Ciao Italy! Women's college hoops teams taking foreign trips
NEW YORK -- Italy is the popular destination for women's basketball teams this summer.
Nearly a dozen colleges are spending some time in Italy this month, including UConn, Texas, Michigan, Florida State and Duke.
"Through word of mouth, we've heard it's an awesome trip," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "Great history, food, great scenery . It's the one the teams all have talked about."
College teams are allowed to take foreign trips once every four years, and it seems Italy is where most teams want to go. Aston was planning to take her team there a few years ago. But some key players had offseason surgeries, so the trip was postponed.
"The most beneficial thing is there's bonding and not stress," she said. "We spend time together and you're not in a heated environment."
Aston will be missing star Ariel Atkins, who is currently playing with the U.S. Under-23 team in Japan. The Longhorns guard will join the squad midway through the trip. However, Aston said she'll rest Atkins and play some of her younger players.
"Ariel will be extremely exhausted and she could have gone home, but she was a little more interested in joining the team," Aston said.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma already made two trips this summer to his native Italy before the Huskies headed there on Saturday.
"It's a great chance to get the team acclimated to the process of how we travel, what time you have to be where, how to handle yourself at hotels and on trips," he said. "Because we have almost everybody back and two kids that were sitting out and four new players, it's a little bit of a head start on October."
While teams are also going to New Zealand, France, Australia and Japan this summer, Italy has had the most college teams.
"You could probably host a pretty good NCAA Tournament over there this month," said Auriemma, laughing.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico went to Italy a few years ago with her team and was happy to go back.
"The food is outstanding and we don't have to worry about what the kids will eat," she said. "Also for us, most of our team has never left the country. So this gives them the chance to see some of the places they've read about in history books."
Barnes Arico is bringing her daughters and mother along on the trip. Her son won't be traveling overseas - the high school sophomore has a chance to play with his football team at The Big House in Michigan stadium.
Most of the trips start in Rome and head to Venice, Florence and Lake Como. Michigan players will also stop in Athens.
"We're going to hit all the golden spots," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "Everyone's going to play."
Duke has three graduate students on the team, including the starting backcourt of Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell. The pair will have to leave midway through the trip to get back to business school.
"It will give our freshmen a chance to play and see what they can do," McCallie said.
All the schools play local pro teams in the area. McCallie team will face former Blue Devil Oderah Chidom, who is playing for Celje.
The trips can cost around $100,000, with money raised through donors, fundraisers and the schools. UConn's trip is funded through private donations.
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