What better place to nourish seeds of a new era than in the birthplace of the Renaissance?
Coach Cuonzo Martin and his Tennessee basketball team will disappear into the clouds above Atlanta this afternoon. They will reemerge 5,000 miles later into Rome's awaiting hands.
It's there that Martin and the Vols will embark on their 2012-13 quest exactly 97 days before it officially begins on Nov. 9 against Kennesaw State. This is year two of the Martin Era — year two of the mission to redesign Tennessee basketball and steer it back to the NCAA tournament.
Ten days. Four games. From Rome to Florence to San Marino to Como.
"It can be huge for us," UT point guard Trae Golden said of the trip. "Every team in the country doesn't get an opportunity to do this."
Especially teams that return four starters and more than 80 percent of their scoring.
The Vols will square off with Italian professional teams in their journey from the ruins of Rome to the shores of Lake Como. Martin is unsure of the level of competition. It's of little consequence in the big picture.
Tennessee is going to Italy to get better on the court and grow off it. The goals are multi-pronged, with the end game pointing toward developing modern day Renaissance men.
Martin wants to see his guards limit turnovers and make open jumpers. He also wants them to appreciate the grandeur and of the Colosseum, understanding what a real gladiator once represented.
He will look for his post players to competently guard skilled European big men on the perimeter and not get beat on back cuts. Then he'll look for them to recognize and respect the brilliance of Michelangelo's David.
At all times, Martin hopes the journey solidifies already strong team bonds.
"We can continue to develop those relationships," Martin said earlier in the month. "Guys become brothers in these processes. They're always together — together from start to finish."
The Vols began preparing for Italy on July 11.
On the court, coaches utilized 10 practices granted by the NCAA to teams taking offseason foreign tours. The Vols' three newcomers — freshmen Armani Moore and Derek Reese, and junior college transfer D'Montre Edwards — were assimilated. Golden and senior forward Jeronne Maymon, both recovering from early summer microscopic knee surgery, took to the floor to get back up to speed. Vital offensive and defensive philosophies were reintroduced and refined.
Off the court, UT associate professor for history Dr. Robert Bast presented a series of 90-minute lectures. The scope ranged from central events of the Italian Renaissance to the history of significant landmarks.
Bast will join the Vols on the trip abroad to continue the course. And yes, the players are earning credits.
"In the words of Pier Paolo Vergerio, (being a Renaissance Man) means pursuing an education, 'that calls forth, trains and develops the highest gifts of body and mind,' " Bast said.
Adapting will be key throughout the Vols' 10 days overseas. Language barriers and strange food menus should prove to be interesting. A new set of rules dictated by the International Basketball Federation will bring a 24-second shot clock, a wider lane and a deeper 3-point arc, among other changes.
But change, in some cases, is a good thing.
At this time last year, Martin was in Colorado Springs, Colo., preparing for the World University Games in Shenzen, China. Martin had barely met his new team before tackling duties as an assistant coach for Team USA.
When he returned from China, Martin found himself with a UT team that was dismantled by Michigan in the opening round of the 2011 NCAA tournament, lost two early entrees to the NBA draft and was sifting through the soot of an NCAA investigation.
Now, Martin is taking his own team abroad. Nearly the entire roster returns from a team that went from a preseason pick for the SEC basement to the NCAA tournament bubble. Ubiquitous stability is hard to ignore.
So is the Renaissance.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn