Illinois assistant coach Jay Price led a group of college athletes including Illini Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey on a brief tour of basketball games in Europe. Speaking on WDWS radio, he said the trip was worthwhile.
"We visited England, Belgium and Germany. We played five games in about eight days. It was a fantastic trip. It was well organized, it was put on well, we were treated with a ton of hospitality by all the countries and all the clubs that we played.
"It was a great experience for the kids I hope, and it was a good experience for me to be in charge since I haven't done that before. That was nice."
Price wants to be a head coach. This trip allowed him an opportunity to prove himself in that setting.
"It was really fun for me to be in charge. Three of the five games were 9 points or under. Calling timeouts, drawing up plays, making stuff work. We only had 45 minutes of practice the day we got there. That was only to work up a sweat and say, 'Don't go to sleep.'
"For me, that's the reason I did it. Not only for our guys but for myself to try to manage a game. It was definitely a new experience."
Price and the team did well, winning all five games. He normally substituted groups of five at a time to give everyone an equal opportunity. He couldn't do that one game.
"The closest game was 81-79. We actually had three guys foul out. So we had to throw the substitution pattern out and play it like a real game."
The opponents were professional club teams. They had good players but perhaps fewer quality ones than the US squad.
"The ages on the teams ranged from 18 to 32. I'd say the first couple teams we played were like a lower level Division I team. The third game was the same. The fourth game was the best game. It was probably like playing a mid level Division I team. It was a good team that could beat you. Then the last game was like playing a Division III team. They just couldn't handle us.
"I had ten guys on the team who were all Division I basketball players. Those other teams were 6-7 people deep, so with those 8, 9 and 10 guys we just wore other people down."
Price feels both Paul and Griffey benefitted from the experience. For Paul, it was a chance to try out the point guard position.
"They did great. We played Brandon 100% at the point. He did a nice job. Obviously, there's things he has to learn what to do. But he played very good defense and got his hand on a lot of basketballs and got steals.
"He did a lot better job of attacking the rim and not settling for threes. It was a different deal for him, but I thought he was very successful in what he did. He's just got to keep working at it. He's such a good athlete that he can do so many things.
"Tyler played really well. One game he was unbelieveable. I think he had about 27 points, I don't remember. Everything he shot went in. And in one game he got to play 11 minutes because he got fouled out. That's how it goes over there.
"He did a good job. I thought he rebounded the ball really well, and he always shoots the ball well. I do think he attacked the basket. He broke down a couple guys, so that was really good to see."
One of the best parts of the trip for Price was how players with such diverse backgrounds as Illinois, Purdue, Drake, Wisconsin and Missouri State melded quickly into a functioning team.
"It was fun getting to coach those guys. One thing about this team was that they really bonded. They did everything together. You don't know when you put ten guys together with different personalities what will happen. It was amazing to me how much they bonded.
"I kind of joked that if we had this team all year we could become pretty competitive. We had some talent, we had some real good players, we had some unbelieveable kids. It was a lot of fun."
Illini coaches want to test as many people as possible to see who can back up Demetri McCamey at the point this winter. Price hasn't seen them play all summer, so he cannot comment on possible point guards Joseph Bertrand or Jereme Richmond. Paul was given a chance to join the competition on this trip.
"We're just trying different things," Price explains. "You never know how a backup point guard is going to shake out. Obviously, five days on a trip isn't going to make you a point guard. Here's a taste of it, see what you think of it. We may have to do backup point guard by committee, which is just fine."
Price is in charge of Illini scheduling. He knows the 2010-11 schedule is especially rigorous.
"It's a difficult schedule. That's something we as a staff talked about and decided to challenge our team with. We feel like we have an older team. We have four seniors coming back, basically four starters. We have a great group of sophomores and a great group of freshmen.
"Obviously, it's a very aggressive schedule. I don't know if it's too aggressive or not. That's yet to be determined. We will definitely be challenged in our nonconference. And it's starting out right away with Texas and then either Pittsburgh or Maryland no matter what. It's definitely gonna be an exciting challenge for our guys."
With the extra experience gained by Paul and Griffey, it is hoped they can help their mates handle anything that comes along.