Saturday, Aug. 15, 10 a.m. - Fin.
A jam-packed week full of basketball and fun activities off the court has come to an end. Well, it actually came to an end when the Crusaders landed in Gary about 1 a.m. last night, but I hope you'll forgive me for catching a few ZZZs after a long day to close out the trip!
As I said in Thursday's post, Friday was a very light day to allow the players to rest up a bit for the final game of the trip. And whether it was because of the light schedule, or a renewed vigor from the Crusaders after Thursday's performance, the legs did seem to be under the team throughout the game against Ottawa.
When the trip was announced, head coach Bryce Drew said "This will be a great chance for us to gain valuable experience as a team on the court. More importantly, it will allow our players and coaches to grow closer as a family as we prepare for the upcoming season." The latter was definitely on display Friday morning, as the team gathered after breakfast for a meeting that lasted nearly an hour and contained almost zero basketball talk. Instead, the talk focused on the people on the trip - talking about themselves and what they've learned about each other.
After some time to relax, the Crusaders headed over to the Parliament of Canada - which basically is the Canadian equivalent of the White House - for one last team picture. Pregame meal followed mid-afternoon, followed by a rematch against the Baylor squad, this time in FIFA. Once again, the result would fall the Bears' way, though, as Baylor (playing as Real Madrid) scored in extra time for a 1-0 win over Valpo (playing as Barcelona). 25 more push-ups apiece was the punishment for the Crusaders.
After the game of FIFA, Crusader assistant Roger Powell led the combined Valpo/Baylor chapel service before Valpo departed for Montpetit Hall to take on the University of Ottawa. You can check out the game recap HERE - a great bounce-back performance for the Crusaders, playing without Alec Peters, Vashil Fernandez and E. Victor Nickerson. Jubril Adekoya was a beast in the paint, and Shane Hammink again showed he's going to be a force to be reckoned with this year for Valpo. Max Joseph had a very good game as well. Against one of Canada's most prolific 3-point shooting squads - a team which erased a 15-point Baylor lead in about five minutes Thursday morning - the Crusaders did a great job of bending but not breaking - only once giving up triples on three straight possessions.
A great way to end the trip for the Crusaders on the court, who immediately departed for the Ottawa airport for the trip home. At the airport, the team said goodbye to trip organizer/host John Dangelas, who we can't say enough about - he was just such an invaluable asset to have along, making sure the trip ran smoothly, whether it was meals, activities, shootaround times or anything else the team might need. The Crusaders also said goodbye to John's son, Andrew, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy his time hanging with the players throughout the week and who the players took under their wing to make him feel a part of the team.
A pit stop in Buffalo to clear customs went smooth as can be, and after refueling, the team touched down in Gary around 1 a.m. Saturday morning. A long day to end a trip which was a fulfilling experience for all involved, both on and off the court. Fans will have to wait until November to see the fruits of the labor these past couple weeks (including the 10 practices leading up to the trip) in terms of on-the-court development, however.
We'll try to catch up with head coach Bryce Drew at some point next week to get his thoughts on the trip as a whole. Thanks for following along with the games, the Twitter updates and the blog throughout the trip, and Go Valpo!
Thursday, Aug. 13 - The lesson of the day? Losing still doesn't feel good, and you've got to bring the intensity every time you step on the basketball court.
The day started for the Crusaders with a trip to go watch Baylor play their morning game against Ottawa - a trip that not only served the purpose of allowing the coaches and players to see Ottawa in person and scout them prior to tomorrow's game, but also allowed head coach Bryce Drew to see his brother, former Valpo head coach Scott, coach live - a luxury rarely afforded either of them, given the hectic nature of the college basketball season and the focus on their respective teams.
Following that, Valpo held a brief shootaround at Carleton before heading off to pregame meal. Then, after the meal came something fans never thought would happen - Valpo and Baylor facing off on the basketball court...on the NBA 2K15 video game! Alright, so not as exciting as an actual real-life game between the two squads, but everyone in the room was plenty excited and cheering on their respective team. Each team chose four players to play a quarter apiece, two-minute quarters, and while Lexus Williams got Valpo to the lead after one quarter, the Crusaders were unable to hang on. The losers had to do 25 push-ups apiece, and many of the Baylor players made sure to capture the Crusader players and coaches paying the price.
