Bluffton cross-cultural experience
Beavers Look to use Off-season Trip as Springboard for 2007-08 Season
By Andrea Ressler, sports information assistant
August 15, 2007
The Bluffton basketball team, along with head coach Guy Neal, George Metz, associate professor of education, and 15 other university students, traveled to Europe to compete in three international games and tour various countries during the month of May.
Upon arriving in Great Britain on May 10, the basketball team spent time touring the Parliament building, Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace before gearing up to compete against a talented London Towers team. From England, the team traveled to France and saw the Eiffel Tower, the Loire Valley and the Palace of Versailles. "My favorite tourist spots were the various castles that we saw, because of the architecture," said junior captain Justin Rufenacht (Pettisville, Ohio). "It's amazing how people built such massive, intricate buildings hundreds of years ago."
While the trip was a great experience from an educational standpoint, the impact it had on the basketball team proved to be just as large. "A trip like that gives you a jump on the season," Coach Neal said. The practices before the trip and the games the team participated in allowed the coaches to work more thoroughly with the returning players and underclassmen. With a limit of 10 off-season practices, the trip was invaluable for the Beavers. Not only were they jumping ahead of the competition by practicing and competing, the men's basketball team was able to build and strengthen team chemistry and camaraderie. Spending a significant amount of time together, both on the court and off, helped establish a solid foundation going into the new season. "I think the trip was great for team chemistry. We got to see each other in a different light, and just spending 17 days together was great for bonding," Rufenacht said.
Another advantage to the European trip was the tough competition. Rod Overmyer, a 2002 graduate of Bluffton, spent time after college playing basketball in France. Overmyer helped Coach Neal set up three very competitive international games. He did a good job of matching Bluffton with the international teams and providing competitive games. "Their brand of basketball is very physical, but it was really valuable to us to have very intense competitions," said Coach Neal. "Playing a more physical style will help to prepare Bluffton for games during the season."
The Beavers' first game was against The London Towers. The Towers team functions as a minor league basketball team under the direction of Coach Gary Lyttle and it is the only professional basketball team located in London. The first game was a tough one and unfortunately for Bluffton, the Towers had the upper hand as the Beavers fell, 75-68.
After a couple days of rest and touring, the team suited up for their next international game against a squad from Trembley in Northern France. The Beavers hit their stride and beat the Trembley Athletic Club 83-71. After the game, the teams had a chance to meet with one another and talk about their experiences playing basketball in their own country.
Head coach Guy Neal said, "Our student-athletes learned about the current organization and status of basketball in France from discussions and exchanges with the French players and coaches and through participation in the three games, and they personally experienced the differences between European basketball and American basketball on the court."
The Beavers final game was in nearby Druex against a basketball team with ages ranging from college on up. The average age for the players on the opposing team was around 25. Bluffton left with another win as the Beavers defeated Alliance de Dreux by a final score of 71-66. The team also took the time to talk with the Druex players about basketball and their respective cultures. "I loved playing basketball internationally. I think it was a great experience for everyone on the team and it was neat to meet the guys over there," Rufenacht said.
"We are hoping to be able to tell our recruits that at some point while they are at Bluffton they will be able to experience a trip like this," said Coach Neal. He would like to take a foreign trip every four years if possible. More and more colleges and universities, no matter what division, have been taking foreign trips in the off-season. Off-season practices, competition and team bonding were all benefits of the basketball team's trip to France. The Beavers are confident that the trip to Europe will serve as a springboard for the 2007-08 campaign.