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UConn in Germany for trip that is more than just basketball

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published November 08. 2012 4:00AM
Fred Beckham/AP Photo
UConn's R.J. Evans, left, is fouled by UMass-Lowell's James McDonnell during Sunday's exhibition game. The Huskies play Michigan State in their season opener on Friday in Germany.

Travel-weary UConn arrived in Frankfurt Wednesday morning after an overnight flight to Germany.

In the next few days, they will be on a whirlwind tour, following a busy itinerary, before opening the 2012-13 season Friday night against No. 14 Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic, the first regular season basketball game ever overseas, held in a Ramstein Air Base hangar.

Before departing, first-year coach Kevin Ollie said the trip will be a big-time learning experience for the Huskies.

"It will put life in perspective," Ollie said. "They'll understand that they have these liberties and freedoms because of these wonderful troops. There are a lot of things they get and they have to understand they don't get it just from freedom. They get it from hard work, by other people giving their all and sacrificing their lives. That gives us the freedoms we have.

"When they go see the troops and see the kids, hopefully they get that perspective. That's one thing I want to stress and emphasize when we get over there."

The Huskies had a full day of activities Wednesday. They visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and a USO Center in the afternoon and went to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Center at night before practicing at the Ramstein base fitness center.

R.J. Evans of Salem already has been impacted by the trip.

"This experience is definitely eye opening and makes me appreciate the things I have in life more," Evans tweeted Wednesday.

Today, UConn's schedule includes riding on a C-130 military transport plane, running a clinic for 100 kids on the base and practicing at night. The team will meet with the base military personnel on Friday morning during a Hanger 1 Appreciation Day and attend a VIP function at the Officer's Club in the early evening.

Tipoff time is midnight, German time (6 p.m. here). Then the Huskies will fly home Saturday, arriving back on campus at about 9:30 p.m. It will be an exhausting but worthwhile trip for both programs.

"It would be tough if only we had to do it or Michigan State just had to do it," Ollie said. "Both of us have to do it. We just have to take care of our bodies."

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo jumped at the offer to play in the game. Playing in last year's inaugural Carrier Classic on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego against top-ranked North Carolina was a memorable experience for Izzo and his players.

"It seems like it's a long way to go to play a game but our experience with the military last year was so rewarding," Izzo said in a press conference before leaving for Germany. "These kinds of things just bring you closer to reality and I'm always in for a dose of reality. We'll be there with the greatest team in the world."

UConn's historic trip holds added significant for German natives Niels Giffey (Berlin), Enosch Wolf (Goettingen) and Leon Tolksdorf (Berlin). They'll have a rare opportunity to visit with family and friends.

"I couldn't have imagined this," Giffey said earlier this week. "I don't think any international players really ever get a chance to go back to their home country and play in front of their families and friends. It's a unique opportunity."

Evans, who's making his first trip out of the country, has a German connection. His grandmother, who now resides in New York, is from Germany. He'll see some relatives - a great uncle and cousin who reside in Frankfurt - sometime this week.

"It will be pretty cool," the ex-NFA great said. "That's a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will be a chance to show the troops we're supporting them and playing for them. It's going to be a good experience."

g.keefe@theday.com

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