Once everything calmed down, Baylor assistant coach Jerome Tang led an inspiring chapel for both teams. The two squads then went their separate ways as Valpo got ready to take on Carleton. You can read the recap of the loss HERE, and it pretty much says it all - Carleton came out hot from the floor and took advantage of some open shots. The Ravens look at August games against NCAA competition as a chance to prove themselves against some of the top teams from the U.S. - for instance, beating Memphis twice last season - and after having lost their first game this summer to Murray State, they were revved up and ready to go from the start for Thursday's game - a level which the Crusaders did not reach in the early going.
Less than 24 hours remain on the trip, and just one more game on the docket for Valpo, as it gets set to face Ottawa tomorrow evening. It will be a very light day, activity-wise, for the Crusaders before the game, with the thought that there might have been some fatigue this evening - a quick trip to the Parliament of Canada for a team picture and a walk around the corner for pregame meal the only scheduled excursions outside the hotel. Valpo and Baylor will again hold a joint chapel service before the Crusaders take the court for the final time.
Until next time, Go Valpo!
We have posted our interview with Keith Carter.
Wednesday, Aug. 12 – A travel day for the Crusaders today, with one incredibly wild stop mid-trek.
Coming off of last night’s win over McGill, the team departed Montreal at about 11:30 a.m. ET, en route for Ottawa for the final two games of the trip on Thursday and Friday. But at about the halfway mark of the trip, there was a slight detour to the Rouge River for some whitewater rafting.
Now, it’s one thing to see whitewater rafting on the itinerary for the trip. It’s a whole another thing to actually get out into the river and experience whitewater rafting, especially for a group who for the most part had never participated in the activity before, and who range in swimming ability from “able to dog paddle to shore to save their life” to “a trip down the rapids is just like doing laps in the pool”.
As one of the coaches put it in the team meeting Wednesday night, there was a lot of macho yelling and screaming going on before the start of the rapids, and a whole lot less of it after that first rapid and people started getting flipped into the river! A number of guys talked about seeing their lives flash before their eyes as they ended up in the river, underneath the boat or being carried downstream by the current.
All that said, all three boats had a fantastic time throughout the trip, and it was definitely tons of fun and a memorable highlight of the trip for all involved. The pictures at the end of this post showcase just a sliver of the fun that was had on Wednesday. And the good news is that all the Crusader players came out unscathed and no worse for wear.
After everybody threw on some dry clothes, the team made it the rest of the way to Ottawa, where they ate dinner and walked around for a bit to explore the city in the evening – a lot of the guys were able to catch parts of a giant fireworks show going on around 10 p.m. local time.
Then it was just back to the hotel, a team meeting and off to bed, as two tough opponents await the Crusaders on the court in the next 48 hours – Carleton Thursday night (five-time defending national champions) and Ottawa Friday evening (two-time defending national runners-up). Baylor got in to the hotel Wednesday night as well, and a number of guys are planning to go watch the Bears take on Ottawa late Thursday morning. It’s especially nice for the Drew family to have both teams in the same city on their respective international tours, and Valpo and Baylor will join forces for chapel services on both Thursday and Friday afternoons.
Until next time, Go Valpo!
We have posted our interview with Tevonn Walker.
Tuesday, Aug. 11 – A relatively low-key day for the Crusaders, who spent the day much like they would a game day on a normal road trip, while still making time for a couple excursions.
Unlike Sunday, when the team played twice in one day and had no gameday shootaround, the team’s schedule included a shootaround on Tuesday. On their way over to Champlain Saint-Lambert for their typical day-of-game practice, the team drove by Olympic Stadium – built in the mid-1970’s as the main venue for Montreal’s 1976 Summer Olympics – and stopped briefly despite the rain for a photo op.
After the run through on the court, the team drove up Mont Royal, a large hill which overlooks the entire city and provides some picturesque views, even despite the overcast weather. The squad then got into their typical gameday afternoon routine, going back to the hotel briefly before eating pregame meal about four and a half hours before the game and returning to their rooms to rest up for the game.
An already scheduled late tip-off (8:30 p.m. ET) ended up being pushed back even later until 9 p.m., as the Xavier-McGill women’s game that preceded the Crusaders’ contest went into overtime. But that didn’t stop the team from coming out and playing its game, as Valpo defeated McGill 80-60 – you can read the recap HERE.
A good, solid game for the Crusaders – Darien Walker was tremendous on the offensive end and also made an impact defensively, Shane Hammink scored in double figures for the third straight game and again showcased a dynamic aspect to his play that is going to make him exciting to watch for the next two years, and Derrik Smits showed some nice moves offensively while also blocking three shots in just nine minutes.
