It took longer than originally scheduled, but the Stanford women’s basketball team is in Italy for another edition of the once-every-four-years trip to the peninsula nation packed with history.
After waiting several hours on the ground in San Francisco and making the best of a long layover in Germany, the current Cardinal are set to follow the familiar footsteps of travelers from The Farm in Italy.
Head coach Tara VanDerveer said in the days leading up to departure she messaged with former players such as Jayne Appel-Marinelli to reminisce about previous trips.
Senior Brittany McPhee remembered talking to last year’s seniors (Karlie Samuelson, Erica McCall and Briana Roberson) about their experience in Italy.
“They just said it’s a lot of fun to play basketball and see all the sights,” she said. “I’m excited to play with the new team and see how it’s going to be (this season).”
And it’s by design that former players throughout the years can share memories about being in Italy. Former long-time assistant coach Amy Tucker, who stepped down from coaching to take an administrative role within the program, said this will be either their fifth or sixth trip to the country.
Stanford works with a company called Basketball Travelers based in Seattle to arrange their time abroad.
“Every four years when I call them they ask, ‘Are you sure you want to go back? Don’t you want to try somewhere else?’” Tucker laughed. “We feel like this is the absolute best place to take a team. While we have been there before it’s always a new team we take. Italy offers, in our opinion, the absolute best sightseeing in terms of the history -- going to the Colosseum, going to the Vatican, seeing the Sistine Chapel, going to Florence to see the David, going to Venice. It’s such a great trip and you can’t beat the food, either. We’re doing the same itinerary we’ve done in the past in a lot of ways.”
Stanford’s late arrival may have thrown off the sight-seeing schedule, but the Cardinal plan to play five games in 10 days. That includes an almost last-minute adjustment to add Samuelson’s team, Pallacanestro Vigarano, which Stanford will play in Venice for their final game.
“It gives us a chance to come together and that’s the biggest thing about our team is our team culture,” said junior point guard Marta Sniezek. “Traveling together always brings people close. It will be fun seeing Karlie there.”
Stanford players joked that there won’t be any excuses if they leave Samuelson open for a three. If that happens a timeout may quickly be called followed by a stern reminder.
There won’t be any practices while in Italy because Stanford was allowed 10 practices -- and more than the typical two hours a week -- during the summer to get ready.
“We have a young team -- four freshmen, four sophomores and four juniors -- we need them to really take advantage of this opportunity,” VanDerveer said. “We’re playing five games, we’re going to see a lot of great sights and eat a lot of great pasta. But basketball can be fun, too.”
And it’s not just the youth of the team that makes the extra practices and games as cherished to a coach as any of the historic sightseeing. VanDerveer and the staff are introducing several changes to the offense.
Not surprisingly VanDerveer provides no details about the changes beyond saying that they will be emphasizing the versatile skill sets of their players. She said several months ago that she wanted the playing style to more closely resemble the Golden State Warriors.
Stanford will count on a very talented freshmen class to help right away and Sniezek echoed what several coaches and players have said about the freshmen.
“The great thing about this Italy trip is we have so many more hours to work with so we have been in the gym together and working really hard,” Snizek said. “They (the freshmen) have come a long way this summer and I’m really excited to see what they can do.”
McPhee gestured to a gym with every member of the team warming up thirty minutes before when practice was supposed to start.
“I’m really excited because everyone is hardworking,” she said. “We’re all in the gym early. I’m excited because we’re all very invested and it should be fun to learn a lot and I’m at the point where I can teach a little bit, too, which will be fun.”
The lessons learned during a summer of international basketball experience multiple players had separately, and now together as a team, should have the Cardinal ready for a tough non-conference schedule in several months.
Stanford opens the season No. 10 at Ohio State.