While coach Kevin Willard is looking forward to the lasagna, chicken piccata and different types of bread he’ll enjoy on the Maryland men’s basketball team’s trip to Italy next week, he’s currently focused on a luxury most teams don’t have at this point in the year: full summer practices.
With the Terps’ international tour comes 10 days of practice before they leave on July 31 that isn’t limited by typical NCAA time restrictions for standard summer athletic activities. Willard plans to use the extra time with his team to full effect.
“I treat this like an NBA training camp,” Willard said on Thursday before Maryland’s second day of practice. “We’re going double sessions on the weekend, individuals in the morning and practice in the afternoon during the week, so it’s going to be a hard 10 days. The Italy trip is kind of the reward for the practices.”
The NCAA allows college basketball teams to take an international trip once every four years, which includes practices and exhibitions overseas in addition to the pre-trip workouts. The Terps will play three games in Italy and visit Rome, Florence, Venice and Lake Como. Maryland’s opponents have not been announced.
“We have the opportunity to play against someone else rather than beating up on each other the whole summer. It’s great to get out there and play different competition,” Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo said.
Willard plans to let associate head coach David Cox and assistant coaches Mike Jones and Greg Manning Jr. each coach one exhibition, something he said has been beneficial to his assistants in the past. He also said that every player will be in each game while the Terps experiment with different lineups.
While Willard believes the players will enjoy Maryland’s games in Italy, the practices leading up to the trip are where he intends to “set the tone for the season.” The coach aims to implement the Terps’ entire defense in the 10 practices before departing for Italy and have about a quarter of Maryland’s offensive packages installed at its conclusion.
“[We’re] making sure by the time we come back and start practicing in October [we will be] working on stuff that we usually work on in December,” Willard said.
The “jump-start” the tour provides is something that Willard believes makes trips of the sort invaluable, and part of the reason he wishes teams could take them more often than the current limit of once every four years set by the NCAA. The Terps’ last international tour was also to Italy under coach Mark Turgeon in 2018.
“[The trip] gives the coaches a chance to see what works, what doesn’t work, what you can do,” Willard said. “Most importantly, I think it’s a great opportunity for the guys on the team to really bond, get to know each other [and] spend serious time off the court together.”
Extra time for the Terps’ new players to practice together and get to know their teammates will be important ahead of Willard’s second year at the helm as a majority of Maryland’s roster — seven of its 13 scholarship players — are new to the team this year after transferring or graduating high school.
The Terps boast a consensus top-20 freshman class featuring a pair of four-star recruits in DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser. Willard hopes the extra time on and off the court with new teammates in Maryland’s early preseason allows the freshmen and other newcomers to prepare themselves for their first season with the Terps.
“[It’s] like a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’ve never been to Italy or anywhere over there,” Harris-Smith said. “We definitely want to have fun, hopefully win a few games and just get better overall.”