Lady Bulldogs to get boots-on-the-ground education of Italia.

Before this summer, the sum total of what Merritt Hempe knew about Italy was this: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, people eat spaghetti and people speak Italian.

Lady Bulldogs to get boots-on-the-ground education of Italia.
Chris Starrs

Georgia women’s basketball coach Andy Landers was decidedly less informed. When asked what he knew about Italy, Landers said, “All I know about Italy is the Mafia kind of resides there, and spaghetti, and I found out that some of the best pickpockets in the world reside in parts of Italy.”

The Lady Bulldogs are now getting a boots-on-the-ground education about Italia, as they leave Athens today for a 10-day tour of the country that will include three games and a whole lot of sightseeing.

Georgia will open play on Thursday against All-Star Italy in Ponte Buggianese. On Saturday, the Lady Bulldogs will be in Venice to square off against ASD Societa Ginnastica, and next Sunday will find the team closing out its tour against Montecchio Select in Vicenza.

Although players weren’t terribly informed about Italy before it was announced they’d be making the trip, Landers has ensured they’re better versed by requiring each Lady Bulldog to prepare and present — before practice each day — a report on various cities and sites.

Landers, now entering his 36th season at Georgia, said he decided to have players do research on Italy for a couple of reasons. Besides wanting his team to have at least a cursory understanding of the country they’d be visiting, Landers also felt the daily reports would draw the team closer together.

“Hopefully, when a player presents their piece, either there or later, there’s some interaction between the players — to facilitate more communication,” he said. “There were reasons I wanted to do it, and at the end of the day (to) develop a familiarly to what it was we’re doing.”

He added that the sojourn itself could go a long way toward building all-important team chemistry.

“The thing I’m most looking forward to seeing is seeing our team interact, move around, talk, visit and look out for each other, that piece,” Landers said. “We didn’t have bad team chemistry last year — we just didn’t have as good a team chemistry as you have to have to be successful at this level. It’s not like we had kids that didn’t like kids or fights and fusses — none of that.

“You guys may get along as well as you can. But we want to get better with that. We’re not a basketball team that has a player or two players we’re not worried about. …So we’ve got to be really strong together and that’s the thing I’m most looking forward to.”

Junior forward Hempe, whose report centered on the seven islands of Murano, said she’s welcomed the opportunity to learn about a place far away from home.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” said Hempe, who added she particularly responded to Sydnei McCaskill’s report on Vatican City. “It’s great to be well-rounded and learn about other cultures and other places.”

Freshman forward Mackenzie Engram, whose report focused on Lake Como, said she’s always wanted to travel but hadn’t considered Italy in her plans.

“I’ve always wanted to get out of the country, but Europe and Italy never popped in,” said Engram, who admitted much of what she knew about Italy came from watching “The Bachelorette.” “I’ve been to the Bahamas, but it was years ago when I was young, so it wasn’t really an experience I’ll forever remember like this. …I’m excited to go do what I love with the people I’m going to be with for the next four years.”

For a flight that lasts close to 10 hours, Hempe said she hoped to be able to fill up all the minutes.

“I’ll sleep, watch movies and listen to music,” she said. “I’m bringing a book, so I’ll probably read some. I’m bringing ‘Drive’ by Larry Bird. It’s my favorite book, so I’m probably going to read it again.”

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@bmsaul Part of it is recruiting calendar and exam schedules.

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