Independent Student Newspaper of UW Oshkosh Campuses

The Advance-Titan

Independent Student Newspaper of UW Oshkosh Campuses

The Advance-Titan

Independent Student Newspaper of UW Oshkosh Campuses

The Advance-Titan

UWO basketball tours Europe

Courtesy of UWO Athletics — The UWO men’s basketball team poses with Czech basketball team Sokol Prazsky after an exhibition game between the two teams over the summer in Prague.

For some students, summer is a time to travel and gain new experiences before heading back to the grueling grind of college life.

This was true for the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team this summer, but the reigning Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champs continued the grind of the offseason by playing three games in three separate countries.

“We have been very fortunate to participate in two recent foreign trips at UWO – 2016 to Italy and 2019 to Spain,” UWO head men’s basketball coach Matt Lewis said when the trip to Europe was announced in June of last year. “Both of our previous two trips proved to be a formative experience for our team. It helped build bonds that would carry over to the locker room and court as well as years to come for our alumni.”

NCAA rules state that foreign trips grant teams 10 additional practice dates leading up to their departure, something that Lewis says is an invaluable opportunity to practice together during a time in the year where Division III programs are not typically able to have athletically related contact.

The team spent 11 days in Europe, participating in scrimmages against local teams in the Czech Republic, Germany and France while discovering the ever-evolving basketball culture across the pond.

The first stop of the trip, which began May 30, brought the Titans to Prague, Czech Republic, where UWO practiced with and took on local pro-basketball team Sokol Prazsky. The Czech squad plays in the 1. Liga, the second division of Czech basketball just below the top-tier National Basketball League.

Like most European countries, the Czech Republic has a system of basketball leagues that is very similar to the structure of soccer leagues in most parts of the world. Teams can get relegated and promoted between different leagues depending on how they finish in the final standings. In the Czech Republic for example, teams can either play in the NBL or the 1. Liga depending on how they finished the previous season. The top two teams in the 1. Liga are promoted to the NBL whereas the bottom-two teams in the NBL are relegated to the 1. Liga.

Since its first season in 1995, Sokol Prazsky has played every season in the 1. Liga, but the team has sent many players and coaches to top European clubs and the Czech national team.

UWO played hard against Sokol Prazsky in the scrimmage, but the Czechs ended up being too much for the Titans to handle in the first game of their 11-day trip.

According to senior guard Will Mahoney, one of the biggest challenges UWO faced was the difference in international rules versus NCAA rules.

“We learned quickly that not all rules are the same as they are in the U.S.,” Mahoney said. “Only three people can be in on a defensive free throw rebound. Also if it’s a side-out inbounds pass, you can’t enter it in the back court.”

Lewis said International Basketball Federation (Fédération internationale de basketball in French, commonly known as FIBA) rules aren’t drastically different that the NCAA’s, but it was still a big adjustment for the team.

“There is a shorter shot clock in FIBA basketball and some smaller nuances that come into play,” Lewis said. “It is a very physical style of basketball in the lane and near the basket. Our team really enjoyed playing with the FIBA rules.”

Despite the challenges, Mahoney said playing a basketball game in a foreign country was a really cool experience.

“The atmosphere reminded me so much of the World Cup,” he said. “Their fans were blowing horns, banging on drums and smashing the wooden bleachers to make noise. It was nothing short of loud. The style of play is very different as well. They played scrappy and chippy, but pushed the ball a lot in transition.”

“The best atmosphere was at our game in Prague,” Lewis said. “Many of the youth members of their club attended and brought a ton of energy to the environment.”

Aside from the game, Mahoney said the sightseeing in Prague was phenomenal.

“We were able to walk around the city of Prague and learn all about their beautiful attractions like the Prague Castle,” he said. “There was music and illustrators along all the roads if you wanted to get a portrait of yourself or you could just simply listen to some smooth music. There were so many shops to look at and eat at and their food was amazing.”

Courtesy of UWO Athletics — The Titans huddle up before their exhibition game against Alba Berlin.

