SE: Wildcats Reflect on Benefits from International Tour

K-State men’s head basketball coach Bruce Weber expected his team to face adversity during its trip to Italy and Switzerland earlier this month. Little did he know that it would hit before the team even left the United States. 

When Delta’s worldwide computer network crashed Monday, August 8, K-State’s flight was among the hundreds cancelled. After scrambling to stay the night in Atlanta, K-State was able to get on a plane the next day and resume its trip, albeit 24 hours behind the initial plan. 

“You want to deal with problems and situations,” Weber said last week in the Ice Family Basketball Facility while recapping the team’s five-game journey that ended with a 3-2 record. 

With a day’s less rest than planned and not long after touring the Colosseum in Rome, K-State opened with an 82-75 loss to LCC University, a product of the circumstances more so than the Wildcats’ play, Weber said. 

“Their bodies wanted to do it and they had some energy early, but it faded quickly. You could see on the video, they hit a wall,” said Weber, whose team went on to beat BC Silute (97-80), the Italian Select (90-55) and BBC Lausanne (68-47). 

The adversity Weber was looking for took place throughout the program’s second international trip in the last five years — the most allowed by the NCAA in that span, reinforcing K-State Athletics’ first goal, to provide a World-Class Student-Athlete Experience. 

Players had to adjust to FIBA rules and regulations, namely a shorter shot clock and a deeper 3-point line. The style of basketball was different than the Wildcats were accustomed to, as was the way referees called the game. 

The atmospheres were nowhere near what K-State normally encounters in the Big 12; some gymnasiums didn’t even have air conditioning. 

“It’s not always the easiest circumstances to deal with, which is good,” Weber said. “It’s all part of it.”

K-State also faced professional teams without any semblance of a scouting report, forcing players to adjust quickly and overcome an automatic disadvantage to win. Weber brought up K-State’s 11-point loss to the Kosovo National Team, which was prepping to qualify for the European Championships, as a game that would be a teaching point going forward. 

“They had a really good system in and moved the basketball. I hope our guys learned from it,” said Weber, who commended the overall competition his team faced. “I’ve been on trips where we have three or four bad opponents and it doesn’t do you any good. It’s much better to play against teams that are organized, are trying to win and that know what’s going on. It’s going to help you come back more realistic of where you’re at.”

After a few days back in the U.S., Weber and his players agreed the team was better off than before it left. 

“The trip was basically a stepping stone to where we need to be,” said sophomore guard Kamau Stokes, coming off a season-ending knee injury last year. “We have a lot to learn from the trip. I feel like it will definitely help us because we know what we need to work on, and we’re just going to get in the gym and work on it.”

Specifically, Stokes pointed to defense as an area to focus on when practice resumes September 30. 

“Defense isn’t an easy thing,” said Stokes, who led the team offensively with 10.8 points per game. “You don’t just come in knowing the concept right away. I feel like we could have had better outcomes in certain games over there if, defensively, we knew what we wanted to do and where we were supposed to be at certain times.”

Among the new faces, freshmen Xavier Sneed (10.4 ppg.), Brian Patrick (6.2 ppg.) and Isaiah Maurice (6.2 ppg.) stood out on the stat sheet. Weber complimented Sneed and Patrick’s play specifically, while Stokes said the entire group of new players fit the team’s style of play. 

“I love our young guys. They fit our system very well. They run the floor, they’re active, especially on defense,” Stokes said. “I feel like our young guys really stepped up over there and they showed us what they can do. I’m really looking forward to seeing it next season.”

Weber said the biggest benefit from the experience was boosting team chemistry. The countless hours of traveling, touring and playing, with very little planned time for rest, ensured the bonding occurred naturally. 

“We tried to make them do something every day together,” Weber said. “It’s not an easy trip. In fact, I make it where they're constantly doing something. I wasn’t going to let them sit in a hotel room when we’re in Rome or Florence. That’s part of getting toughness, being able to do this, still step up and play the games.”

Sneed particularly felt he fit in with the team quicker because of the trip. 

“With all the practices we got for it and all of the team bonding off the court,” Sneed said, “I feel like I got to know these guys really well.”

Much of the team bonding occurred during the traveling portion of the Wildcats’ journey. Sneed and Stokes pointed to Lake Como in Italy and Lake Geneva in Switzerland as their favorite spots, while Wesley Iwundu said his top stop was in Florence. The Wildcats also visited Siena, Vatican City, Mestre, Venice and Verona, before moving their venturing to Switzerland cities like Montreux and Lausanne. 

“It’s a lifetime experience for our guys and a really unbelievable trip. I’m not sure you can do better than Italy and Switzerland,” Weber said. “It’s going to help us when we get to games in November. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”