Author/Pastor Mark Batterson often says, “We should be collecting memories, not possessions.” While many of us will be coming back to Nashville with some souvenirs, all of us will be coming back with a lot of memories that will last a lifetime.
I’m going to try to review the last three days as concisely as possible.
Saturday was a travel day as we left Rome for Florence. On the way, we stopped at a small mountain city called Siena. A lot of us have never heard of Siena, but we’ll never forget it.
We began our time there with a private lunch prepared by a local chef who used only ingredients from the local farms. They definitely went out of their way to create something unique for us and we all tried food that was new to us.
The roads of the city go up and down the hillside and have some beautiful buildings and Duomo. It is perhaps best known for its Piazza del Campo, a fan shaped square paved with brick and ringed with cafes, restaurants and beautiful historic buildings. It is in this square that Siena hosts a couple of popular horse races. While it is a unique configuration with some challenging corners for the horses to navigate, those of us from the Bluegrass State may have been a little underwhelmed. (Bluegrass boys: Matt Rose, Zach Flener, Eli Pepper)
Most everyone was excited to see Florence due to its reputation as well as the fact that Lipscomb owns a Villa there that many students have stayed at for their time studying abroad. The scenery on the drive was beautiful, but our players seemed most impressed with the AutoGrill, which was the nicest “truck stop” any of us has seen. Some people got snacks, some got gourmet sandwiches, others went to the coffee bar for cappuccino. Rob Marberry is a big coffee drinker. While he loves Italian coffee, he’s not fond of the small sizes, so it’s not unusual to see him order two or three cappuccino’s.
The Lipscomb Villa is remarkable. It’s an older home that sat vacant for around seven years before Lipscomb bought and renovated it. They did a fantastic job with the renovation, paying attention to details and providing a wonderful space for students. It is located in a beautiful area of Florence, not too far from the city center and on the road to a spectacular overlook of the city. It’s only a 15-minute walk up the hill and several of us took the walk daily.
On Tuesday we got the official orientation tour of Florence, beginning with a stroll through the Galleria dell’Accademia, where we saw Michelangelo’s sculpture David. It one of those pieces of art that literally stops you in your tracks as you see it for the first time. The size of the statue and the detail were incredible. It’s not uncommon for people to be moved to tears, as was the case for a couple of the parents on our trip.
Florence has so much charm. Rome was incredible, but Florence “felt” more Italian. It’s a smaller city with a slower pace.
Our coaching staff had a couple of great meals today. At lunch, we tried sandwiches at a popular shop called All’antico Vinaio. It was one the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. In fact, it’s so popular that they opened two more shops right across the street just to keep up with the number of people lined up to eat every day.
At dinner, we went to La Buchetta, for some reason, Steve Drabyn ordered Gnocchi at a steakhouse. (For the record, he was kind enough to let us try his dish and it was incredibly good.)
The rest of us ordered Florentine steak. Our jaws dropped as we saw the size of the steaks as they brought them to the table for us to okay before cooking. I’ve never seen steaks so big and they tasted great.
On Monday, we went on a quick excursion to the town of Lucca. It’s an older town that has a Renaissance-era wall surrounding the city. We took a bike tour of the city that included riding around the top of the city wall with some great views down into the city as well as out at the beautiful countryside. Kenny Cooper hasn’t ridden a bike since he was a kid, so he rode a tandem bike with Greg Jones. Those two did a great job riding around the city. It should be noted, though, the Greg took a little fall as he rode alone to park the bike. He’s fine, just glad he didn’t hurt Kenny.
We left Lucca to travel back to Florence where most of the guys tried to stay off their feet for the afternoon to prepare for the game later in the evening. We played in Ponte Buggianese, about an hour’s drive from the villa. The team we played was an Italian Select team made up of players from different club teams, mostly from Milan. The Bisons got the 95-44 win.
Our guys came out strong, much different than the first game where we were still getting our legs under us. It was great to see every player contribute and play well. We haven’t put in much offensively, but our team played with a good rhythm and very unselfishly throughout the entire game.
Garrison Mathews led us with 15 points, followed by Rob Marberry and Ahsan Asadullah both had 12 points. As a team, we finished 13-of-29 from 3-point range (45%).
Perhaps the best part was how well we played defensively, holding them to 42% shooting from 2-point range and 11% from 3-point range. The defense started with how disruptive both Alex Jones and Kenny Cooper were on the ball, making it difficult for the Italian point guards to get their team into their offense. We were much better defenders off the ball and finished possessions with rebounds, giving up only five offensive boards.
One of my favorite parts of this trip has been watching our players interact with each other. These guys truly love one another and enjoy spending time together. They always seem to go off in small groups, and the groups change all the time. There are no cliques or factions. This is one unit. And it’s one of the things that makes this group special.
Quotes of the day:
The coaching staff decided to take a new route home one night because Adam Notteboom told us his route was better since it’s all downhill. After climbing up a mountain we asked Boom about this route being all downhill, to which he responded, “It IS all downhill, after you get to the top.”
As you would expect, we are finished taking directions from Boom Dog.