Aug. 6, 2012
ROME, Italy -- The Tennessee basketball team literally jammed two day's worth of activities into one, in what was a whirlwind beginning to its 10-day exhibition tour of Italy.
The players, team staff and their families, along with a loyal contingent of enthusiastic fans boarded a jet in Atlanta Sunday afternoon and made the approximately 10-hour flight directly to Rome. The Vols' travel party was greeted by sunny skies and 75-degree weather, and after a quick and easy pass through customs and baggage claim, the Big Orange immediately filled a pair of double-decker buses for three hours of sightseeing throughout the city.
Highlights along the way included the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (located just outside the wall that once protected Rome from invading hordes), Bernini's famous Triton Fountain (though it was not functioning due to cleaning and maintenance), the Circus Maximus and Palatine Hill.
Eventually, the Tennessee party set off on foot to explore the grounds of the Roman Forum ruins as well as tour the legendary Colosseum.
"Just going to the Colosseum really stood out," Junior guard Jordan McRae said of his favorite part of the day. "That was like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were all about ready to fall asleep, but then we got pretty pumped up to see that."
Upon arriving at the Colosseum, the temperature had risen to nearly 90 degrees, but the Vols happily pressed on.
While preparing to pass through the structure's enormous gates, a familiar sight came in the form of a gentleman wearing a UT orange t-shirt. He and his wife were celebrating their honeymoon in Italy and were completely thrilled and surprised to cross paths with the basketball team. The couple visited with head coach Cuonzo Martin and also posed for pictures with some of UT's players before saying farewell.
After leaving the Colosseum, it was nearly 3 p.m. Monday -- as Rome is six hours ahead of Eastern Time. Dating to Sunday morning, those from The Volunteer State were operating on whatever sleep they could muster during the flight. Weary and sun-drenched, though still excited and appreciative of the day's experiences, it was finally time for some lunch.
The team and supporters gathered to fill a basement dining room at a local pizzeria (a few players dozed off at their seats while awaiting their pizza and pasta), before checking into NH Vittorio Veneto Hotel, just a short walk from Rome's famous Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.
The players had the rest of the afternoon to themselves to explore the city or catch up on some much-needed rest.
"We slept until around 9," McRae said. "Then we went walking around and found a McDonald's."
Tuesday morning's agenda brings a tour of Vatican City.
"We learned a lot about the Vatican in our (Foreign Study) class," McRae said. "So I'm looking forward to seeing that."