Sometimes unintended circumstances can be a silver lining in disguise.
That was the case for the 2013-’14 Clemson men’s basketball team when it took an international trip to Italy in August of 2013. The Tigers were overseas as part of an NCAA rule which allows schools to play international competition overseas every four years.
Clemson was in the middle of its trip to Italy, where it had already seen cities like Rome and some other really nice places, when it stopped in a little small town in the middle of nowhere for a couple of nights.
The hotel where they were staying was really nice and looked like a castle. However, there was one thing missing. There was no Wi-Fi in the rooms, which to the Millennial Generation is almost like leaving home without your toothbrush.
“There was only Wi-Fi in the lobby and, as you know with this generation, that was a problem,” head coach Brad Brownell chuckled.
Brownell described the moment when his players realized they had no Wi-Fi as comical as they had no idea what they were going to do with themselves. So, what did they do?
“They needed to know what was going on,” Brownell said.
So the entire team piled up in the lobby of the hotel, for hours, so they could surf the Web, Tweet or do whatever they do on the social media platforms.
“For a bunch of time, one night in fact, they were all down in the lobby until all hours just hanging out and goofing around and using the Wi-Fi because the Wi-Fi was so important because they did not get to use it much during that day,” Brownell said.
As it turned out, it was the best part of the trip. Clemson won all of its games that summer and learned a lot about Italy and what makes it so special, but that one night sitting in the hotel lobby forced the entire team to come together off the court and away from the classroom.
“That was good for them,” Brownell said. “It made them appreciate some different things. It was an unintended consequence that benefited us.”
It allowed the Tigers to come together like no other team Brownell has had at Clemson as the Tigers, led by All-ACC performer K.J. McDaniels, went on to post a 23-13 record (10-8 in the ACC) that year which ended with a trip to New York for the NIT Final Four.
“The Italy trip was outstanding,” Brownell said. “I thought it set the tone for that season with K.J. and Rod (Hall) and all of those guys. It brought us a little closer together and gave us a few extra practices in the summer.
“Some of the bonding experience, you can’t really put a price on that.”
Brownell is hoping the Tigers’ trip to Spain on Aug. 8-18 will have a similar result for this year’s team. Clemson will be allowed by the NCAA to have 10 full practices leading up to the trip. The Tigers will begin practice later this month and then will have several more in the early part of August before heading off to Spain.
“It can be a great trip for us,” the Clemson coach said. “We are in that environment together for 10 days and we all get to see each other in a lot of different ways and that can be really special when you have a group that gets along as well as this team already gets along. I think this year’s team will be a group that really, really likes each other. I think they really have a kindred spirit about them.”
It’s also good in terms of what happens on the basketball court, too.
“For us, we want to try one or two new things,” Brownell said. “If we want to look at a couple of defensive things, we might do some things that way.”
It also gives the Tigers a chance to allow their freshmen—Clyde Trapp, Aamir Simms, Anthony Oliver and Malik Williams—and transfers—Mark Donnal and David Skara—an opportunity to learn how the team practices and what the coaches expect on the practice court as well as in games.
“If gives us a little bit of a head start,” Brownell said. “It is not a major advantage. It is a small advantage in terms of being able to set the tone of a few things and being able to get a few things in.”
It will also be educational for the players. Brownell, like he did on the trip to Italy, will bring a member of the faculty with them to Spain.
“We turned it into a class and made it a learning experience,” Brownell said. “The guys go to class a couple of weeks before the trip. Then obviously during the trip, the instructor that comes with us takes some time with the guys and does a few things with them.
“The guys keep journals. They have to write a paper and take a test and do some stuff.”
Brownell says the educational element is more important than the basketball aspect of the trip because it gets the players focused on what life is like outside of basketball.
“This is a life experience,” he said. “This makes sure they understand and appreciate the opportunity of what we are doing. When we went to Italy that was the first time I went overseas and I was 44 years old. These guys are 18, 19 and 20 years old. There are a lot of people that never get to do this.
“It just kinds of educates them on the culture, the history and the art. It makes them appreciate a little more of what they are looking at.”
And more importantly, it brings them together as a team. Now, if they can just find a hotel out in the middle of nowhere with no Wi-Fi in the rooms.
“I don’t know,” Brownell said with a grin. “We will have to wait and see.”