regular season.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Italy In The Classroom

While the Panthers have been busy in the practice gym getting ready for the on-court portion of their trip to Italy, the team gathered Tuesday morning in the athletics classroom for a little Italy 101.

UWM's Vice Chancellor for Partnerships and Innovation Dr. Joan Prince spoke to the team about her many experiences in Italy - clearly one of her favorite places in the world - and what simply can't be missed in Rome, Florence, Venice, Lake Como or points in between. Dr. Prince, a longtime supporter of athletics, also filled our full travel group in about the ins and outs of travel and customs in Italy.

The meeting also included UWM's Center for International Education, providing even more insights on overseas travel, especially for student groups. The topics covered included everything from being a good representative of the University to watching out for pickpockets in crowded spaces. There were also good discussions about conversions - the monetary kind and the electrical kind. If the lessons were heard, everyone now knows how the Euro compares to the U.S. Dollar and to not plug your electric razor (or curling iron in Dr. Joan's example) into a non-converted plug.

It was actually a lot to throw at the team in about 75 minutes, especially when many of them have not traveled overseas and might now be a little overwhelmed. (We'll do a survey on that front when we're sitting at the airport). But, for those of us who have been over, once you settle in and adjust to a few simple things, it's not much different than existing in any other big city. They'll pick up on that part soon enough.

Back on the court, the Panthers went through a spirited workout in the heat of the UWM Pavilion Tuesday afternoon. The team will take Wednesday off and then get back to work Thursday, Friday and Saturday before departure on Sunday.

Rules Of Engagement

During practices this week in a steamy and overheated Pavilion on the UWM campus, the Panthers are busy adjusting to the rules of international basketball.

We received a nice, handy summary sheet on the rules differences from Basketball Travelers, the group organizing the trip. Among the highlights to note …

- Four, 10-minute periods instead of two, 20-minute halves - This has an impact on the game mainly through the bonus situation, which gives you two free throws on and after the fifth foul of every period.

- A 24-second shot clock instead of a 35-second shot clock – Even for a team looking to play faster with Kaylon Williams at the point and a number of guards running the wings, 24 seconds is a remarkably short amount of time to run anything short of a quick-hitter.

- Eight seconds to get the ball across halfcourt instead of 10 – In the preseason, and in what will likely be some hot gymnasiums in Italy, I wouldn’t expect to see a ton of full-court pressure. This rule is likely more something you could get caught napping on if you forget about it, rather than seeing a press that will cause a ton of eight-second violation turnovers.

- The three-point line sits at 20’ 6” instead of 20’ 9” – a very small difference, obviously.

There are also some differences in calling timeouts and making substitutions, and in the international game you can also touch the ball in the cylinder. Plus, there is the trapezoid lane, which usually serves to spread the floor and could wind up giving the Panthers some good room to work offensively.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Panthers Far From Alone In Making Foreign Trips This Year

This is the time of year a number of college teams are making preparations for a preseason trip overseas. I would not even attempt to make a comprehensive list, but in addition to teams making close-by journeys to Canada (Kennesaw State) and Mexico (Valparaiso), a number of other schools are sending teams across the Atlantic to various spots in Europe.

In fact, George Mason and Northwestern look like they are following nearly the identical itinerary the Panthers have set up. Mason actually lands in Italy just a couple of days after we do, while Northwestern's trip is a little later because school there doesn't start right away in early September. Oregon is also headed to Italy, while Pitt is making a trip to Ireland.

Michigan is actually making a trip that sounds similar to what the Panthers did in 2003, going to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. I actually talked to someone from the Ann Arbor News yesterday about the value of these trips on and off the court and he said the folks at Michigan are quite fired up to get a head start on their season. And, as he noted, everyone seems to be especially excited at Michigan because of the added value of getting your new players on the court on these trips, too.

Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but just a few examples. And, there are still more teams that actually took their foreign trips in May, once school was complete. The Bucknell men and Villanova women are two examples that went to Italy just a couple of months ago. You might the insights and observations from those trips interesting - another way to shed some light on what the Panthers' trip will be like.

You can find coverage of the Bucknell trip here and a blog about the Villanova women's trip to Italy is here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An Overview Of The Italy Blog

The Panthers trip to Italy is now less than two weeks away, so it seemed like a good time to post a first blog entry and get the coverage officially started.

If you have been checking the main site over the summer, you have probably already read the overview of the trip, as well as a report as the Panthers completed their first summer practices in mid-July. Today, I added the schedule of games, the remaining practice schedule and news of the new page on the main site where you can find all of the Italy links.

One place that page will lead you is here - the Verizon Wireless Blog Zone. Throughout the trip, I'll post written entries, interviews and insights from the trip. Some will be basketball related, but most will not, and almost all of them will involve observations and insights about or from the players and coaches.

I should also have no troubles posting photos throughout the trip. I hope to post plenty of video, too, but that will likely depend on the quality of the internet connection in our various ports of call. We'll have video, though, even if some of it can't be posted until we return.

Finally, my biggest hope is to be able to do a live blog from each of our four games. I think I have a line on some wireless internet capabilities while in Italy, but not knowing quality of signal or facilities, I can't make that promise. But, if all goes well, you will be able to follow the game online as we go.

Regardless, you'll be able to stay completed connected to the Panthers even while we're a half world away.

I will tag every blog entry about the trip "Italy" so you can find them easily. In fact, the dedicated link from the Italian Job page on the main site will go right to the list of entries tagged Italy. I'll also do a fair amount of links to individual entries.

To get the momentum rolling, I'll be sure to have some additional entries over the next few weeks. And, there will be more preview coverage on the main site, as well, with practices restarting next week.