By Greg Halbleib
NORMAL – The Illinois State men’s and women’s basketball squads are preparing for 11-day trips to Italy that begin in about a week.
Both Redbird squads will play three games as well as tour the country. The women will run August 6-16 and the men’s trip will be August 7-17.
Redbird men’s coach Dan Muller said he hopes the team will bond during the trip, which will be especially important with several new players.
“A lot of people don’t speak English, so you’re forced to come together because you have to hang together,” Muller said before practice Monday. “The second part is those cell phones. It costs a lot of money to be on that phone all day. Then you experience new things together which will bring anyone together.”
Redbird women’s coach Kristen Gillespie said with six newcomers on this year’s team, the extra practice and bonding time will be welcome.
“I think as a coach you kind of know early on how special this group can be,” Gillespie said. “I think we have a chance because of how close they are, and I know those 10 days are going to just get us closer.”
Muller said the extra practice time will help build a team that contains several new faces.
“It’s one thing when you’re working out in the summer because you get four hours a week, so we’re not actually practicing that much more than if we weren’t going,” Muller pointed out. “But they have something to look forward to and so there’s an end in sight, and I think the motivation to have great practices to embrace the defensive end is there. It’s been really good for these new guys.”
Gillespie said the added time is allowing her team to focus on its added depth.
“We’re going to play at a much faster pace,” Gillespie said. “We’re going to be able to rotate more people out. I think you’ll see us play four-guard lineups a lot more. Simone Goods was a great player but we really pounded the ball inside. I think we’re going to open things up this year. I think what you will see is we’re really going to defend and we’re going to put a great emphasis on rebounding.”
Greg Halbleib can be reached at email@example.com.