CLEMSON — Other than Daylight Savings Time twice a year, Clemson sophomore point guard Jordan Roper has never adjusted his watch.
That’s because he’s spent every moment of his 19 years in Eastern Time Zone.
Justifiably, Roper’s a little bit excited to spend Aug. 8-18 on an tour of Italy, sightseeing and playing four exhibition basketball games nearly 5,000 miles to the east.
“It’s crazy. We’re so blessed to go on this trip,” Roper said. “We can’t thank coach Bender (Clemson director of basketball operations Dick Bender) enough for setting this whole thing up. We’re really lucky to be a part of everything.”
The Tigers didn’t find out the journey was official until the middle of last season, and it never sank in until this summer when it became the next task at hand. Clemson will fly from Atlanta to Rome, landing Friday in Italy and returning a week from Sunday after passing through Florence, Venice and Lake Como.
The Tigers, in rebuilding mode after last year’s 13-18 finish, were granted 10 extra practices the past few weeks to prepare for Italy, where they will play various local clubs and all-star teams.
“What it allows us to do is begin to develop our identity as a team,” head coach Brad Brownell said. “Each team takes on its own personality, and we’ll begin on this trip. It will be interesting for us to spend more time with our guys in a little bit more laid-back setting, certainly a historical setting.”
FIBA basketballs have been in use this summer so the shooters can get acquainted with the different grip on an international ball. NCAA rules allow programs to take an international trip every four years. The Tigers last ventured outside the United States when the 2007-08 squad went to Bahamas over Labor Day weekend, and haven’t gone on a foreign tour since a 1981 excursion through Brazil.
“It’s a cool trip for all of us. Never been overseas, really looking forward to it,” Brownell said. “I told our guys, this is a heck of an opportunity. They’re 18, 19 years old; took me to 44 before I get to make my first trip overseas. Doesn’t happen often — I want them to appreciate it, and I really think they will.”
This year’s Clemson team has no seniors, but the players look at the bright side.
“Since we’re a younger team, we’re a lot closer than we were the last two years,” said junior forward K.J. McDaniels, Clemson’s top returning scorer and rebounder who spent the summer in camps run by NBA superstars Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
“They want to learn from me; I’ll learn from them also. I’m still learning, too. So it’s going to be fun.”
When ex-forward Tanner Smith trained with the Tigers last month, in between one-year contracts with European professional teams, he offered some advice to his old teammates.
“You want to take this trip as basketball, being able to get a jump-start on teams that don’t get to take this opportunity this summer,” Smith said. “But at the same time, it already is going to be a long season. I tell them not to take it too serious, to play with some confidence.”
Smith believes Clemson will get ample chances to work on rotations, and ultimately shore up a struggling offense.
“I think with the 24-second shot clock they’ll be playing with, it will help them offensively, because those guys have to be ready to shoot throughout that 24-second shot clock,” Smith said. “The first good shot, you’ve got to take; you’re not going to get a better one. So I think it might help them offensively for guys to always be ready to make a play. Hopefully they can carry that over.”
Roper’s intrigued to see how everyday life is different without the usual American pastimes like texting and SportsCenter.
“They’re trying to say we’re not going to bring our cell phones,” Roper said. “Facebook, if we can get some WiFi somewhere, I’m sure they have it … 10 days in Italy, I don’t think we’ll be sitting on our phones the whole time.”