When in Rome…

Jeremy Juhasz

10 players travel to improve skills

Preparations for the Kent State men’s basketball season were underway earlier than usual this summer when the team took an early extended road trip: 4,000-plus miles east to another continent.

Ten returning players took a four-game, 10-day tour of Italy Aug. 21-Aug. 30.

“I think there are two major components when you take a trip – one being off-the-floor chemistry,” men’s basketball coach Geno Ford said. “You hope that chemistry shows up down the line. The obvious piece, secondary, would be on-the-floor stuff, which are just guys getting more reps.”

Senior forward Frank Henry-Ala said the trip definitely improved team chemistry.

“Italy was, from my understanding, . for team camaraderie, team bonding,” Henry-Ala said. “The trip really accomplished that. A lot of guys who never would have hung out before were forced to hang out. One, we couldn’t talk to anybody else, you know, because we didn’t know the language.”

The competition was different, Ford admitted, because of the Italian teams’ wealth of experience.

“They were very skilled, able to step away and pose some match-up problems for us,” Ford said. “We were more athletic usually than the other team, but their skill level was usually pretty high. They’re older guys.

“They (were) starting guys who are 30 years old, 28 years old. It was a good challenge each game.”

Culturally, the players had to adjust, too. The language barrier, food options and the sights were uncharted territories.

“Personally, I like our food better,” senior center Brandon Parks said. “But that’s probably why I’m fat when I’m here, and over there I lost 10 pounds.”

“Everything is pretty much in ruins,” Henri-Ala said, referring to the Italian architecture. “It’s not in its original form, so there’s not really much to see.”

The Flashes played four games in six nights, winning the first three before losing the final contest 89-81 to Fulgor Omegna. The Flashes had to adjust to the unfamiliar elements of the international game, including a 24-second shot clock versus the American 35-second shot clock.

“The game over there is so different,” Ford said. “There wasn’t a lot of time offensively to run a lot.”

Parks added that the clock helped the Flashes improve their rebounding skills.

“We learned how to break out and get points in transition,” Parks said. “I think it helped us rebound because, with 24 seconds, there’s a lot more shots, a lot more rebounds.”

Ford said rebounding was an area of concern for the Flashes last year. Typically, the task falls on the interior players, but Ford emphasized the perimeter rebounding needs to improve this season.

“Our perimeter rebounding from a year ago was not good,” Ford said. “That put a lot more pressure on the young guys who were in the post to rebound, and that just didn’t work.”

Ford said rebounding will be more of a focus on the individual and not a change in strategy. The coach also pointed out that last year was the first time in 11 years that Kent State had a negative rebound margin for the season.

Four of Kent State’s five players on the interior were first-year players from a year ago. Their growth, coupled with an athletic backcourt, has prompted Ford to believe this team will be stronger.

“We move the ball much better,” Ford said. “We’re a better passing team than we were. We are much more athletic. (Our) interior last year, to be fair, was not a major strength. But they’ve all gotten better and really showed signs that we could be one of the better interior teams in the league.”

Parks said his teammates used the trip to gauge where the team is, but also to see if professional basketball would be an option after Kent State.

“A lot of our guys end up going playing professional (basketball) overseas,” said Parks. “I think a lot of our guys learned the atmosphere, and I think they kind of got an idea on whether or not it would be something they would be interested in.”

While the trip provided a good measuring stick for the team, it’s time to go back to work. Now, players are working out individually three days a week for 40 minutes, training with strength coaches four days a week and conditioning two days a week.

Players are staying active, but it’s not the same as practice, Ford said.

“They’re busy,” Ford said. “But it’s not nearly as busy when Oct. 16 hits.”

Contact sports correspondent Jeremy Juhasz at [email protected].

Coach Geno Ford, Senior Forward Frank Henry-Ala and Senior Center Brandon Parks talk about the food, basketball and the sights during their team’s summer trip to Italy.

Listen to Parks talk about the trip.

Listen to Henry-Ala talk about the trip.

Listen to Ford talk about the trip.