And they're off. The UConn women's team is headed to Italy to expand their horizons and play a little basketball, too. They're scheduled to play a four-game exhibition, but as head coach Geno Auriemma said earlier this week, "A lot of these guys, if you showed them a map of the U.S., they could show you two states — the one they're in and the one they were born in. So for us to take them over there and say, this is the Vatican, this is the Coliseum … you hope they understand the significance of all that. And I think it's our job to [make sure of] that."
So in addition to getting a jump-start on the 2011-12 season, it's also an opportunity at cultural enlightenment. Not a bad way to spend the last days of summer before things get hectic with school and basketball.
Freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, one of the best high school players in the country last year and a member of this summer's U-19 US National Team, is very much looking forward to the experience.
"I'm really excited, especially since it is where coach is from,"' she said, according to the Connecticut Post's Rich Elliott. ``I know he'll show us a good time. We'll handle business out there and get in some vacation time ... kind of.''
Auriemma mentioned it previously, but the trip will also serve as a chance for the team to bond, find their rhythm and ultimately, better prepare them for the rigors of another brutal schedule, both inside and outside the Big East.
"We have a great group of girls,'' UConn sophomore Bria Hartley said. "We're really close and all of us are going to have a good time there. And then just working together for the first time all of us being together. I think it's going to be great for us to build that team chemistry.''
Hartley and sophomore center Stefanie Dolson also played on the U-19 US National Team, and in the span of five months have gone from wide-eyed rookies to grizzled veterans.
Caroline Doty is another veteran who has struggled to get on the floor through no fault of her own. In late June, she tweaked the same left knee that kept her on the sidelines last season. And while she'll travel with the team to Italy she won't be able to play in the exhibitions.
"Italy is going to be more of an experience to go over there and see the history and learn everything about what we see over there,'' Doty said. ``Because I know the basketball part is going to come soon, and I still have two years left to play.''
The Huskies will face the Dutch National Team in Rome on Thursday, the Italian Select team on Friday, Saarlouis Royales on Monday, August 22, and the Nigeria National Team on Wednesday, August 24.