An intensive 10-day learning experience with no strings or pop quizzes attached.
That could sum up the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team’s European excursion earlier this month. The Lobos saw, tasted and experienced enough of the Old World to feel they returned to Albuquerque a bit more worldly.
Gondola rides in Venice, tours of Vatican City and The Colosseum in Rome and a view from atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris ranked among the Lobos’ personal highlights. All seemed to agree that the trip served to broaden their horizons.
“Honestly, we visited some places I didn’t even know existed,” sophomore Jayla Everett said. “I found out that I’m pretty ignorant about France and Italy and all the history over there. It was a really good learning experience.”
Sophomore Shaiquel McGruder agreed.
“It was so different from anything I’d seen before,” McGruder said. “The culture, the languages, the food, I loved it.”
Everett and McGruder both listed the Eiffel Tower as No. 1 on their list of sights, though for vastly different reasons.
“Being able to go all the way to the top and see Paris was awesome,” McGruder said.
Said Everett, “Everyone talks about the Eiffel Tower and I actually thought it would be higher. But it’s really beautiful, especially at night when it’s all lit up.”
Junior Jaedyn De La Cerda, a Roswell native, brought a different perspective to the discussion. De La Cerda ranked several of Italy’s famed venues ahead of the Eiffel Tower.
“Being from New Mexico, I really liked the gondola rides in Venice,” she said. “You have to sit perfectly still because if you move one bit the gondola can tip over. I never knew that.”
De La Cerda also appreciated the iconic churches, museums and artwork the Lobos took in during their tour. UNM coach Mike Bradbury felt the same way.
“Personally, I liked Rome,” he said. “Vatican City and The Colosseum are incredible. But we also went to the Louvre in Paris and saw the Mona Lisa, which is absolutely amazing. Seeing that in person was a highlight for me.”
Bradbury and his coaching staff largely de-emphasized the basketball portion of their trip, which included two exhibition games against European foes. UNM took on a professional team from Latvia and a national team from Greece.
The Lobos won both games. Official statistics were not kept but Bradbury said UNM won the opener by six points and the finale by 30-plus.
“The first team we played was really good,” he said. “They had experienced players, some in their 30s, and we had to work for that one.”
Bradbury was a bit more concerned about game two after his team spent much of the day on tours.
“We kept track and we’d walked about 9½ miles that day,” he said. “But our kids played hard and the team we played was not as good. We had 10 players and I just subbed them in five at a time in both games, so I was pretty happy with the way we played. Our freshmen looked like they belonged.”
The Lobos did considerable damage from 3-point range, which figures to be a big part of UNM’s arsenal in 2019-20.
“The gyms were really hot,” De La Cerda said, “but I thought we looked pretty good on the court. Those teams had different skill sets than what we’re used to but we adjusted.”
Everett came away encouraged.
“It was different going five subs at a time,” she said, “but I feel good about our potential, how good we can be.”
In addition to the sights, several Lobos enjoyed new tastes during their trip.
“Oh my goodness, the pasta in Italy was so good,” McGruder said.
Everett, a self-described picky eater, discovered a new love in Paris.
“Crepes!” she said. “I really, really liked those crepes.”
But as one might expect the American contingent did not thoroughly enjoy every taste of Europe.
“Their ketchup’s not the same as ours,” De La Cerda said, wrinkling her nose. “I can’t really describe it, but it’s not good. Ruined my French fries.”
Spoiled spuds notwithstanding, the Lobos unanimously endorsed the trip as a whole and felt the bonding experience will serve them well during the coming season.
“It brought us closer,” McGruder said. “We couldn’t really speak the languages and the only people we knew were each other. I think we got to know each other better, especially the new players.”
Bradbury called the trip, which was paid for through a combination of booster donations, fund-raising and savings from last season’s program budget, a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“It far exceeded my expectations,” he said, “and those were high to begin with. Some of our players probably would never make a trip like this on their own, and I really enjoyed watching them experience things. We were really fortunate to go.”