Aug. 10, 2011
Courtesy of USA Basketball
Most people look at a cross-country flight as a long travel day. That doesn't even come close to what the 2011 USA Basketball World University Games Teams did over almost a 30-hour span. After beginning to load their respective buses from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., at 4:30 a.m. (MDT) on Mon., Aug. 8, the men's and women's teams rolled out of town and up to Denver.
Following a short delay, the squads flew to San Francisco and then onto Hong Kong. By the time everyone landed in China, the travel day was already about 24 hours long ... and counting. After gathering along with several swimmers outside customs, everyone went through a special "Universiade"passport control lane, gathered luggage and then walked through another special customs lane dedicated to the event participants.
Then it was time for a bus ride to the border, where everyone off-loaded the buses, went through another customs control area to leave the Hong Kong territory and about 50 yards later, pushed bags through customs at the official mainland China boarder. Then it was onto the third bus of the day and a short while later the World University Games village loomed large in the distance.
Again the teams unloaded their buses, dragged the bags off, got a brief introduction by U.S. delegation members, and then finally made their way to their home away from home for the next few weeks.
From door-to-door the process lasted just under 30 hours. With no complaints. Everyone, bleary-eyed from getting just a few hours here and there on the plane, was very excited about the prospect of living in a village with thousands of other athletes from the U.S. and around the world.
"I think someone said the name of the day was `patience,' said University of Notre Dame guard Natalie Novosel. "You never know what you're going to experience with the travel. It's always unexpected so you just have to go with the flow. Once somebody to get irritable, it's easy for a lot of people to get irritable. So everyone was trying to keep a good attitude about it and everyone did the best they could. Overall I think everyone did have a good attitude, a good experience and we made it here safely and that's the biggest thing."
The next 24 hours were just as much of a whirlwind and this is where the two teams' paths went separate ways to accommodate their different practice schedules. The USA women, after getting into the dining hall around midnight, met again for breakfast at 9:00 a.m., then went to a delegation briefing at 10:00 a.m., met for lunch at 1:00 p.m., went straight to a press conference that put them back at the village about 3:30 p.m., then got taped an hour later and headed off for a scrimmage against Brazil at 5:35 p.m.
Following the scrimmage, the team returned `home,' turned in their practice gear, went to dinner and made it back in time to Skype, instant message and email their family and friends back home before sleep took over and sent them into dreamland for their second night in the village.
"I thought (the scrimmage against Brazil) was really good," said USC grad student Jacki Gemelos. "It was a really good test for us to lead us into the actual game on Sunday morning. It was a good day to kind of get the airplane out of our system and things like that. They were a pretty good team and I think we did really well tonight. We were rusty and tired and things like that, but it's definitely going to prepare us for Sunday morning."
Any normal person might look at a schedule like that and have a few comments about it taking too long, being tired, having not a lot of free time, etc., but not the members of this team. Everyone is very excited about the experience looming ahead of them - and not just because of the basketball competition. There are too many cultures to explore, experiences to be had and lifelong friendships to forge for the USA Basketball coaches and athletes to be anything but excited.
"The athletes' village has so many different cultures," stated first generation Nigerian-American and Stanford University sophomore Chiney Ogwumike. "You see and meet people from around the world that you would never get to meet, who are also top-tier athletes and great people. The village is just great, food-wise, service-wise. The people of Shenzhen have been way over hospitable. I really enjoy the village and I couldn't imagine a better experience, coming to the World University Games."
The USA squad still has a few days to get acclimated, practice and prepare for its opening tip-off against Brazil on Aug. 14 at 10:00 a.m. (Aug. 13 @ 10 p.m. ET) and in addition to practicing, the team's itinerary includes Opening Ceremonies, shopping and getting to know more people from around the world.
"It was great to see them back on the court and get basketball back on their mind after all the meetings and the obligatory things that you have to do," said USA and Iowa State University head coach Bill Fennelly. "Now it's time to start getting ready and hopefully be real excited come Sunday morning."
"I think we're all a little off of our sleeping time," added University of Tennessee guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen. "Once we get adjusted to the time and get used to things, we're going to be getting around and seeing more places."
USA Basketball.com caught up with a few team members following the scrimmage, which the USA won by a lopsided 79-47 margin, to find out their thoughts about the travel day and everything else they've experienced over the last 48 hours.
Shekinna Stricklen (University of Tennessee) What was it like, getting out on the court against other international competition? It felt good. I think we're all excited. We kind of started off a little slow, but once we got going and got the feel of how it goes and playing on this court, we picked it up.
Take me through your first day in China and how you felt after the long day of travel: It was crazy! Everyone was kind of still tired. Everyone's legs were still tired and tight. But we enjoyed it. It was a long flight, but once we got here everyone was really happy and excited.
What are your thoughts on the athletes' village? You know? I really like the village. Everything's fresh, clean. The beds are so comfortable. Everyone's treating us so nice here. It's great.
Have you interacted with any other athletes? We have with a couple of soccer teams. They're very nice. They said they like it here. They're very excited. We're going to meet a lot more people, though.
Are you looking forward to getting acclimated to the time and diving into everything that's offered here off the court?
Yes, especially the time! I think we're all a little off of our sleeping time. Once we get adjusted to the time and get used to things, we're going to be getting around and seeing more places. Everything will be alright.