When WMU men's basketball head coach Steve Hawkins started planning the fundraising for the Broncos' next overseas trip, he had the 2012 offseason in mind for a reason.
"It takes two or three years to raise the kind of money to take these guys on this trip," Hawkins told BroncoBlitz.com after Tuesday's practice. "We're taking this trip on purpose this year, knowing we would have a big recruiting class. This is the perfect time to take the trip. These ten days of practice, we needed badly. We've got a long ways to go still, but they've gotten a lot better."
The trip, though, will be about more than just improving the team's basketball skills. Perhaps more importantly, the coaches look to have the team bond as a cohesive unit and go through a learning process together that most have never experienced.
"We're looking forward to going over there and team bonding," said assistant coach David Kool. "We'll get to spend a lot of time with our guys off the court and get to know them, especially with all the freshmen we have."
Hawkins said that the language barrier that will be faced in the team's trip through Italy, France and Monaco was part of the selection process. Rather than go to another English-speaking country such as Australia, the Broncos are taking lessons on Italian and French and will attempt to integrate themselves as much as possible in their short time spent overseas.
"It's very important to me that the guys understand how to be polite," Hawkins explained. "The example that we give to the guys, is to imagine an Italian person coming here, walking into a McDonalds, and expecting the guy behind the counter to know how to speak Italian. Yet, we're going to go to Italy, walk into a restaurant, and expect somebody to know English. That goes to show some of the arrogance that we have as a country, that I want our guys to have a historical perspective on."
It's not just the players that will be breaking new ground, either. Kool noted that he has never left the continent, and described himself as a history buff. There was definite excitement in the former WMU star's voice as he talked about visiting landmarks like Rome's Coliseum and the Vatican.
Senior forward Dan Loney also echoed the coaches' sentiment of using the trip to come together as a team, emphasizing that it is "not a vacation", but noting that learning about your teammates off the court is a big part of developing chemistry when competition comes around.
When reflecting on his time at WMU, the opportunity to travel both to other countries as well as throughout the United States was one of Loney's biggest memories.
"Honestly, I didn't really get the whole traveling picture until I came here and started playing," he said. "We went to Puerto Rico last year, and travel all around the States, and it really grew on me. I like it a lot, and if it's something I could do in my future I'd definitely enjoy traveling."
One thing is for certain: the team will be one group throughout their travels. With eight freshmen on the roster, coaches can't force chemistry to occur, but Hawkins certainly believes that this time spent essentially living together will be eye-opening and invaluable to the young Broncos.
"They're going to go through the entire experience together," Hawkins explained. "From the moment we step off the airplane, there are certain pre-judgments that are made about Americans and American basketball. Some of those are positive, and some are negative. To be able to experience what other people view is a very positive thing."
A full list of quotes from players and coaches, as well as a rundown of sites the team plans to visit and a game schedule, is available for BroncoBlitz subscribers on our premium forum, The Zoo.