They stood in awe at the Sistine Chapel and the Acropolis. They dipped their toes into the Mediterranean. They hooped indoors and out. They even got sick together.
Old Dominion's basketball trip to Italy and Greece provided short-term benefits and lifetime memories for a program in transition.
"You're thinking of a fairy tale trip, which it was," coach Blaine Taylor said. "But it also had a lot of good lessons learned."
The fairy tale part of the 10-day trip included time in Rome and Athens, as the Monarchs' traveling party toured sites that were hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years old.
"I was shocked," senior Nick Wright said, recalling stops at the Colosseum and Sistine Chapel. "It hit me that I'm standing on history."
"They play H-O-R-S-E to see who buys a Coke," Taylor said of his players. "In the Colosseum, you played H-O-R-S-E and somebody left on a stretcher."
Lessons learned included a jump-start on the 2012-13 season, as well as enduring illness-induced adversity. More on that in a moment.
The NCAA permits basketball teams to take a preseason tour before school starts every four years. They are allowed a handful of practices prior to the trip and then play games against various foreign club teams.
ODU has six freshmen and seven new faces, counting senior transfer DeShawn Painter. Even the Monarchs' returning players — Wright, wing Donte Hill, guard Dimitri Batten, forward Richard Ross, post player Anton Larsen — have been role players or possess limited experience.
"It's an abnormally, unusually young group, so we needed to kind of have a fighting chance and that's what this represented for us," Taylor said. "Now, there's a lot of teams going on tours, there's a lot of teams that are having good summers, so this doesn't launch us ahead of anybody. But it gives us a chance to kind of get up with everybody."
ODU went 3-1 on the trip, winning two games comfortably in Italy, including an outdoor game one evening in the Rome suburb of Ovieto. When the Monarchs got to Greece, however, an illness swept through the team that shelved players and coaches at various times.
They won their third game with only five available players. They lost the final game to the best team they faced with just six players, several of whom were fighting off flu-like symptoms.
Hill was one of the few in the travel party that experienced no discomfort.
"I'm still trying to figure that out," he said earlier this week. "My immune system? I don't know what it is. I drank a lot of soy milk, but I don't know. I haven't gotten sick yet. I'll take it. I don't know how it happened, but I'm happy."
Hill has played with and against foreign players, but said he never ascribed to the notion that basketball is played differently in different areas of the world until this trip.
"Guys over there, even when we played against teams where the competition wasn't as high, they all had really good basketball IQs," he said. "They all passed the ball really well. They cut. They weren't necessarily as athletic, but all of them passed the ball well."
The Monarchs returned from the trip last weekend and met Monday. Normally, that would have been the team's introductory meeting, coinciding with the start of the school year. Instead, it was a wrap-up of the Europe trip and a chance to tell stories and confirm what's expected before practice officially starts in October.
Hill, for one, had never traveled outside the U.S. The trip, he said, expanded his horizons. He hopes one day to return. Even sick teammates didn't dampen his enthusiasm.
"Everybody else had a bad time in Greece," he said. "I loved Greece."
NOTES: Ross is expected to miss 2-3 months after suffering a fracture in his right wrist before the trip. … Freshman guard Ambrose Mosley didn't make the trip because of an issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse that arose just before they departed. Taylor, more than a little peeved by what he believes was unnecessary scrutiny, thinks that Mosley will be eligible for the season.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun