By Steve Irvine, UABSports.com
Business is part of the agenda but the week-long trip to Spain is about much more than basketball for Jerod Haase and his UAB men's basketball team.
"In terms of the trip itself, it is about the games but it's also real important that we spend time getting to know each other and learn to trust each other," Haase said. "I think that's something that sets good teams apart from great teams."
It doesn't take anything more than a glance at the 2014-15 roster to understand why this edition of Blazers' basketball needs time to get to know each other. Nine of the 13 players on the roster are entering their first season of basketball at UAB. C.J. Washington is the lone senior on the team and the other returnees from last season are sophomores Denzell Watts, Tosin Mehinti and Tyler Madison. Robert Brown, a former starter at Virginia Tech, practiced with the team last year but was unable to play after sitting out the season because of transfer rules.
Name tags might be a good option.
"A lot of the freshmen, and there so many of them, didn't come in until the second semester of summer school so we didn't have too much time to jell," Brown said. "And with volleyball camp, not being able to be on the court as much, going to Spain is just an opportunity for us as a team to get closer."
Haase said 10 players will make the trip to Spain. That group includes three of the four returnees, Brown, freshmen Nick Norton, Chris Cokley, Jarvis Calhoun, William Lee, Lewis Sullivan and Lionel Love. Watts, who had recent shoulder surgery, is not making the trip and incoming transfers Hakeem Baxter (Maryland Eastern Shore) and Denzel Collins (USC Salkehatchie) are not eligible to travel with the team the team because they were not enrolled in summer classes.
The trip to Spain is believed to be only the second preseason exhibition tour for the UAB mens' basketball program. Mike Davis took his first UAB team to the Bahamas before the 2006-07 season.
"I'm hoping it speaks volumes to recruits and UAB fans that the commitment from the university and the administration is fantastic," Haase said. "For us to be able to go on this trip is important for this program, like the locker room and the court, that we're doing things to make this program better and at another level."
Haase said he's been part of several foreign tours as a player or assistant coach but most have been for a shorter amount of time. Brown was part of Virginia Tech team that traveled to Canada before his freshman season.
The Blazers will play three games on the tour - two in Madrid and the other in Barcelona.
"Experience on the court will be real good because we're playing against professionals," said Madison, who played in 19 games as a true freshman. "From the team standpoint, it gets everybody comfortable on and off the court so I think it's good."
Haase said the schedule will be full on game days and off days.
"We're not going to go over there and sit on our rear ends, I can promise you," Haase said. "We'll get out there and whether it's going to the town centers or going to the historical monuments, seeing whatever sights there are to see. I want to explore and see what their culture has to offer and make sure our guys do that as well, even on game day. When it's game time we'll do that but during day we'll get out and explore."
One of the toughest parts of preparing for the trip - at least logistically - was making sure that everyone in the traveling party had updated passports. Haase said travel is also something new for some of the newcomers. One player, Haase said, indicated he had only been on one prior airplane flight and some may not have ever been on an airplane before.
"I think the excitement level is very, very high and I've told them that it better be high because if I hear any complaints about food or lack of sleep or anything else, they get to walk home and that means swim home," Haase said. "They're not excited about that so I think they'll have a great attitude."
The coaching staff has already reaped one of the benefits of the trip with the extra practice time leading up to the trip.
"From the practices I've learned, especially, how the freshman are going to be able to adjust and the sophomores are going to adjust to their new roles," Haase said. "I have a better feel going into the fall of exactly what we have. I think that's an important thing."
Now it's time for some fun and some games.