Tomorrow’s a travel day for the Crusaders as they make the trek from Montreal to Ottawa. A stop for an activity along the way is on the docket, but you’ll have to check back tomorrow. Until next time, Go Valpo!
We have posted our interview with Shane Hammink.
Monday, Aug. 10 - Another day in the books for the Crusaders in Montreal, as we approach the halfway mark of the trip on Tuesday.
The morning saw the team head up to the Batshaw Youth Centre, north of the city, to conduct a basketball clinic. The kids there ranged in age from 13-17, and all were there as part of a youth protection program - helping those youngsters who come from troubled households. Following the clinic, the team was presented a framed photo of the grounds with the centre's thanks for coming to work with the youths.
The team stuck around for lunch on the grounds, a nice barbecue feast with chicken and sausage. A few of the Crusaders even joined in an impromptu pickup game of soccer with some of the kids as well. It was truly a great experience, not only for the kids there, but for the impact it had on our players and coaches.
Later in the afternoon, it was time for some fun, as the Crusaders embarked on Montreal Jet Boating. This excursion took place down the St. Lawrence River, where the boat takes you right into the Lachine Rapids. The team was happy and dry in the photo below, but by the end, it was a happy and totally soaked Crusader squad which disembarked the vessel.
They warned us before the trip that you're going to get soaked, but until you actually experience it, you don't realize just how strong the waves are. At times, it seemed like the entire seating deck was submerged, getting pounded by wave after wave as the boat goes straight into the heart of the rapids. Definitely a fun experience for the entire team - especially Nick Davidson and Darien Walker, who had the front corner seats on the vessel, which seemed to be target practice for the water as it came aboard.
Dinner at a Hibachi restaurant and some down time to walk around concluded the day for the Crusaders. Another busy day awaits tomorrow, with a game against McGill University coming Tuesday evening. Until next time, Go Valpo!
We have posted our interview with Nick Davidson.
Sunday, Aug. 9 - It's been another busy, but fulfilling day for the Crusaders in Montreal, both on and off the court.
The day started for the team by attending Sunday morning mass at the famous Notre-Dame Basilica, a parish which dates back to the 17th century. The church has been used for high-profile events such as the wedding of Celine Dion, and state funerals for former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and former Montreal Canadiens star Maurice 'Rocket' Richard. The architecture of the building is breathtaking, and the interior of the sanctuary is ornate - truly a beautiful building. While the mass was held in French, meaning that most of our travel party couldn't understand more than a word here or there, it was still truly an awesome worship experience.
Then, there was on-the-court business to take care of. As I recapped HERE, the team won both games - beating the Montreal All-Stars in come-from-behind fashion, 67-66, at Tevonn and Max's alma mater, and then downing Brookwood Elite, Tevonn and Max's AAU program, 85-60. It was two different styles of play against two totally different types of teams.
The Montreal All-Stars were a group of current and former professional players from the Montreal area that tour director John Dangelas cultivated. I mentioned in the recap that the team was led by former Syracuse star Kris Joseph, but he had a number of strong supporting cast members - players like Ricky Voley, who was a Division II All-American at Northern Michigan and played over in France for five years, Randy Dezouvre, who played two seasons at Iona, and Aleks Mitrovic, who played three years at Division II Mount Olive College and is playing professionally in Europe.
This was a game against grown men, and it showed in the game, which was extremely physical. It felt like it took the Crusaders a while to get into the rhythm of the game, but once they did, the team was able to impose more of its will and go on the crucial second-half run to take control.
Normally after a win, you enjoy it and you're able to relax a bit. Not this time, as the Crusaders faced the unusual task of playing twice in the same day. The team stopped for a refueling meal of pasta and grilled chicken before heading out to take on Brookwood Elite. It took the players a little bit to get going, playing against a squad which was not nearly as big but was looking to push the tempo and put on some full-court pressure, but they took the lead for good halfway through the first quarter and eventually ran away in the end. It was good to see Vashil Fernandez back on the court in the second game, while Nick Davidson and Chandler Levingston Simon both saw some time in that contest as well.
It was interesting watching the players deal with the FIBA rules as well in both games. The obvious differences are the four 10-minute quarters and the 24-second shot clock, the latter of which really made a big impact. It did cause a bit of confusion, especially with some of the unfamiliar reset rules resulting in eventual shot clock violations. The other big difference was the strictness of the traveling rules - it seemed like there were about seven or eights travels called across the two games that would have been let go in the NCAA game.
