Towson's Josh Thornton had never been to Canada before last week.
But the senior shooting guard made himself right at home during the Tigers' five-game Canadian exhibition tour Aug. 17-22.
Thornton, 6 feet 2, 175 pounds, averaged 24.4 points per game, including 32 in Towson's finale, a 92-87 win over Laval University in Quebec City.
"I just kind of had the feeling in that game, when you're in the zone and the rim just seems as big as an ocean," Thornton said. "So the shots were falling and my teammates were getting me the ball. We just all played well together. As a team, we played together and we won together."
Towson coach Pat Kennedy was afforded this sneak preview of his team thanks to an NCAA rule that allows a program to take a preseason foreign tour once every four years. During previous coaching stops, Kennedy has taken his teams to Australia, France, Germany and Ireland. The trip to Canada was the first such foreign tour in Towson's basketball history.
NCAA rules prevent newcomers from participating in foreign tours, which meant junior college transfer Rashawn Polk and incoming freshmen Isaiah Philmore and Erique Gumbs didn't accompany the team to Canada. But Kennedy was able to welcome first-year assistant coaches Danny Nee and Allen Edwards to the team, get a look at his veteran nucleus, and witness Thornton's coming-out party.
"Josh really just came of age in this period of time," Kennedy said. "He averaged [more than] 23 points per game, shot the ball well and made good decisions. He really improved his defense, and really matured more than anything. If you watch him on the court, he looks like a veteran senior, which he is. But [after transferring from Georgetown] it was a matter of getting used to the system. And he really looked good."
The Tigers opened the tour with a 69-59 loss to an alumni team from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. The following night, Towson fell to the current Carleton squad -- the defending Canadian Interuniversity Sport champions -- in a tightly officiated 95-83 contest. The team rebounded two nights later with a 73-69 win over the University of Quebec at Montreal, and finished with back-to-back wins over Laval.
Thornton wasn't the only standout for Towson on the trip. Senior forward Calvin Lee (10.6 points) and junior forward Jarrell Smith (10.1) were second and third, respectively, on the team in scoring. Kennedy said juniors Robert Nwankwo (9 points, 7.4 rebounds) and David Brewster (10 points) also stood out.
"David Brewster really struggled last year after transferring [from Richmond]," Kennedy said. "He was learning a new system and we didn't get as much out of him as we thought we'd get. But he really came alive [in Canada] and was much more productive than a year ago. ... Nwankwo had 20 points in the third game, averaged about four blocks per game and played very well."
The tour wasn't without its heart-stopping moments, however. In Towson's third game, against the University of Quebec, sophomore Troy Franklin Jr. -- the Tigers' returning starter at point guard -- came up with a steal but was quickly brought down by a Citadins player. "A kid from the other team just dove at my other leg, and it just rolled," Franklin said.
Said Kennedy, "It was one of those injuries that looked pretty bad. Sometimes you have an injury and you really hold your breath. But he should be fine. There's nothing serious to it. It's a high-ankle sprain. ... But right now he's working on learning more about running the team and being the lead guard."
Off the court, the Towson players and coaches took in the sights of Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa, where they witnessed the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill. There was also a group dinner with Towson and the Canadian teams, plus plenty of team time in between games.
"It was a good bonding thing," Franklin said. "Each time we went to a hotel, we wouldn't have the same roommate. We could go out with each other and ... we went out [and explored the cities together]. I think it was a great way of bonding."
While the Tigers struggled through a 12-22 campaign last season, they ended on a high note with a surprise run to the Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinals. The confidence from that tourney run, coupled with the successful Canadian tour, has Thornton and his teammates aiming high this season.
"I feel great for this upcoming year," Thornton said. "I think we're going to make a big splash this year and I'm looking forward to it. We had a nice opportunity to go up to Canada and we're going to start practicing soon. So I'm excited. I can't wait to get back on the court with my teammates and start playing."