Aug. 23, 2006
The city of Toronto is one of the great destination cities of the world. The fifth-largest city in North America, and one of the most diverse in the world, Toronto offers its visitors all kinds of activities and attractions to visit. But somewhere down the road, the University of Dayton men's basketball team might look back and not just consider Toronto a destination, but a beginning.
The Flyers will travel to Toronto Labor Day weekend for a two-game "foreign tour" that will give them a unique opportunity to play together, practice together and be together in advance of the normal beginning of basketball practice in mid-October.
NCAA rules allow for a team taking a tour to have ten practices to prepare for the trip. Those began when the new semester started on Monday, August 21. After the last class is completed on September 1, the team will take the 75-minute charter flight to Toronto, and work out at the Toronto Raptors practice facility.
"The trip gives us a chance to accomplish things in three important areas," Dayton head coach Brian Gregory said. "The games will be good to give our guys a chance to see how their work in the off-season is paying off. The practices will give our players a chance to work with their new teammates for the first time. And the whole trip will be invaluable in building our team chemistry."
"And I think maybe developing team chemistry is the biggest thing we are going to get out of this trip," Gregory continued. "A lot of times it's the intangibles that make the difference between a good team and a great team, and that comes back to team chemistry."
"Everyone looks at how the new players will adapt to our program, but don't forget that every returning player is going to be challenged to play more of a role in what we do. Chemistry is not just about getting to know each other. It's also about being comfortable where you fit into your team."
With four newcomers among the 11 scholarship players, getting a jump on getting them up to speed at the college level will be critical for UD against a challenging non-conference schedule, and then another difficult Atlantic 10 season.
"This is going to help the new guys get a feel for the game," junior Norman Plummer said. "Three of the four have never played in a college game, and no matter how much people tell you how different it is, you don't know until you play. I wish I could have done this when I was a freshman. I went right into an exhibition game. It's different for these guys, and I think it will be better."
Plummer has been where freshman forward Kurt Huelsman is now. And Huelsman sees the benefit of being able to practice so early. "We are going to be able to get a feel for the game at this level. We've been playing in open gyms all summer, and you try to make it feel game-like, but that's hard to imitate. After just a couple, I already know how intense practice is."
Junior Nick Stafford says the trip will give the entire team a boost. "This will give us all an idea where we stand, and a little confidence in our games," he said. "When the season comes, other teams will have a month together, but we will know we are already ahead of them. Toronto will give the freshmen a chance to be incorporated into the team. They look up to us and we will get a chance to develop trust in each other on the trip."
Desmond Adedeji is only a year from being one of "the new guys," and he remembers what it was like. "This will let us get our chemistry down. We've got a lot of new guys and we can come together as a team right away. Last year it was just Charles and me, and even just two new guys was an adjustment."
Adedeji also has a personal reason to take advantage of getting back on the court like this. "Since I was home for the last eight weeks of the summer, the new guys can get a feel for me, and I can get a feel for them. We're working hard and that will pay off for us. Everything's important. People might think we're excited just to be going to Toronto, but we're excited to be together, and excited to be on the court. We'll be excited to be in Toronto when we get there."
With three of the four new players playing in the backcourt, Gregory knows the action on the court will help flatten what is normally a steep learning curve. "On the court, it's a huge bonus for us to have the new players learn our program, and what they are accountable for," Gregory said. "It's a great situation for our new point guards. They start to get a glimpse of the top two or three priorities we have on offense and on defense, and we can throw them into the fire without the added pressure of having a game that counts on the record coming up fast."
Freshman London Warren didn't hear what his coach had to say, but they are already on the same page. "These ten practices will be very helpful for me being a point (guard). I can see where I'm really at and how I can help the team. I know I can help, particularly on defense, but I know I'm going to learn so much in the next two weeks."
The Flyers are scheduled to play afternoon games on Saturday, September 2 (at York University) and Sunday, September 3 (at Humber College). After the games are done, the team will get to enjoy some of what Toronto has to offer, including a sightseeing trip to CN Tower. The Flyers will return to Dayton Monday night in time to sleep in their own beds and get to class on Tuesday, September 5.
Arrangements for the trip are made through Basketball Travelers, a company based in Seattle, Washington. Basketball Travelers is coordinating Canada Labor Day tours for five teams - defending national champion Florida, 2006 Sweet Sixteen team Gonzaga, 2006 Sweet Sixteen team Wichita State, Fresno State and the Flyers.