At first glance, it’s a journey about basketball and improving for the 2012-13 season.
With the loss of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten to the NBA, the Washington Huskies can use their 16 days overseas to find an identity, build chemistry and work on their newly implemented UCLA high-post offense.
But dig a little deeper, and you’ll learn it’s also a journey about so much more. It’s about learning and experiencing different cultures. It’s about perspective and the privilege of playing basketball and receiving an education. And it’s a journey that will allow senior center Aziz N’Diaye a chance to visit home.
The Huskies men’s basketball team left for Paris on Saturday, and over the course of the next two weeks will make stops in Barcelona, Spain; Nice, France; Monaco and N’Diaye’s home of Dakar, Senegal. They will play games, practice, see sights, take a class based on the trip and even do some teaching. It’s an opportunity that most of the players will likely not soon forget.
“It’s going to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” said junior C.J. Wilcox. “I’ve never been out of the country. Most of us haven’t.”
With only a few Huskies players ever having left the United States, the chance to go to Europe and Africa has many of them excited.
“It will be a life-changing experience for them,” said N’Diaye.
It should also be rewarding for N’Diaye, who hasn’t stepped foot on his native soil in over two years.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
As a reward to seniors who stay four years, coach Lorenzo Romar has made it a tradition to schedule a game in their hometown as a thank you for their service to the program.
N’Diaye, a junior college transfer, has spent three seasons in the program. But Romar simply couldn’t pass up the chance to reward the hardworking 7-foot center.
Romar knows the struggle that N’Diaye endured to get where he is today. The coach got to see the documentary “Elevate” that followed N’Diaye and three other West African players in their quest to get to the United States and earn college basketball scholarships.
“I was just overwhelmed with what those kids go through and how big a deal it is for them to get out here and actually have an opportunity to get an education and maybe have a chance to get to the next level,” Romar said. “I thought with our tour coming up it would be great to go there and play a game.”
But the Huskies aren’t just going to play a game.
“We’ll let Aziz’s family see who he’s been living with the last few years,” Romar said. “Let them get a chance to know us a little bit in the brief time that we’re there. It gives our guys a chance to see what Aziz is all about. See where he’s coming from. See what his world is like to better understand him.”
The Huskies are going to see first hand the life that N’Diaye left behind. They will experience his culture, his food (fish and rice) and his family. They will host basketball camps for children.
“They will be excited,” N’Diaye said of kids in Dakar. “You are going to see kids fall in love with the game of basketball. Seeing people coming from the United States and going to college and getting their education and playing basketball, they are going to look up to us. For us, you get the opportunity and you can learn from it and give back to those kids. I think it will mean a lot.”
As part of the class they are taking for the trip, the players listened to N’Diaye discuss his homeland.
“He kind of opened up,” Wilcox said. “He told everybody how different it was for him to out here. It was humbling just to hear about where he came from, and how he gets to go back.”
Romar is excited about the trip to Senegal. He talked of an African safari the team will take as well as a trip to the island of Gorée, a place where captured slaves were housed before being shipped across the Atlantic.
“That’s going to be unreal,” he said
Coming together as a team and working on the new offense will also be a priority. Besides Ross and Wroten, the Huskies lost high-scoring Tacoma Community College transfer Mark McLaughlin, who left the team a few weeks ago.
“You can’t really get around it, we lost Terrence and Tony, those are two great talents,” Wilcox said. “I feel like we have a lot of solid players and a lot of potential. And as long as we buy into it, we can be good.”
After missing the NCAA tournament last season, the trip could be key in the development of this team.
“We need to test ourselves against different competition and try to get more chemistry as a unit,” Wilcox said. “It will be a good test before the season firstname.lastname@example.org