Georgia’s incoming freshmen on the men’s basketball team had something important on their to-do list when they arrived on campus in June. They needed to get passports.
The Bulldogs leave on a 10-day trip to Italy on Friday during which they will play three exhibition games against European teams.
It will be the first time overseas for most of the players.
“Not many of us have been to a different country,” senior guard Vincent Williams said. “It’s something we’re going to enjoy and should be able to cherish this for a lifetime.”
Williams offered his teammates a presentation on Italy to give them an idea what’s in store for them.
“We’ll see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we’ll be able to visit Venice and the canals,” coach Mark Fox said. “We’ll go to the Vatican. I don’t think we’ll get to see the Pope, but it will be a great trip. We’ll see the statue of David in Venice. It’s not like we’re going to do a lot of things that a typical teenager would choose to do, but I think it will be a fun experience for them.”
Freshman point guard Charles Mann from Milton said the longest trip he’s taken is to Wisconsin.
“Coach Fox has been teaching us some Italian to get us ready for the trip,” said Neme Djurisic, a native of Montenegro who visited Rome four years ago. “A few words, some basic words.”
Georgia will have practiced 10 times, as allowed by the NCAA, prior to the trip.
“What we’ve seen so far is that we have a much deeper team, we’re a more physical team, we’re a more athletic team,” Fox said. “I’ve enjoyed the progress of the returning players and been excited about the new guys and what they’ve been able to bring.”
The practices have provided valuable time in the gym for a team that added four freshmen: Mann, shooting guard Kenny Gaines and forwards Brandon Morris and Houston Kessler.
“It’s a trip that I think will be a great benefit to our team and an experience where these young guys will learn a great deal about the history of another culture and will certainly be exposed to a whole different part of the world,” Fox said.
Fox is leaving the head coaching duties during the games to his assistants. Kwanza Johnson, Philip Pearson and Stacey Palmore. Each will coach one game with Fox serving as an assistant.
“That will be a great experience for them and it will also give me a chance to have a different voice with our players,” Fox said.
Purdue, Tennessee and VCU will all be visiting Italy in August as well for similar tours, Fox said. The NCAA allows programs to take out of season trips once every four years.
Georgia will play Vicenza All-Star on Monday at 2 p.m, Lithuanian team Atletas Kaunaas on Wednesday Aug. 8 at 1:30 p.m. and All Star Italy on Saturday Aug. 11 at 1 p.m.
“It’s a great chance to go over the plays, get a little bit ahead of everyone and get ready for next season,” Djurisic said. “This trip is going to really serve well to get to know each other better and be a better group.”
Forward Marcus Thornton, who underwent left knee surgery this offseason to repair a patella tendon, is going on the trip but won’t play. He’s practiced in non-contact drills, but isn’t full-go yet, but it’s expected he will be when practices begin in October.
“Hopefully right around that time, I’ll be approaching or right at 100 percent,” Thornton said.
Fox said junior Sherrard Brantley will slide to the small forward spot.
Williams is the starting point guard for now, but the 6-foot-5, 206-pound Mann could push for the job.
“They’ve been going hard at each other in practice,” sophomore Kenatvious Caldwell-Pope said. “I’m just glad they’re both bringing it.”
Mann gives the Bulldogs’ size at the position, “natural ability” to pass the ball and “is shooting the ball pretty well right now,” Fox said.
“He’s made a real impression on us early,” Fox said.
Caldwell-Pope’s primary position now is shooting guard after playing small forward last season, but he’s also getting some work as a third point guard.
The 6-3, 203-pound Gaines brings athleticism and an ability to “score a number of ways,” Fox said.
Before he scores any points in Italy, Gaines said he wants to score “some Italian pizza. That’s going to be the first thing I’m going to eat.”