PITTSBURGH, PA – Less than five months after completing a historic season, the Duquesne Dukes women’s basketball team will soak in even more history during a two-week European tour this summer.
Fresh off a 28-6 season and the first NCAA tournament berth in program history, Duquesne wrapped up a series of 10 pre-tour practices on Thursday as they prepare for a tour of Hungary, Serbia and Croatia. NCAA rules permit D1 basketball programs to travel internationally once every four years; the Dukes previously traveled to Toronto in 2012.
“I’m very excited to take home our players from Europe and I’m more excited to take our Americans there and have them experience a different way of life,” said Duquesne head coach Dan Burt. “I think it’s going to be a great life changing experience for all of us.”
— PIT airport (@PITairport) August 4, 2016
Following a nine-hour flight from Pittsburgh to Paris, the Dukes will move on to Budapest where they will compete in four exhibition contests against Hungarian and Serbian clubs. They'll also be visiting the hometowns of several players and taking in the sights of Eastern Europe, including the Terror Museum in Budapest, which documents some of the hardest times in Hungarian history; the walled city of Dubrovnik (setting for “Game of Thrones”); and the Catholic cathedral Notre-Dame.
“The opportunity to go overseas also helps from a recruiting standpoint,” Burt said. “We know that there’s some really outstanding young players who are going to coming to watch us play and that’s going to help us. But, just the ability for us to get these practices is going to benefit us” when Duquesne opens the season November 13.
Duquesne’s first exhibition takes place Sunday night against Bajai Noi Kosarlabda Klub in Szekesfehervar, Hungary.
“I hope everybody is going to like my city, my food and my culture,” said freshman guard Nina Aho, a native of Budapest. “It’s a very good opportunity for them to show how Europeans live and how Hungarians live.”
For the Americans on the roster, the trip will mark a new experience for them.
“I’ve been on a cruise, I’ve been out of the country, but I’ve never been to Europe,” said sophomore guard Chassidy Omogrosso.
For freshman Halle Bovell, the trip to Europe will mark the third continent she has visited in the past month, having helped lead the Canadian National Team to a second place finish in the FIBA Americas U-18 tournament in Valdivia, Chile last month.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” said Hamilton, Ontario native said of her travel schedule. “Lots of time has gone by really fast and I haven’t stopped to notice it. Looking back, these are memories that I’m going to have my whole life and making them with the team just makes it that much better.”
— Duquesne WBB (@DuqWBB) August 5, 2016
The 2016-2017 roster represents a mix of local talent: five players are from within an hour of Pittsburgh while one player hails from northwest of Columbus, Ohio. International players, including six Europeans and three Canadians, fill out the roster. Of the 15 players on the roster, six are freshmen while five are sophomores, making for a fairly young squad.
The 10 extra practices associated with the tour certainly will benefit a relatively young Dukes squad ahead of the start of the 2016-2017 season.
“It also helps a lot that we are able to start practicing so early this season and to be together in a way like no one really did before,” said senior forward Amadea Szamosi. It’s going to help us a lot on how to look at each other and know each other from a different perspective.”
The second game of the tour takes the Dukes to Szamosi’s hometown of Pecs, Hungary for an exhibition game against Team Pecs on Monday, followed by a game in Vrbas, Serbia agsinst Zenski Kosarkaski Klub Vrbas on Tuesday. Vrbas is 125 miles north of sophomore guard Juliana Vojinovic's hometown of Cacak, Serbia. The final game takes place next Saturday in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
“We’re able to put a lot of the drills that we have and about a third of our offensive sets in,” Burt said. “We’re by no means November-ready to play a game. We’re not really in great game-shape, and nor do we want to be on August 4. But, we like where we’re at and the fact that we’ve gotten these 10 practices and we’ve been able to mesh as people, on- and off-the court and I think it’s really helped us.”
That extra time on the court also will pay off for returnees such as sophomore Conor Richardson, who patiently waited her turn last season behind three senior guards in April Robinson, Deva’Nyar Workman and Emilie Gronas.
“They taught me a lot about the game and how I should fix my game and what I should do to better myself,” Richardson said. “I’m just taking what they taught me into my game now so I can be more like them and Dev always told me ‘don’t be like me, be better than me.’ I’m always taking that into consideration and working hard to do the best that I can and hustle on that floor.”
During Thursday’s practice, Richardson showed her skill on the defensive end during one drill, blocking a shot to help set up an offensive drive up the court.
“She’s very vocal on the court and off the court and that plays a part, along with making shots,” Burt said. “She’s going to have to make shots a little more, because her defense is already there. If she does that, then she’s going to play a lot of minutes for us.”
Richardson isn’t the only Duquesne underclassman who will be battling to earn significant minutes this season. Aho, the freshman from Budapest who FIBA ranked as the best three-on-three U-18 player in the world, has already made a big impact on The Bluff during the summer.
“She’s got a really good basketball IQ and you can see her leadership capabilities coming out already even though she’s only been on campus for a month,” Burt said of Aho. “We’re really excited about bringing her back to Budapest, I know she’s really excited to go home and show her teammates the world-class city that she comes from.”
The biggest difference the Dukes will have to overcome during their trip? The shot clock. Unlike the NCAA’s 30-second shot clock, women’s basketball under FIBA rules sets the shot clock at 24 seconds (similar to the WNBA).
“We’re going to have to play a lot faster, starting our offense a lot faster than we normally would,” Omogrosso said. “It’s going to be a lot different than how we play here, but we’re just going to have to adjust.”
At the end of the day, though, it’s all team-building as Duquesne looks to continue their quest to be among the best in D1 women’s college basketball.
“It’s going to build a lot of team chemistry and bonding to help us on and off the court,” Omogrosso said. “It’s going to force us to do a lot of things that will help build relationships with such a new team.”