The second location in UWO’s European vacation was Berlin, Germany, where the team competed against Alba Berlin Under 19 (U19) team, a junior team of Alba Berlin that competes in the Basketball Bundesliga (BBL), the highest-tier of German basketball.

Alba Berlin was established in 1991 and also competes in the EuroLeague, a yearly tournament that features the best basketball teams in Europe (very similar to soccer’s UEFA Champions League). The club is most famous for being the first German basketball team to ever beat a defending NBA champion, after the Albatrosse took down the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. The most-well known players to have played for Alba Berlin are Wendell Alexis, who was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1986, and Henrik Rodl, who won an NCAA championship with North Carolina University in 1993.

The Titans defeated Alba Berlin’s U19 team in the second scrimmage of the trip, improving to 1-1 against their European foes.

Sophomore forward Jacob Townsend said the game in Berlin was a great confidence booster for the squad.

“We were still acclimating ourselves to the nuances and slightly different rules of European basketball, but things went smoothly, and we played comfortably,” Townsend said. “The game itself was as most basketball games are; a game of runs. We jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter, but then slowly let Alba back into the game. Towards the end, we started getting out in transition and hitting shots confidently which stretched our lead back out.”

Townsend said Alba Berlin played a different style of basketball than UWO had seen before.

“Our opponents had a lot of length compared to what we are accustomed to playing, but we were able to play our own physical, gritty style successfully,” Townsend said. “Rolling the ball out against some guys that could potentially be professional players in the future was a special thing to think about, especially after talking to them following the game, [they were] all super friendly.”

Sophomore forward Connor Jenkins said it was unbelievable to see attractions around Berlin that he had only ever seen in textbooks.

“We had an unbelievable time exploring Berlin and seeing many memorials and historical artifacts,” Jenkins said. “The history behind Berlin was very in depth. It was interesting to see for ourselves everything we had learned in history class growing up. Even outside of Berlin, when the team visited Terezin Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic, you could truly feel the magnitude of where you were standing, and it was an experience we will all remember for a very long time. We will never forget this trip.”

The final stop of the European tour was in Paris, France, where UWO took on the Metropolitans Under 21 (U21) team, a junior team of Metropolitans 92 which competes in LNB Pro A, the highest tier of French pro basketball.

Courtesy of UWO Athletics — UWO’s Connor Jenkins (23) warms up before Oshkosh’s exhibition game against Metropolitans U21.

Metropolitans 92 is most well known for being the club where recent 2023 NBA Draft No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama rose to prominence — literally. The 7’-4’’ center joined Metropolitans 92 in 2022 and took the French league by storm, leading the Mets to a second-place finish in the league table. The Mets reached the Ligue Nationale de Basket (LNB) Pro A championship series, but were swept by Monaco three games to none.

Although the Mets missed out on bringing home a title to Paris, Wembanyama has become a global phenomenon after his two exhibition games in the United States against the NBA G League Ignite. Often referred to as one of the most hyped NBA prospects to ever come out of Europe, Wembanyama has greatly impacted the basketball culture in France. 

In the final game of UWO’s tour of Europe, the Titans led every half en route to a comfortable victory.

“We got off to a pretty slow start against the Metropolitans, and fell into a large deficit early,” UWO freshman guard Reed Seckar said. “It felt as if nothing was going our way on offense. We were missing just about every shot we took, but after a timeout we began to fight back and carried a two-point lead into halftime. We pushed the lead to 10 pretty early in the second half and finished with a six-point win over a very solid team.”

After UWO’s performance in the three exhibition games, Lewis said the competition was great and thought the team played very well.

“All three teams were very similar to a tough WIAC opponent,” Lewis said. “Two of the three opponents were very long, and we had to adjust to their length. We were excited about how we competed and learned more about ourselves as a team for next season.”

For the Titans, the offseason grind never ends. Many of the players continued to work out or shoot around on campus as soon as the team returned to Oshkosh. UWO’s season kicks off Nov. 8 at home against the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Titans will hope to use the experiences abroad to push them to a third consecutive WIAC championship.

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