Every four years, the NCAA allows college basketball teams to take a foreign trip.
BYU’s scheduled trip to Italy, which begins on Friday, was already crucial because of a new coaching staff, new players and new system. With the recently announced nine-game suspension by the NCAA of star forward Yoeli Childs, the trip takes on even greater importance.
The Cougars will have four games to examine other lineups and to figure out a way to play without one of the best post players in the country.
“Like every coach in America that gets to do this trip, I’m way more excited about the 10 days of practice,” first-year BYU coach Mark Pope said. “The trip is going to be amazing. We’re doing lot of fun things to prep for it and really enjoying this time on the court together. Our practices have been fun and the guys have really been engaged.”
Childs — who was suspended for nine games by the NCAA for issues regarding hiring an agent during his exploration of a professional career — will be able to play for BYU on the trip to Italy. So will Utah Valley transfers Richard Harward and Wyatt Lowell. BYU is in the process of submitting waivers to allow Harward and Lowell to play in the 2019-20 season, but a decision has yet to be reached on those waivers.
Guard Alex Barcello, a transfer from Arizona who officially joined BYU on Tuesday, can also participate on the trip.
The Cougars have seven seniors on the roster but also six athletes who are new to the program.
“It’s been really great so far,” BYU guard T.J. Haws said. “We’ve really gotten after it and had good, competitive practice. Coach told us he likes that he doesn’t have to coach effort with this team. I hope we can develop some chemistry on the court. I feel like this team is super close off the floor. We’re getting closer every day and guys like each other. There’s a good vibe in the gym.”
BYU leaves for Italy on Aug. 16 and will play four games in five days. The first game is against Stella Azzurra, which plays in the B Division of Italian basketball. Two weeks ago, Nebraska beat Stella Azzurra 87-56 during the Huskers touring trip. Pope said the Cougars were scheduled to play an A Division team but the club folded. BYU will take on a Lithuanian team that is touring Italy for training, a university team and an A2 team.
The players and coaches have participated in study sessions to learn about Italian culture and what they will see while on their trip.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to know the staff and to get to know the new guys,” BYU forward Dalton Nixon said. “It will help us to be one step ahead and try to put this thing together. It will be good to have all the guys on a road trip together, being able to be on the floor in a game setting before the season starts. It’s is a big advantage with the new coaching staff and the new system. We hope to have some great Italian food and a lot of fun touring Italy, but let’s get some wins while we’re out there.”
When will Yoeli be back?
Childs’ nine-game suspension is going to cost him the opportunity to play in the Maui Invitational, which is held during Thanksgiving week. The Cougars open the tournament against UCLA and a win would likely set up a meeting with Kansas. Childs will also be unavailable for big home games against Nevada and San Diego State, two teams that beat BYU last season.
Behind the scenes, BYU assistant coach Cody Feuger has been working to finish the preseason schedule in a way to get Childs back on the court for the trip to the Huntsman Center to play Utah on Dec. 4.
The BYU schedule has yet to be announced but Pope said they are waiting on one contract to be signed. According to Robby McCombs of Vanquish the Foe, the Cougars are trying to slot a Division II team and Weber State into a place on the schedule that will allow Childs to be back for Game 10 at Utah.
Meanwhile, Childs will continue to work on his game and get ready for the start of his season, whenever that happens to be.
“I’m excited to go to Italy and play in these preseason games,” Childs said. “These guys will be fine. This coaching staff has been unbelievable, pushing everyone. These guys are going to grow. These guys are going to step up the challenge. They are going to make huge plays and develop their games, and in March we’re going to look back and go, ‘You know what? Throughout all the adversity, we did it.’ And in March, at the end of the line, we’re going to look at each other as brothers and say we did something really hard and we made it happen.
“I refuse to not let this be a magical season. Nine games are not going to stop that. Nothing on this earth is going to stop that. Whether injuries or challenges outside of basketball, nothing is going to stop this from being a magical season, I refuse to let that happen.”