The Nevada women’s basketball team’s upcoming trip to Spain is something coach Amanda Levens has been thinking about for a long time. How long?
“It was probably the first day I was hired,” said Levens, who was hired by the Wolf Pack in March 2017.
International tours have become commonplace in college basketball, but this will be the first trip for the Nevada women, who depart Reno on Saturday for a nine-day, three-city, three-game extravaganza.
“It’s something the best programs are doing,” Levens said. “They use it from a recruiting standpoint, they use it to recruit players from the United States, ‘Hey, you’re going to get this experience if you play at Nevada.’ Also from an international standpoint, you go over there and meet people in the country and see their style of basketball and develop contacts with them so you can recruit international as well.”
Nevada was granted 10 extra practices this summer to prepare for the trip, which Levens said is a huge benefit, especially for her program, which added eight players in the offseason, including five transfers.
“It’s so valuable in terms of building relationships,” Levens said. “Our team has eight new players and for us to get caught up with how we want to play, what we’re looking for, getting them acclimated in the weight room and familiar with each other on and off the court is huge. I’ve been so pleased with our progress this summer. We’ve grown our relationships and I feel like we have a lot of things in basketball-wise. The 10 additional practices have allowed us more time where we can use the court for skill work, for film and allowed us to be more advanced than we would if we had a traditional eight-week summer period.”
The trip will include 15 players in addition to nine staffers. It will be the first time overseas for 13 of the team’s players, including Essence Booker, a Las Vegas native entering her sophomore season.
“At first I didn’t believe it,” Booker said of the trip. “I was, like, ‘Yeah, right, we’re going to Spain?’ Once it started going and we started talking to more donors and we got a lot of support, I realized this was really happening and we were going out of the country and get to fly for a day. I was pretty scared, but now I’m really excited.”
The trip, which was funded by boosters, will begin in Spain’s capital city of Madrid, where the team will watch a Flamenco show and tour Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, the home of the Real Madrid soccer team. Nevada will then travel to Toledo, where it will play CB Alcobendas. The Wolf Pack then heads to Valencia, where it will take part in a scavenger hunt in the city and a boat trip around the Mediterranean Sea.
Nevada will play the Valencia All-Stars before moving on to Barcelona, where it will embark on a bike tour of the city and tour the Sagrada Familia Cathedral before playing the Barcelona All-Stars.
Levens said the caliber of competition varies but will test the Wolf Pack.
“Having done these tours a couple of other times, you don’t really know who you’re going to play because the clubs they set you up with, sometimes their full roster isn’t there because technically they’re out of season, so sometimes they set you up with players from other teams,” Levens said. “Typically, you’re going to play experienced professionally who play on the club teams for a living. Some of them play part time, but you’ll play people who are older, seasoned veterans and also some young players who are up-and-coming and hungry and excited to play a college team from the States. It will be a faster style of play and my experience over there is it will be really physical and the players are really tough, so it will really challenge us.”
Nia Alexander, a transfer from the University of San Francisco, went on an international tour of Italy with the Dons. She said that trip benefited their team and Nevada should have a competitive advantage because of the extra practice time.
“We’ve definitely looking forward to having time to spend together, explore the country, try new foods,” Alexander said. “Basketball has been wonderful to me. This is my second foreign tour. I think it’s a blessing to play basketball and explore the world.”
Imani Lacy, sophomore forward, joked Nevada has put together its own version of The Cheetah Girls, based on the 2006 Disney film based on a teen quartet of pop singers who take a whirlwind tour of Spain in search of stardom. Nevada’s Cheetah Girls quartet includes Lacy, Mikayla Christian, Amaya West and Emma Torbert. Lacy is looking forward to experiencing a new country with her teammates.
“We are starting to gel a lot better,” Lacy said. “Things are starting to flow a lot better. With all these new players coming in, we’re gelling better and playing for each other and with each other a lot better.”
Levens went on some foreign tours while at Arizona State but had never visited Spain, which is part of the reason she picked that location for the Wolf Pack.
“I’d personally always wanted to go to Spain,” Levens said. “I’d never been to Spain. The price point was really perfect for what we wanted to do. The international basketball is really good in Spain. If you look in our conference there are several Spanish players who are impactful players. It’s a great place for our program to try and get into in recruiting and getting to experience all of those things they have to offer.”
In addition to the team’s 24 members, Levens said she’ll bring her two elementary-school-aged sons.
“They’re missing the first week of school and they’re pretty disappointed about that if you can believe it,” Levens said with a laugh. “They have makeup work, so we’ll have plenty of time to get that done, but looking back, you can always go for a week of school, but it’s not like you can go to Spain every day, so I think it will be an awesome opportunity for them.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.