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Women’s basketball: A Lobo road trip like no other

Lobo women’s coach Mike Bradbury is excited that his players will get to do a lot of sightseeing in Europe and not just focus on basketball.

It’s technically a basketball road trip but hoops is not the priority.
The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team will take to the skies this morning for a 10-day excursion to Europe. For many Lobos it’s the trip of a lifetime, one that will include tours of the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower and other iconic destinations.
“I’ve never been out of the country,” rising senior Najala Howell said, “so I’m grateful this is happening in my senior year. I’m going to enjoy it.”
Sophomore Jayla Everett plans to see Europe with an eye toward the future.
“I want to see the Eiffel Tower and just take a lot of pictures,” she said, “but I kind of want to see what the competition’s like, too. It’s one of my goals to play overseas, so this will show me what to expect.”
UNM will play two exhibition games during its visits to Italy and France, one against a professional team from Latvia and one against a national squad from Greece.
But normally ultra-competitive coach Mike Bradbury says he’s not overly concerned about the outcomes. He’s more looking forward to seeing his players enjoy their long-anticipated trip abroad. Ten of the 12 Lobos making the trip have never been to Europe. (Australians Ahlise Hurst and Bride Kennedy-Hopoate are the exceptions).
“Most of them have never experienced anything remotely like this,” Bradbury said. “I want them to take everything in. The games will be interesting but they’re secondary at best.”
NCAA rules allow Division I athletic teams to take educational trips once every four years. This will be the UNM women’s basketball team’s first such excursion under Bradbury, who took over in 2016.
As one might imagine, overseas trips don’t come cheap. Bradbury and UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez estimated the price tag at roughly $120,000 for a 22-person travel party that includes players, coaching staff, trainer and administrators.
Nuñez emphasized that UNM’s financially strapped athletic department is not footing the bill.
“Once they decided to shoot for this, women’s basketball made a conscious effort to save money where they could,” Nuñez said. “They saved enough out of last year’s budget for what amounted to a down payment, then fundraised the rest. They worked their tails off to get this done and it won’t cost the department one extra dollar.”
Bradbury said most of the fundraising dollars were donated by Three Point Club boosters.
“People have been very generous,” Bradbury said, “or this probably wouldn’t be happening this year.”
As it stands, some of the newest Lobos will experience European culture before they’ve played a game in cherry and silver.
“I heard about this trip on my (recruiting) visit,” freshman Andriana Avent said, “and I’ve really been looking forward to it. I’m actually kind of antsy about the long flight but I can’t wait to experience new things — especially food.”
Kennedy-Hopoate, a veteran of long-distance travel, is as eager to watch her teammates as she is to see the sights.
“Things are so different over there,” she said. “This will open some eyes about what the rest of the world is like. Everything from the long flight to the languages is an adjustment. I can’t wait to see how some of these girls handle it.”
Bradbury admits he’s also curious how his young team will adjust against more experienced foes. UNM has not scouted its competition and the Lobos have spent little time working on anything other than their base (man-to-man) defense.
But the 10 healthy players (guard Aisia Robertson and post Azaria Robinson will make the trip but will not play because of knee injuries) suiting up for UNM this summer have demonstrated an aptitude for scoring. Bradbury plans to use all 10 extensively, push the pace and see what happens.
“We haven’t put much of our system in,” he said, “so I really just want us to play hard and play together. Getting some extra practice time and a couple games is a bonus for us, but I think bonding and team-building are more important on a trip like this. It’s about having fun.”
Euro steps
UNM women’s basketball team’s European itinerary
Today — Depart Albuquerque for Rome. Stop in Dallas; roughly 12 hours of flight time.
Aug. 1-3 — Rome. Tours of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum. Exhibition game vs. TTT Riga, a professional team from Latvia, on Aug. 2.
Aug. 4 — Florence/Bologna. Tour of Florence including art museums/galleries. Exhibition game vs. Eurobasket Turkey, a national all-star team.
Aug. 5 — Venice. Tour of Venice includes a gondola ride through the canals and a visit to St. Mark’s Basilica.
Aug. 6-8 — Paris. Tours include the Louvre Museum, Palace of Versailles and Eiffel Tower.
Aug. 9 — Return to Albuquerque. Stop in Chicago; roughly 12 hours of flight time.