ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Antiesha Brown and Ebony Walker are getting a second shot at international basketball.
The two rising seniors are practicing with their University of New Mexico women’s teammates this month for the Lobos’ coming trip to Italy. Both have seen the benefits of such trips firsthand.
Brown and Walker were preparing for their freshman seasons at Texas Tech when the Red Raiders took a summer tour of Canada. That trip turned out pretty well.
“Well, we upset the No. 1 team in the country that season,” Brown recalls of Texas Tech’s victory over then-top ranked Baylor. “I think going to Canada definitely gave us a head start on the season, and going to Italy can do the same for this team.”
The Lobos are scheduled to leave Aug. 4 for a 10-day excursion that will include four games against Italian opponents. The games will allow UNM to begin building chemistry and integrating its four incoming freshmen early, but Walker sees the actual games as secondary.
“I know (coach Yvonne Sanchez) wants us to win,” Walker said, “but going to Italy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of us. Doing it together is just tremendous for team bonding and building chemistry. That can be a big deal.”
The coming trip already has paid dividends in Sanchez’s estimation. NCAA rules allow college teams to make such international trips once every four years, and extra summer practices are permitted for teams going abroad.
UNM held three of its 10 allotted practices this week. Coaches and returning players came away impressed.
“I know I’m always the ultimate optimist,” Sanchez said, “but it’s been great. It’s a fun group to coach, the energy has been great. I think everyone knows this trip is a great opportunity and wants to take advantage of it.”
Because they’ll play with international rules that include a 24-second shot clock, the Lobos have been working on fast-paced offense. Fast-break drills and quick motion sets have been the norm, and Brown believes the style fits UNM’s personnel.
“We’re superathletic this year and have a lot more depth at guard,” Brown said. “I think sometimes our energy dropped late in games last year, but I don’t see that being a problem at all now. Our freshmen are stepping right in – and they can do some things.”
UNM’s freshman class is composed of four guards – Cherisse Beynon, Kenya Pye, Laneah Bryan and Jayda Bovero – and Sanchez envisions the group making a significant impact in 2014-15.
“It’s kind of ideal to do a summer tour when you’ve got a lot of young kids coming in,” Sanchez said. “We do, and I think our freshmen will play this year. It’s huge to be able to get them a head start and get them comfortable.”
UNM’s increased depth is already being tested, because the Lobos have not been at full strength during summer practice and may not be in Italy. Walker, who is recovering from Achilles surgery, has been limited in practice and says she’s 70 to 80 percent recovered. Bovero also has been limited by a bruised foot, while sophomore Brooke Allemand has missed several days after taking an elbow to the head.
“We should get Brooke back next week,” Sanchez said. “Ebony and Jayda may not play in Italy; we’ll see. But at worst they’re able to do some drills, and we’ll have them in the fall.”
PHOTO OP: The Lobos took time for a quick photo opportunity Wednesday when MMA star Jon “Bones” Jones stopped by to address the team. The UFC light heavyweight champion spoke briefly with players at the Davalos Center and posed for group photos.
“I think everyone was excited,” Sanchez said, “I know I was. The big things he talked about were hard work and listening to coaches. No wonder I was excited.”