This year, the St. John's men's basketball team is taking advantage of the NCAA rule that allows a team to take one out-of-season foreign tour every four years. This tour comes with 10 additional practice days, and coaches love additional practice days.
The perk of getting to travel, for the players, is definitely worth it. Even if they don't get totally obliterated like Mike-broham and Chuckwagon in the side photo (not their real names, I don't know those dudes).
Three teams played in Cancun in 2007 in August and September - John Pelphrey's Arkansas Razorbacks, Scott Drew's Baylor Bears, and Jeff Lebo's Auburn Tigers.
Let's look at what was written about each of their trips to get a better sense of why a college ball team takes time out to travel to Mexico for a couple of basketball games.
HOW IT WORKS
From the Baylor Bears' official site, on their trip last summer:
"Our basketball team is very excited to get a head start on the season," head coach Scott Drew said.
"This will be a great opportunity to gel and a great learning experience for our team to visit a foreign country and have a chance to see some of the world."
Per NCAA rules, schools can take one foreign tour every four years and are allowed 10 additional practice days. Baylor will begin practice Monday; because the trip begins after the start of classes the entire roster is eligible to travel.
If they could, college coaches would practice year-round. Ten practices at the beginning of the year really are a boon to both the team and the coach; those first few games won't be spent drilling in the defensive and offensive wrinkles that coach is trying to impart. For the Red Storm, it will be important to get the team to mesh. The player mix will be different without:
- Eugene Lawrence to take the last-second shots and run the offense at his pace. He tended to be slow and deliberate, bleeding the shot clock, and he kept the less-quick guards in front of him. Boothe will be similar, but is quicker and was not a good shooter last year;
- and Larry Wright's outside shooting. His role will likely go to Paris Horne (who has a different game and is a different kind of finisher) and Quincy Roberts, who is a freshman.
WHAT'S THE BENEFIT?
From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article on both Baylor and the Arkansas Razorbacks:
"Everyone agrees the 10 practices are priceless," said Baylor Coach Scott Drew, who brought the Bears to Cancun over the weekend as well. "That’s the big thing, and then the reward is getting to come here and play the games."
"I’d be concerned right now if we were two weeks into preparation for our first game. We’re not ready," [Arkansas Coach John] Pelphrey said. "But [the early practices and exhibition games ] really gives us a chance to make some progress heading into the fall.
"I think this trip was incredibly beneficial. Coming down here and playing the games, sometimes it’s good for the guys to be able to see that maybe we’re not as organized as they think and we’ve got to be more of a basketball team." In addition to the team getting more playing time together on the court, a foreign trip can have a strong effect on team chemistry.
Arkansas' score against the Pioneros is reflective of a talent difference between the teams they played, but also because of a pair of injuries and team rules violations by Patrick Beverley and Marcus Britt, who sat out the first game. But the Razorbacks felt the benefit, bonding on and off the court.
WHO THEY PLAYED
From above Baylor article, the scheduled games:
Baylor play[ed] two games, the first against Selecciones de Belize Sept. 1, at 6:30 p.m. CDT. In game two, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m., the Bears play[ed] the Quintana Roo Pioneros of Mexico's Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional (LNBP).
Auburn, who went on their Cancun trip in August, (meaning that only returning players could travel) had the following schedule, with diversions such as trips to Tulum (pictured left):
Auburn will play three games against teams in the Mexican Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional beginning Thursday vs. Quintana Roo Pioneros followed by Selection Quintana Roo Friday and a second game vs. Quintana Roo Pioneros Saturday.
As for Arkansas and new coach John Pelphrey (from above Democrat-Gazette article):
The Razorbacks were in Cancun less than 48 hours, but they stayed long enough to sweep their exhibition games, beating a local pro team, the Quintana Roo Pioneros, 60-57 on Saturday night and the Belize national team 108-37 on Sunday night.
THE QUALITY OF COMPETITION
From Baylor's newspaper, the Lariat:
Both teams [the Bears faced], according to head coach Scott Drew, are "equivalent to a mid-major program in the States." But he said the trip has less to do with the opponents and more to do with settling the team's emerging chemistry.
"For us it was a great time from the standpoint that we now have a veteran team," said Drew, who led the Bears to a 14-15 record last season. "At the same time, we want to get these young guys caught up to speed.
"It's an advantage. That's why you're only allowed to do it one out of every four years."
The Mexican league teams can be found here. Try a Google translator, gringos.
WHAT ELSE WILL THE PLAYERS BE UP TO?
The Auburn Tigers took in some sights - specifically the Mayan ruins at Tulum.
Meanwhile, Baylor's men's team got their party on and videotaped it. The leisurely moments are between :57 and 1:46:
From, ah, earlier incidents, I don't know that the Johnnies will be out and partying. And videotaping it. Sore subject right there.
The Red Storm players are already on campus, joined by the freshmen, who are getting to know their teammates. They are working out and playing in pick up games, hoping to rebound from last year's dismal results.
The trip to Cancun will definitely help a team that seemed to take a while to get on the same page - when should Kennedy be aggressive? Where should Boothe put the ball to get his guys in the right position? Where can Burrell pass to when caught in a double team? What does the team look like with Rob Thomas on the floor?
With Boothe on the court as a different type of guard, I hope to see more ball movement from the squad, and more practice time helps build an understanding of tendencies and habits. So enjoy Cancun, players.
* For your information, final results for last year's teams:
Arkansas 23-12, 9-7 SEC
Auburn 14-16, 4-12 SEC
Baylor 21-11, 9-7 Big XII