The Razorback basketball team goes truly international on Friday, when they leave for a 10-day preseason tour of Italy. The Hogs are taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows programs to participate in an overseas tour once every 4 years. You may remember Stan Heath and John Pelphrey taking teams to Cancun in the past (if you haven't completely blocked those years from your memory). While there, the Hogs are tentatively scheduled to play at least 3 games against Italian Professional teams.
This trip provides a great opportunity to get some quality competition on an unfamiliar court, which is pretty important, given the vast disparity between the Hogs' home and away records last season. It won't be Rupp Arena, but it definitely should help the team get outside of their comfort zone and not be so seemingly intimidated (or tentative, at least) when they have to play away from BWA.
The real benefit of this trip, however, will be the extra practice time and the opportunity for newcomers to bond with the upperclassmen. The biggest perk and motivation for teams to take these international preseason tours is extra practice time above the typical NCAA limit. While in Italy, Arkansas will get to conduct 10 extra practice sessions that they wouldn't get to have otherwise. With 9 newcomers for this upcoming season, all of whom have never experienced a Mike Anderson practice, this is huge. Will Mike have them running steps at the Coliseum? Probably not, but I bet he can find a nice Italian analogue to Cleveland Hill.
More than that, since Arkansas returns only 7 players from last season, including roughly half of its scoring and rebounding, the 9 incoming players will be fighting for minutes. Marshawn Powell is back from injury. As he was easily the Hogs' best player before his injury last season, his return is a welcome sight. Juniors Rickey Scott and Mardracus Wade also return, and along with Powell, make up the bulk of the team leadership. Three members of the highly-regarded 2011 recruiting class (B.J. Young, Rashad Madden, and Hunter Mickelson) also remain, along with fan-favorite walk-on Kikko Haydar.
As far as incoming players, JUCO transfers Charlie Henderson and Davion Spivy spent last season redshirting, and have already had a year to mesh with the current roster. The 2012 recruiting class (Anthlon Bell, Michael Qualls, Dee Wagner, Jacorey Williams, and JUCO transfer Coty Clarke) will all have opportunities to contribute, if their abilities are up to it. As a highly-regarded JUCO player, Clarke will have an added expectation to produce quickly. Former Fayetteville standout Fred Gulley will be eligible to play in Dec., after transferring from Oklahoma St., and Little Rock native Alandise Harris transferred in from the University of Houston (and dropped a bomb on us when the Hogs played the Cougars last season). He's currently petitioning the NCAA for immediate eligibility; if granted, he has potential to be a huge contributor for us.
In addition to athletics, the team will get a chance to do some sight-seeing and participate in Italian culture. Hopefully the guys will take full advantage of this opportunity.
As far as I know, there will be no TV or radio for the Razorbacks' international games, but the athletic dept. may setup a live boxscore. Hopefully the Hogs can come back with some preseaon W's on their resume, but win or lose, the extra practice time and time spent together will be worth the trip.