When In Rome...
Women’s basketball team making special trip to Italy with very special tour guides
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
An important part of the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team’s run to the 2017 Women’s National Invitation Tournament Championship Game was the leadership of Italy-born guards Antonia Peresson and Francesca Pan. Another, of course, was playing at home in McCamish Pavilion.
As the team concludes its summer with a final team-building exercise in preparation for the 2017-18 season, it’ll again look to Peresson and Pan to lead.
This time, however, the Italian backcourt will have home court advantage, as the team embarks on a 13-day trip to Italy on Sunday, during which they’ll play four games against local teams.
The trip offers the team a unique opportunity to visit one of the world’s most picturesque and culturally enriched settings and allows Peresson and Pan a special opportunity to play in front of and visit with friends and family. That’s something that has been extremely rare for Peresson, who heads into her senior year, and Pan, the ACC Freshman of the Year, and mattered a great deal to head coach MaChelle Joseph.
“It is important to me to get our players back home to play in front of their friends and families,” said Joseph, who also can boast the recent signing of Italian center Lorela Cubaj. “This is a unique opportunity for us to bring our team to Italy to play. We are excited for the opportunity this trip provides to our student-athletes to grow and learn more about the culture of their teammates.”
Peresson and Pan getting to play tour guide makes for a neat role reversal, as for the past three years, it’s been the American-born players that have done the guiding.
“I’ve been here for three years and my first year I was really lost. A lot of people helped me out so that’s what I’m going to try to do there, try to show them Italy, how life is there,” said Peresson. “I’m excited about that. I get to go home. I get to see my friends and my family, go to my hometown, go to the other two cities where I lived. It’s exciting. And I’m excited for them to see where Pan and I are coming from and see other cultures. It’s going to be a great time. I think everybody is thankful for this opportunity.”
The American-born Jackets, most of whom have never been to Europe, share Peresson’s excitement.
“I’m excited to go see A.T. and Pan in A.T.’s home town,” said senior point guard Imani Tilford. “We’ve never gotten to see where they’re actually from so it’s exciting.
“It took them a while to get to learn our culture and our language, and we’re only going there for like 10 days, so it’s going to be funny but also a struggle for us to learn and actually converse with other people,” she added. “I’m going to enjoy the experience.”
“I’ve never been out of the country before so that should be a good experience and it’s for two weeks. I could use the vacation,” said incoming center Daijah Jefferson, who finished up her first two classes in addition to going through summer workouts. “I think it’s a really important experience because Antonia and Francesca, they both know our culture because they came here but now we get a chance to experience their culture over there. I know we’re going to the beach a few times, out to eat a lot. I have no idea what else is in store.”
Then there is the prospect of trying authentic Italian cuisine.
“I don’t do too well with foods that I’ve never had before but I’m open to anything, just to taste,” Tilford said.
The Jackets also will get a taste of European basketball and international rules in their four games. That means making some adjustments. While Tech is used to playing four 10-minute quarters, the ball is slightly bigger (a 29-inch circumference vs. 28.5 inches), the court is slightly shorter by about three feet (91’10.4” x 49’2.6” vs. their 94x50), the three-point line is nearly two feet closer (20’6.25” vs. 22’1.7”), and they’ll have six fewer seconds to get off a shot (a 24-second shot clock vs. 30).
“With the rules, it’s a big difference, like getting the shot clock set back to 14,” said Tilford. “So we’ve been practicing for that. It’s very different but I’m excited to see what happens.”
“We’ve been practicing with a different ball and everything so we can get accustomed to their rules,” said Jefferson. “Also, they have a 24-second shot clock as opposed to our 30-second, so we’re playing with the 24, getting used to that.”
Peresson can’t wait to take advantage of the home crowd, especially the one in her hometown of Pordenone, the capital city of Italy’s western-most province.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity to go back and play in my home town,” she said. “I played there when I was a kid and my first year playing basketball. The people there are great. They’ve always supported me and they’ve always been close to my family. So it’s nice.”
Joseph sees the trip not only as a golden opportunity for the players to grow, a key element of her program.
“Without question our program is bigger than basketball and the total student-athlete experience is the most beneficial part of being at Georgia Tech,” she said. “This opportunity to travel abroad will develop our team and program beyond basketball.”
Peresson feels the trip will continue the jelling process for the team, a process that is already well underway.
“We have been together the whole summer. We have been living together, we also have been spending our free time together and we are creating a great chemistry,” she said. “We fit each other a lot. The new freshmen fit really well inside of the team. We are just great people that like to stay together even in the free time. Because we’re getting to know each other that’s also been helpful on the court. So I think it’s another great opportunity to stay together and get to know each other even more.”
But is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?
“No. I don’t see that,” said Peresson. “I think that (the days) will fly by so quick that we will not even realize that we spent 13 days together.”
Tilford, who said she’s most dreading the 9 ½-hour flight across the Atlantic, agrees that things should work out fine. A sophomore on the ‘15-16 team that went to Cancun, Mexico, for the Cancun Challenge, she’s approaching this trip like ANY with sisters.
“I think it’s going to be a big bonding experience,” she said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together as the summer has gone on but we’ve never been away with each other for 13 days. We’re going to be annoyed with each other but I think it’s going to be fun. When it’s time to play we’re going to be able to play. I think it’s going to be a fun experience and everybody is going to enjoy themselves.”