Vols 4-0 as they leave Italy
CASTELLANZA, Italy — The bus pulled out of the Pala Borsani gym parking lot. Still in uniform, the Tennessee players sang together. There was laughter, high-fiving, smack talking.
The Vols' 10-day basketball tour of Italy can be deemed a success. The team came together, traveled together, sightsaw together, stayed together and won together.
Four games, four cities, four wins.
"More importantly than anything, the guys did what they were supposed to do," coach Cuonzo Martin said before boarding the bus back to Como for UT's final night in Italy. "We came to win games. The guys got a chance to play and I got a chance to play a lot of different lineups and use some different rotations."
Tuesday night's hodgepodge of lineups produced a 109-59 victory in the Vols' Italian finale against Amici del Campetto. The win capped off the tour as UT passed its four international tests and outscored its opponents by and average of 49.3 points a game.
In the first three games, senior Skylar McBee gradually found his stroke. The 3-point line is more than a foot deeper overseas and the international ball has a slicker texture and different stitching. He got the hang of it before returning stateside.
McBee drilled three 3-pointers in an 11-2 UT run Tuesday that closed the first half giving the Vols a 56-32 lead. He finished with a game-high 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
"It takes a little getting used to, but by the last two games I definitely got the feel for it," McBee said. "The games went by quickly and I only took five or six shots in the first two, so it was pretty hard to find that touch."
The whole trip — from Rome to Florence to San Marino to Como — went by quickly, but ended in style.
Tuesday began with a rudder carving through Lake Como, hugging the coastline north to
ward Bellagio. A canopy of pink, tangerine, beige and sunflower villas bordered the lake. The Grigna Mountains provided an olive backdrop.
After nine days of walking tours through the ruins of Rome, the cobblestone streets of Florence and up the spiral steps of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a breezy boat ride offered some welcomed leisure.
An hour was spent in Bellagio, an aristocratic waterfront town at the intersection of the three branches of Y-shaped Lake Como. The boat sped back to Como soon after.
If you have one last day in Italy, that's how you spend it.
"You don't see that every day," Martin said. "Just beautiful."
As night fell over Como, UT traveled to Castellanza, about 40 kilometers outside Como. A game, that wasn't much of a game, awaited.
The Vols jumped out to a 24-14 first-quarter lead despite some sloppy play against the Italians' zone defense. Once McBee warmed up in the second quarter, though, it was over.
"Once you start making shots against a zone, it's no longer a zone," Martin quipped.
Sophomore center Yemi Makanjuola, who gradually improved during the course of the tour, posted a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
"He's definitely made progress," Martin said. "With a year under his belt, he's gotten more explosive. He's going up with more power around the rim, but also doing a better job of finishing with a soft touch."
Freshman Armani Moore also finished with 16, while junior college transfer D'Montre Edwards pulled down 13 boards. Both played well throughout UT's four games and, along with freshman Derek Reese (did not play due to a torn labrum), transitioned from newcomers to teammates.
"We gained a lot of chemistry with the new guys," said junior Jordan McRae. "Everybody got to really know each other on the trip. There's TV, but it's not English. There's really not a lot you can do beside hang out. We had a lot of laughs."
Now it's back to Knoxville. The Vols will head stateside at 9:50 a.m. local time (3:50 a.m. EDT) and arrive in Atlanta at 2:30 p.m. EDT.
Carry-on luggage will include four wins and countless memories.
"It was an amazing experience — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," McRae said.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn