DAY 1: Men's Basketball in Italy

(TRIP NOTE: Penn’s Friday night game vs. Tenezis Verona has been postponed, and will now take place on Sunday. So the Quakers are now scheduled to play three games while here in Italy.)

VENEZIA – Ciao, Penn men’s basketball fans!

LONG first day for the group. We arrived at Venice airport at about 8:15 a.m. local time on Thursday, after taking off from Philadelphia Wednesday evening at about 7 p.m. The excitement for a lot of the guys making their first trip overseas left them wide awake for a good majority of the flight, so they were already starting to drag after we were at the airport for a bit getting through customs .

Too bad. We had a busy day ahead in Venice.

After a breakfast buffet at a restaurant near a bus depot outside of the city, we made a quick stop at the Antony Hotel (our living quarters in Venice) to drop off bags. It was way too soon to actually get in the rooms, so we immediately got back on the bus and headed to Venice.

We took a water taxi, which provided a breathtaking view of the city as we rode in. We were dropped off near the Piazza San Marco, where our group started with a private tour of the Doge’s Palace and accompanying prison which crosses one of the canals at “The Bride of Sighs.” As you might imagine, the art in the Doges’ Palace was simply incredible, and it was stunning how much gold was used throughout the building.

After the tour ended, we were able to take in a glass-blowing exhibit and witness some of the incredible glassware that the factory produces. From there, we took gondola rides which drove us through the many canals within the city’s center. The gondola ride really gave everyone a sense of just how unique a city Venice is (it’s actually an island).

There were plenty of photo ops, of course, and we took advantage. Not surprisingly, a bunch of large young men walking together and wearing similar clothing (blue Penn Basketball golf shirts and khakis) drew a lot of attention, and the guys enjoyed the many times that people stopped them in the Piazza to get pictures with them. It was like traveling with rock stars! Hopefully the ego rush will not carry over to our first game…

Speaking of our group, it’s pretty big. In addition to our usually travel party when we are back in the States -- 15 players, 5 coaches, operations, SID, trainer -- we have the coaches’ wives and spouses; Coach Allen’s four kids; Director of Athletics Steve Bilsky and his wife, Sue; and even a few of our “superfans.” In total, the group numbers 38. As I said, it’s a hard group to miss!

There was a bit of a reunion, as a few of our guys ran into former AAU teammates who now play at the University of Nevada which is also here. The Nevada guys were already on their water taxi as we were walking toward ours, but a few handshakes were able to take place.

It was a hot and sticky day -- we did not see a cloud in the sky the entire time we were in the city -- and by the time we got on our water taxi to get back to the bus, the guys were wiped out. The taxi ride was maybe 10 minutes, and yet most of them quickly fell asleep. More than once I heard, “have we only been here a day? It already feels like a week.” We bused back to the Antony Hotel, where we could finally get in our rooms and clean up, and then it was dinnertime. Dinner was over by about 8 p.m. local time, and I can’t imagine anyone was up much beyond that.

With the change in the schedule, we look forward to a hard practice at the home court of Imparae Venezia on Friday morning as we prep for our NEW Italian opener, on Sunday. After all, we’re here on business! Following that, we are hoping to get the guys back into Venice, but this time they’ll have a little more of their own time and not be held to such a tight schedule.