KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee women’s basketball team embarks on a three-game tour of Italy next Wednesday, getting a beneficial early start on its preparations for the 2015-16 season.
The Lady Vols depart Knoxville for Milan, Italy, on Aug. 5 and will return to Knoxville from Rome on Aug. 13. While in Italy, UT is slated to face the Cameroon National Team on Aug. 7 in Montecchio Maggiore (8 p.m. CET / 2 p.m. ET), Lithuanian University Teams Select on Aug. 9 in Ponte Buggianese (6:30 p.m. CET / 12:30 p.m. ET) and Selezione Dream Team Italy on Aug. 11 in Rome (7 p.m. CET / 1 p.m. ET).
This will mark the program’s sixth international excursion, including a 2013-14 regular-season tournament in the Bahamas. The Lady Vols had previous summer trips to Brazil in 1987, Belgium/France/Switzerland in 1999 and Italy/Greece in 2003. They also went to Great Britain in January of 1992.
UT is 13-7 all-time on foreign soil, including the NCAA countable wins over SMU and Virginia on the 2013 Bahamas trip. The Lady Vols parlayed all three previous summer tours into trips to the NCAA Final Four in the seasons that followed.
The Tennessee travel party will land in Milan on Aug. 6 and board a bus to Mestre, stopping along the way for a guided tour of Verona. Points of interest include Juliet’s Balcony and Verona Coloseum.
The first full day in the Mestre area (Aug. 7) features a day trip to Venice. In addition to taking a water taxi along the Grand Canal, the itinerary calls for visits to St. Mark’s Square, Procuratie Vecchie, Museo Correr, St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Bridge of Sighs and Riva degli Schiavoni. The day concludes with a game vs. Camaroon taking place at Polisportive G. Cosaro in Montecchio Maggiore.
The team hits the road to Florence on Aug. 8. The itinerary there includes trips to the Accademia Gallery, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio and Florence Cathedral.
After some free time in Florence on Aug. 9, the Lady Vols will then face the Lithuanian squad that evening at Palazzetto dello Sport Sandro Pertini in nearby Ponte Buggianese.
On Aug. 10, Tennessee hits the road to Rome, stopping en route at Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, the Piazza del Duomo and the Field of Miracles.
A tour of Vatican City is in store for Aug. 11, as the UT squad visits the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel the first half of the day. The evening brings Tennessee’s third and final contest of the trip, a match-up with select players of the host country at Arena Altero Felici in Rome.
The last full day of the trip (Aug. 12) features a sightseeing tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Other points of interest include the Campidoglio, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navonna and Villa Borghese. The team departs for home the following morning.
As a part of the trip to Italy, the Lady Vols are taking a course called “Games, Sports and Politics in Italy from Antiquity to Early Modernity” taught by Dr. Stephen Collins-Elliott, Assistant Professor of Classics, who also will be travelling with the team to Italy. The course focuses on how games and sports became a touchstone of the cultural and political life of Italy with an emphasis on studying the rich cultural legacy of Italian history.
The course has met on campus prior to departure and will continue in Italy with academic lectures occurring during meals, on bus rides and as the team tours historical sites throughout Italy.
The Lady Vols begin year four of the Holly Warlick era ranked No. 3 in Charlie Crème’s “Way-Too-Early Top 25,” which came out in April. UT is coming off a season in which it finished 30-6 overall and 15-1 in the Southeastern Conference, tying for the regular-season title with South Carolina and advancing to the NCAA Elite Eight.
While Tennessee lost three seniors to the WNBA, Warlick welcomes back three starters and eight total players who contributed to last season’s success. Senior forward Bashaara Graves (10.6 ppg., 7.0 rpg.), redshirt junior guard Andraya Carter (7.7 ppg., 3.1 rpg., 2.3 spg., 2.1 apg.) and junior guard Jordan Reynolds (7.3 ppg., 3.6 rpg., 2.3 apg.) started the most games for UT last season, while redshirt junior forward Jasmine Jones (9.4 ppg., 4.6 rpg.) started six of seven before being lost for the year in 2014-15 due to an injury.
Warlick adds 2013-14 consensus national freshman of the year Diamond DeShields, a 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore guard (18.0 ppg., 5.4 rpg.), who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina. Back in the mix after redshirting last season due to surgery on both feet is 6-6 center Mercedes Russell, who averaged 13.0 points and 9.2 rebounds for the USA’s gold-medal-winning team at the World University Games this summer.
Te’a Cooper, a dynamic 5-6 point guard who was co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game, and athletic 5-11 guard Meme Jackson join the program as freshmen who appear to have the skills Warlick desires to fuel her up-tempo approach on both ends of the floor.
The games in Italy will be conducted with the rules of FIBA, the world governing body for basketball.
Each contest will be played in four 10-minute periods, which the NCAA is adopting this season for women’s basketball. Other notable differences include a wider lane (16’ vs. 12’), a longer three-point arc distance (22’ 1.7” vs. 20’ 9”), a 24-second shot clock (vs. 30) and an eight-second backcourt violation (vs. 10).