The University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball team closed the summer of 2015 with a 10-day trip to France. But make no mistake, says head coach Russ Pennell, it was definitely a “working vacation.”
“For a young team like we have that is still trying to find its way, this couldn’t come at a better time,” said the former UCA letterman, who took over the program last season with a brand-new squad. “It’s almost like playing half of a season when you get right down to it. We get 10 extra practices and four extra games.”
Those extra games and practices can make all the difference.
“With us having three guys sitting out last year who redshirted, that’s great for us,” Pennell said. “As our fans know, we were extremely young last year. But we spent a lot of time in the weight room in the summer, getting bigger and stronger. So to get out on the floor and find out how much we’ve improved, that’s been priceless for us.”
Along with several days of sightseeing in France, the Bears played four games against varying levels of professional and semi-pro competition.
“You never really know who you are going to be playing,” said Pennell. “But it’s really not about who you play. It’s more about the opportunity to travel. It’s an unbelievable educational opportunity for these young men. And they get to do what they like to do: play basketball.”
Pennel has made two previous international trips with his team at other schools.
“The best part about it is the bonding they experience while being in a foreign country, eating different food, getting bad refereeing and playing in dimly lit gyms,” he said. “We’re just really blessed and fortunate that we’re getting this opportunity.”
The Bears opened their season Oct. 31, 2015 with an exhibition game against Lyon College.