By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
AMSTERDAM — To the players gathered around him on a cool summer afternoon in the Netherlands, Tony Bennett offered several thoughts Tuesday, including this one:
“Hope you guys understand how special it is to be here,” Bennett said.
At the time, members of the University of Virginia men’s basketball team were next to the track inside Olympisch Stadion, site of the 1928 Summer Olympics. Outside the stadium stands the Marathon tower, where in ’28 the Olympic flame burned for the first time and where UVa players and coaches posed for photo after photo Tuesday.
“Think about the dreams that came true here and the dreams that were shattered here,” Bennett, Virginia’s fourth-year coach, said at the stadium.
The Wahoos are in Europe to see the sights and play five exhibition games, the first of which starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. local time (1:30 p.m. Eastern) against the Netherlands B team. The team moves to Antwerp, Belgium, on Friday and then to Paris, France, on Sunday.
“I know guys are excited,” senior point guard Jontel Evans said Tuesday. “We’ve been beating on each other all summer. We’re eager to play somebody else.”
That’s true, even if the ‘Hoos know little about their opponents on this trip.
“I hope we play good competition,” Bennett said the other day at John Paul Jones Arena.
If the players’ energy level flagged at times on their first day in this historic city, that was understandable. They were struggling with jet lag and the time difference, and it took concentration on the city streets to avoid getting hit by the bicycles that are ubiquitous here.
About 800,000 people live in this city, and virtually all of them, it occasionally seemed to the visitors Tuesday, have bikes.
The team, meanwhile, has relied on other modes of transportation. The Cavaliers left Charlottesville, by chartered bus, on Monday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. After flying out of Dulles, the team arrived in Amsterdam around 7:30 a.m. local time Tuesday.
After the team checked into its hotel downtown, several members of the traveling party, including freshman forward Evan Nolte and managers Luke Ford and Johnny Carpenter, ventured into the city to look around. But many players crashed immediately, and hard.
“It feels like I’m sleepwalking now,” Evans said Tuesday afternoon.
Junior swingman Joe Harris is rooming with freshman center Mike Tobey. They had trouble with the alarm clocks on their cell phones and were late for breakfast. Harris said he went back to bed after that meal, which included pancakes, a local specialty.
“The only thing I’ve done here is sleep and eat,” Harris said with a smile.
Actually, he played a little hoops too Tuesday, as did his teammates. After a short bus ride, the `Hoos practiced for more than an hour at Sporthallen Zuid, a gymnasium near Olympisch Stadion.
Initially, at least, the players’ biggest challenge on this trip “is trying to find a rhythm in terms of sleeping and getting in a regular sleep cycle,” said Mike Curtis, the team’s strength-and-conditioning coach. “This helps. They get in there and get moving and kind of wake up a bit.”
Evans and Harris are returning starters and the team’s top players. The rest of the first five Wednesday night figures to come from this group: Tobey, Nolte, junior forward Akil Mitchell and sophomore forward Darion Atkins.
The coaching staff had to improvise at times Tuesday, substituting Nike shoes for orange cones and rolls of athletic tape for tennis balls during one drill. Still, the practice was spirited and productive, and the mood remained light afterward as the team made its way to Olympisch Stadion.
As they crossed one of the 1,600 bridges that dot Amsterdam, assistant coach Jason Williford offered Harris 100 Euros to jump into the canal below. Harris, wise beyond his years, declined.
Water was everywhere the `Hoos looked Tuesday. Canals divide this city, and the team saw many of them on a private boat ride that included dinner. Wednesday will bring basketball, of course, but also a guided walking tour of Amsterdam.
Evans lived in Germany for two years as a boy, and he’s happy to be back in Europe. “I’m really eager to see the city — after I get some sleep,” he said, smiling.