Bloomington, Ind. – Jamarcus Ellis couldn't help but be excited about his first road trip as an IU basketball player.
The 6'5" Chicago product remembers being in Bloomington last October and looking over the beginnings of the schedule and seeing the team's journey to the Bahamas penciled in.
"I found that out and I was like ‘wow, I've never been out of the country before,'" Ellis said. "It will be a good experience for me to go out and see other parts of the world."
Or at least other gymnasiums of the world.
While the Hoosiers' trip to the Bahamas might have looked good on paper, Ellis and his teammates are going to come back much more familiar with the nooks and crannies of the 2,500-set Kendall Isaacs Stadium than about the assortment of beaches and hot spots in this Caribbean paradise. Coach Kelvin Sampson's team is expected to depart from Bloomington at around 3 p.m. today, arrive in the Bahamas at 6 p.m., and then play four games in less than 48 hours before returning home Sunday night.
""It's definitely a business trip," said co-captain Lance Stemler. "We just get time to play with each other and get used to our teammates and get some work done. Maybe they'll give us a little free time at the end of the trip, but we just have to get our work done first."
That work starts tonight at 8:30 p.m. when the Hoosiers take on the Bahamas Select team. They'll come back and play two games on Saturday against Guatemala and the Sunshine Auto Club at Noon and 8 p.m., respectively, and then conclude the trip with a 2 p.m. match-up against the Commonwealth Bank Club at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The trip might have once appeared to be an early-season getaway for the team, but it's instead designed to provide a valuable opportunity for the coaching staff to work with a new-look squad. Due to graduation, a trio of transfers and A.J. Ratliff's academic ineligibility, Sampson will have only four returning scholarship players available when the team opens regular season play against UT-Chattanooga Nov. 12.
While that's a lot of losses from a team that went 21-11 and finished third in the Big Ten a year ago, the additions to the roster are significant. Sampson and his staff have welcomed in a six-person recruiting class that includes McDonald's All-American Eric Gordon as well as the National Junior College Player of the Year in Ellis. Those additions have many thinking IU could be poised to contend for its first Big Ten title since 2002.
But the Hoosiers must first find out how all of the new pieces fit with the returnees, and that's a big reason why Sampson got the Bahamas trip on the calendar.
"That was the thought behind it," Sampson said. "I don't know of a school that doesn't do this. Most of the schools in the Big XII do it and we did it while we were there. It's just a good opportunity."
It's a good opportunity for the coaches to watch, but an equally valuable chance for the players to get a feel for each other as well. The six newcomers gained some level of familiarity with each other during their Barnstorming Tour in early August, but this will be the first chance for the newcomers and veterans to play in an organized setting.
"It gives us a chance to learn each other's games more in a structured type setting," said Stemler. "Even though we play open gym together, it's still open gym. There are no coaches there and it's not really how we play when Coach Sampson is there. This will give us a chance for them to learn how to play in Coach Sampson's system and learn about each other in that system. It will be a good experience."
Bahamas Trip Looked Good...on Paper
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