The 24-second clock also made a drastic difference pace-wise on the offensive end - the Crusaders have such a deep playbook, and you get so used to watching them take some time to get into their sets. But with the 24-second clock, especially the second game when Brookwood was pressing, once you got the ball across and into the offense, you're only left with 15 seconds or so to work with - definitely an adjustment. I do think this will be an asset down the road, since the NCAA has moved to a 30-second shot clock this year - I believe that having this experience will make that 30-second clock seem like an eternity, as opposed to those teams who are going straight from the 35-second clock to 30.
The pair of victories made for a happy dinner at Le Milsa, a Brazilian steakhouse which features an all-you-can-eat constant serving of 10 different varieties of meat. Suffice it to say, all involved took full advantage of the menu!
Tomorrow's an off day as far as games, but the team will still be partaking in a couple activities. Until next time, Go Valpo!
We have posted our interview with Vashil Fernandez.
Saturday, Aug. 8 - Well, it's been a long first day as the Crusaders are now all settled in at the hotel in Montreal, getting ready to kick off play tomorrow.
Many thanks to tour host John Dangelas, a member of the coaching staff at McGill University, for greeting our two flights at the airport, as everyone eventually reunited over a fantastic dinner at Baton Rouge. It was a pretty smooth process entering the country, with Vashil Fernandez becoming a "diplomat" along the way.
The team following dinner at Baton Rouge
After dinner, the team headed down to Old Montreal to walk around and take in the sights and sounds of the city, led by natives Tevonn Walker and Max Joseph - also served to help work off a few of those calories from dinner!
And now, back at the hotel, preparations begin for the trip's heavy lifting. The team will attend Mass tomorrow at the famous Notre-Dame Basilica before playing a pair of games - taking on the Montreal All-Stars at 1pm at Vanier College, Joseph and Walker's almat mater, before facing Brookwood Elite, the duo's former AAU program, at 6pm. We'll attempt to have in-game updates on Twitter @ValpoBasketball, and you'll find a brief recap of both contests online tomorrow night.
We have posted our interview with Max Joseph.
Friday, Aug. 7 - Less than 12 hours now until the Valparaiso men's basketball team departs for Montreal, kicking off its first foreign tour since the summer of 2010. I'm Aaron Leavitt, assistant AD for media relations, and I'll be there every step of the way, chronicling the Crusaders' journey.
Losing only one senior from last year's squad, there's a lot of experience coming back on the court this season for the Crusaders, and there are a number of talented pieces who didn't see action last year for Valpo - whether due to injury, transfer or coming in as a freshman this season - who figure to slot into this year's team.
But anyone who's ever talked to head coach Bryce Drew knows that he sees the off-the-court development of his team as just as important, if not more so, than the on-the-court development, and this trip affords the Crusaders the opportunity to grow off the court, both individually and as a family.
That said, the challenges awaiting the Crusaders on the court, as they look to blend new players in with the vast majority of last year's Horizon League championship squad, are plenty. Right away, on Sunday afternoon, Valpo will take on the Montreal All-Stars, which features some of the best players in the Montreal metropolitan area. Later that day, the Crusaders will face Brookwood Elite, the AAU program which produced current Crusaders Max Joseph and Tevonn Walker - both Montreal natives returning home in a Valpo uniform for the first time.
On Tuesday, Valpo will take on the first of three University opponents in the form of McGill, RSEQ regular season champions last year and a team which boasted the nation's second-stingiest defense. Then, the Crusaders will make the short trek to Ottawa to close the trip against Canada's top two University teams. Valpo faces Carleton - five-time defending CIS national champions - Thursday evening before finishing its Canadian slate against Ottawa - two-time reigning CIS national silver medalists - on Friday night.
A trip like this, however, is just as much about the experiences off the court as it is on the court. We don't want to spoil the entire itinerary of the Crusaders' time in Canada, but suffice it to say, the players and coaches will get plenty of time to enjoy recreational activities, visit landmarks and perform some community service. Each day, we'll be joined by a different player via YouTube to talk about their experiences - giving fans a behind-the-curtain look at the trip.
As far as game coverage goes, we'll have brief recaps after each day. We're hoping the host Universities will be able to provide live webcasts - whether audio and/or video - of at least a couple of the last three games, and of course, any links to live coverage will be available on the website's schedule. Check out the @ValpoBasketball Twitter feed as well for photos, both from games and from other activities on the trip. At the end of the trip, our plan is to put together a wrapup video as well.
Thanks for joining along virtually on the trip - hopefully it gives you a taste of what the players and coaches will experience over the next week. Go Valpo!