Some high school basketball teams in the area play tournaments in Tacoma. Others, in Seattle. Maybe some even make the road trip down to Oregon or California.
But the Gig Harbor High School boys basketball program? Coach Billy Landram and eight Tides’ players said “Arrivederci” to the states and headed to Italy at the end of June for a 10-day trip of sightseeing, culture immersion and yes, even some basketball.
“I had taken a trip like that back when I was younger and had traveled all over the world as a college basketball player,” Landram said. “That was one of my better experiences. So I wanted to provide that for the kids, if they wanted.”
Many of the kids jumped at the opportunity. The team spent time in Rome, Florence and Venice. Gig Harbor played a game in each city, against local Italian teams. While the Tides went 0-3, Gig Harbor was competitive in each game and playing against a European style of basketball was a unique experience.
“The biggest thing — the guys weren’t super athletic but they move the ball so quickly. There’s a crazy amount of ball movement,” said Gig Harbor sophomore post Drew Parrish.
It could wind up being a teaching point for Landram’s Tides when the season rolls around this winter.
“(Landram) was telling us, ‘They’re moving the ball like we should be moving the ball,’” Parrish said. They’re relentless with swinging the ball and knowing when to shoot.”
Some of the rules were different, too. The key is larger. Players have eight seconds to advance the ball past the half-court line. There are other, subtle rule differences as well.
Also, the referees spoke Italian. That made it difficult for Landram when he wanted to say something.
“Our tour guide was a good translator, but during the games, we were on our own,” Landram said. “So there were some barriers. Basketball is basketball, though.”
For the most part, Gig Harbor held its own.
“We’re a new team, we’re really young and a lot of those guys were a lot older than us,” said Gig Harbor sophomore guard Nate Jones. “I feel like we stuck with them well.”
Basketball was just a small part of the trip. During the 10 days, Landram, as well as a couple families and parents that tagged along, got to see the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Duomo in Florence, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square.
The team got to ride in gondolas through Venice and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
Suffice it to say, those who went got to see just about everything one could want to see while in Italy.
“It was a lot of fun,” Jones said. “Seeing all the monuments, bonding with the team. We did a lot of walking.”
And it was hot, too. Temperatures hovered around 100 degrees while they were there.
“It was so hot,” Parrish said, with a laugh. “But just seeing everything, there’s so much history behind it all.”
Seeing the history and appreciating the culture was a big deal for Landram.
“I wanted them to see some new things,” he said. “A lot of the world’s history, it happened in Rome. Go as far back as you want to go.”
And the food was another bonus, although the players may have grown a bit tired of pizza and pasta over the span of the trip.
All in all, it was a good experience for those who were able to take part.
“I just enjoyed the team bonding, spending a week with the guys and getting to know them better,” Jones said. “That was probably the best part.”