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Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Summer foreign trips now more inclusive


College coaches always want time to spend with their entire teams -- incoming freshmen included -- during the summer, something previously disallowed by the NCAA.

However, one way to get around the rule now is to go on a foreign trip. For the first time, the NCAA is allowed incoming freshmen to join the offseason excursions.

Prior to leaving, a team gets 10 practices, although they don't have to be 10 in a row. It's a welcome addition to the summer schedule for any coach.

Four of the most important trips that teams will be going on this summer are:

Kentucky: The Wildcats will travel to Canada in August for John Calipari's first look at new high-profile freshmen Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones as they mesh with the returnees in a quest to keep the Wildcats atop the SEC.

Oregon: The Ducks are off to Italy as new coach Dana Altman looks to find his footprint in the program in advance of the Ducks moving into a new state-of-the-art facility.

Northwestern: The Wildcats have a real shot to make the NCAA tournament for the first time. Going on a foreign trip with Kevin Coble back after a season-ending foot injury could make a huge difference in the Wildcats' quest to make the field of 68. Northwestern, like Oregon, is off to Italy.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers are the pick to win the Big East with the return of every starter save Jermaine Dixon. The last time Pitt went on a foreign trip it was to Canada in August 2004. Coach Jamie Dixon had just completed his first year and the core of the group was still young with Levon Kendall, Carl Krauser, Chevon Troutman, Ronald Ramon and Chris Taft highlighting the roster. That team finished 20-9 and was a No. 9 seed.

The expectations are even higher for this group. That's why Dixon wanted to take advantage of the new rule, and the team will be in Ireland from July 29 to Aug. 9.

From a basketball perspective, the practices -- like the one the Panthers held last Friday and will again this Friday -- are key. The most important issue for Pitt is figuring out the rotation, especially up front.

Pitt has several big men, Nasir Robinson, Gary McGhee, Dante Taylor, J.J. Richardson and Lamar Patterson, who will all have to figure out their roles. In the backcourt, the Panthers will likely go with a three-guard lineup of returnees Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown in place of Jermaine Dixon. But incoming freshmen Isaiah Epps and Cameron Wright could certainly push those three at times. Learning how they handle the road will be key for Jamie Dixon.

Dixon said that when he took the team to Canada in 2004, he was hoping to find an effective 3. He didn't on the trip and said he was still searching in March.

This roster isn't devoid of options for him. But he'll learn quite a bit more on this excursion and he'll have plenty to ponder come October.

This opportunity exists because the Panthers took advantage of an invite from Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who is the current U.S. ambassador to Ireland. The team will get a reception in Dublin at the U.S. Embassy. The trip includes two games in Cork, two in Dublin and two in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The team will meet with PeacePlayers International, an organization that uses basketball to promote peace and togetherness between Protestant and Catholic youth in Northern Ireland. A year ago, the Pac-10 tried unsuccessfully to quash foreign trips. The rationale by the league in trying to trash these trips was cost-cutting and that not all schools could afford them. True. Most have to raise separate funds. But not all go, and if they want to invest in a trip that can be beneficial to their team, there is no harm done.

The Pac-10's effort was sincere, but it was also short-sighted. You can argue that these trips are junkets if you'd like. And for some schools they are. But if the players and coaches want to get something out of it more than basketball -- like opening their minds to issues outside of their comfort zone (see: Northern Ireland) -- then there can be an educational experience that comes out of the sojourn.

• Louisville's appeal to get Memphis guard Roburt Sallie eligible for next season is based on Sallie graduating and now apparently pursuing a graduate major that Memphis doesn't offer; Louisville didn't say what that exact major was. Sallie would be playing for his third school and fourth coach in his Division I career after being denied admission to Nebraska before he made his way to Memphis under John Calipari and then Josh Pastner.

• At its ongoing meetings in Chicago this week -- in addition to deciding how the new opening-round games will be formatted -- the NCAA tournament selection committee will review whether it will move the opening-round games from Dayton and whether it will have them on one day (Tuesday) or two (Tuesday and Wednesday).