Aug. 21, 2007
ROME- The Stanford men's basketball team finally arrived in Italy at 8:15 a.m. local time on Tuesday, kicking off an 11-day foreign tour that includes six games against local competition along the way.
The Cardinal survived a 4 a.m. wake-up call on Monday, flew from San Francisco to Philadelphia three hours later and caught a connecting flight to Rome following a two-hour layover.
The 70-degree, overcast weather in Rome Tuesday morning represented a slight contrast to the hotter weather that many in the group expected. After checking into their hotel, Cardinal players chose to take in the sights, do some shopping, grab a quick lunch or catch up on much-needed sleep.
Later that evening, the group departed for a social at the nearby residence of U.S. Ambassador Ronald P. Spogli. Players, coaches and support staff were welcomed and treated to appetizers and drinks by Mr. Spogli, a 1970 graduate of Stanford. Spogli was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Italy on Aug. 10, 2005,
Taj Finger presented Mr. Spogli with a Stanford gift basket full of Cardinal gear.
The entire Stanford travel party was then given a tour of the grounds, known as Villa Ta-verna. The expansive grounds have served as headquarters for the U.S. Ambassador to Italy since 1933 and feature a large backyard, tennis court, swimming pool and 75-seat movie theatre.
"You can be helpful in that every time you interact with Italians, remember to show what America is all about," offered Mr. Spogli. "Enjoy your time here, learn as much as possible and display that American spirit in all that you do."
The NCAA allows teams to travel overseas once every four years. The men's basketball program most previously toured Australia and New Zealand in 2001.
Check back to www.gostanford.com for game and tour updates over the next two weeks.
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Forget about having to duck underneath doorways or maneuver through tight security lines. The most difficult travel challenge facing seven-footers Brook and Robin Lopez occurs once they board the airplane.
That would be the issue of seating, where an aisle or exit row position provides slight relief while a middle seat spells disaster.
"We usually try to trade with other passengers," explained Robin (7-0, 255). "One time I was flying back from Paris from a USA Basketball event and I was stuck in the middle seat. Now that was rough."
Brook (7-0, 260) agrees.
"Get to the counter right away and try to switch that ticket to an emergency row. Very rarely do you get those flights with a ton of empty seats. But usually the flight attendants are nice and they understand. If you talk to them early enough, they will try to seat you somewhere else."
Both were able to snag aisle seats on the way over.
"It's just enough leg room," added Brook. "But it's still not really comfortable."
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One year removed from taking the court with his teammates, Chris Bobel is the newest member of the Cardinal coaching staff and will serve as the club's video coordinator and coaching intern.
"What I'm really looking forward to is learning the X's and O's at the college level," said Bobel, a walk-on member of last year's squad who appeared in five games off the bench.
"Even when you are playing, you don't always know why your coaches suggest something but you have faith in them anyway. Now I get to see our rationale in how we game plan, scout opponents, etc. I'm also looking forward to watching a lot of film. This will give me an opportunity to learn the game in a different light."
In his current role with the program, Bobel will coordinate film exchange and opponent scouting in addition to assisting with all other aspects of the program. That experience begins this week in Italy.
No stranger to coaching, Bobel was head coach of the freshman team at his alma mater, Palo Alto High School, and assisted with the varsity squad in 2004-05. A native of Palo Alto, Bobel was a three-year letterwinner, two-time team captain and two-time SCVAL all-league selection.
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Head coach Trent Johnson hopes that the six games Stanford has scheduled over the next two weeks will provide an opportunity for extra playing time for some of last year's reserves.
"I'm curious to see how some of the guys who did not play that much last year look," said Johnson. "Guys like Will Paul, Peter Prowitt and Drew Shiller. They will be getting to play against some good competition."
Paul played in 17 games off the bench as a freshman last year, averaging 5.7 minutes per game. Prowitt, who appeared in 49 games and made five starts over his first two seasons combined, competed in 18 games as a reserve last year and averaged 5.3 minutes.
Shiller, a transfer from San Francisco, sat out last year due to NCAA rules. During his freshman year with the Dons, he played in all 28 games and averaged 4.4 points in 16.3 minutes per contest.
"Of course this is a tremendous cultural experience as well and our team chemistry is good," added Johnson. "More than anything, this gives us the chance to play some games against high-quality competition."