Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

DU men to hoop their way through Spain

Last Tuesday, the DU men’s basketball team traveled 5,010 miles on a family outing — to Spain.

“We’re all brothers. One team,” says senior forward Andrew Hooper. “It’s nice to have your family going there with you.”

Nice? If Hooper thinks the trip to Spain will be a lot of steamy nights and soft sangria in old Seville, he hasn’t been reading the itinerary. Head coach Joe Scott has lined up six no-nonsense, in-your-face hardwood games against solid Spanish pro teams with lots of international experience and a bevy of skilled players.

Taking them on will be anything but a walk in the parque.

“Coach Scott told us these top teams don’t usually play mid-division level colleges like us, they play majors,” Hooper says. “So, it’s a big thing for us, our school and our community.”

Pioneers basketball fans may not be familiar with teams like Cajasol Sevilla, Lagun Aro Gipuzkoa or Real Canoe, but they can be sure these squads are good enough to be looking at DU and asking, “Quien?”

Hooper  isn’t deterred. “This is our chance to get out there and show the world what we have to offer.”

Senior guard Kyle Lewis agrees: “It doesn’t matter what’s across the other team’s jersey. It’s about what’s on the front of our jersey. So it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We make teams play our pace and we do the things we want to do.”

A bit quicker, perhaps, since Spanish teams play with a 24-second shot clock instead of the 35 seconds DU is used to. Lewis thinks shooting sooner than usual will be “exciting,” though that may depend on how well the offense is moving the ball. Getting things to click this early is why the NCAA allows 10 days of practice before the trip, which the athletic association permits schools to take once every four years.

So, the team has been working hard in Hamilton Gymnasium, dusting off the cobwebs of summer, cranking up its defensive intensity and toughening up before the flight out. Hooper and Lewis have each suffered injuries, but they’re recovering and they say things are going well.

“It’s unbelievable what kind of shape this team is in from a physical standpoint,” Lewis says. “And mentally, everyone’s prepared every single day.”

Which may be an oblique way of saying that the coaching staff is hammering hard and the team is standing up to it. This year, the DU dozen has only one freshman, 6-foot, 6-inch forward Chris Udofia of Irving, Texas, so Scott hasn’t spent much time on preliminaries that the other 11 already know.

“We’re jumping right in,” senior forward Rob Lewis says. “We’re where we’d be in mid-November in August and that’s pretty cool.”

The trip to Spain will span 13 days and take the team to central Madrid, Barcelona, Andorra and San Sebastian, with plenty of sightseeing, culture and fun along the way. They’ll see el Greco paintings, centuries-old cathedrals, world-renowned architecture, pristine beaches, a Benedictine monastery, the French Pyrennes, the Guggenheim Museum and a winery near Bilbao.

“This is a huge bonding trip,” Hooper says. “It’s coach’s way of showing us that you put in three hard years of work and something will come back to you.”

It also helps make up for not being able to participate in the Cherrington Global Scholars study-abroad program because of basketball obligations, both players agree.

“It’s an exciting time for this team,” Kyle Lewis says. “A credit to the guys who helped build this program. It’s really rewarding to get to go to Spain with these guys and vacation a bit and work on our game. I’m just really excited.”

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