Nova Notebook: Farewell to Paris
Aug. 12, 2011
The Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, features blog postings from the men's basketball team's August exhibition tour of France and the Netherlands. This is entry No. 3
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 10, 2011
To a visitor experiencing Paris for the first time one of the more noteworthy aspects of the city is its width. According to the fact sheet, the official population of Paris is just under 2.2 million but when the surrounding areas are included that number jumps to 11.9 million. Given that the vast majority of the buildings in the city are no more than six stories high, that produces a sprawling city which becomes apparent any time you venture from one of the city's 20 districts to another.
The excursion on this sun-splashed day with temperatures in the low 70's is to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the 18th district. The ride from the team hotel to this area is a good 40 minutes.
The Basilica itself is located at the top of a large hill that can be reached via steps or a gondola. Most of the Wildcat players and staff take the stairs and listen to some of the history of the Basilica as described by Jenkins. The interior of the church is breathtaking, with a domed ceiling and stained glass. Visitors are cautioned not to use cameras inside.
Once they have taken in the church, the Villanova party walks through the neighborhoods located behind the Basilica. The narrow cobble stone streets are filled with shops of all kind in an area noted for its artists. Indeed, there are sketch and caricature artists on street corners walking about, offering to draw images of the tourists for a fee.
Video coordinator George Halcovage decides that since this is France, someone needs to purchase a beret. He settles on a red number that is conspicuous in the sea of blue travel gear that is the Villanova group.
"Coach, you know you can negotiate the price," he tells Donnelly.
It helps to know the language and the customs and it is another example of how the native of French speaking Benin is likely to be known as MVT of this trip - Most Valuable Traveler.
By 11:30, the crew is making its way down the hill back towards the coach bus. The crowds have now swelled and most are climbing the hill towards the Basilica.
For the `Cats its back across the city to the hotel for the pre-game meal - served al fresco in a street café.
It seems entirely fitting on this pictureseque day.
On the road to Cergy
During the regular season the Wildcats have a routine that generally gets them to the arena approximately 90 minutes before tipoff. This allows players to dress, begin stretching and then warming up in a very orderly process.
On trips such as these, however, matters are much less predictable.
On Tuesday, the `Cats arrived in Cergy at the usual hour. However, a local team was practicing on the court until 6 p.m., one hour before tipoff. And there were no locker rooms open so the `Cats laced their sneakers up in the front lobby.
Given that reality, the decision for game two against Senegal is that the team will depart a little later. So it is the team embarks upon its hour plus ride to Cergy. En route word comes to the driver that a key road near the gymnasium is closed today. An alternate route is quickly drawn up but this is unknown territory to the Paris based driver. There are several missteps that include two trips around a traffic circle before the gymnasium is in view.
When the bus pulls up, the clock reads 4:35 p.m. - with tipoff slated for 5 p.m. Yet there is no panic anywhere - players and coaches get to work loosening up, tip-off is delayed until 5:15 and soon the game is underway.
Don't sweat the small stuff is sound advice on foreign basketball tours.
As games go, the one played here against Senegal was hard to get a read on. While the Wildcats certainly would have liked to execute better in what was a 79-65 loss, this was as peculiar a set of circumstances as Villanova has encountered in the decade Wright has been at the helm, including earlier exhibition visits to Italy and Ottawa. None of the officials spoke English - during one break in the action the Senegalese point guard was serving as translator for a conversation between Wright and two of the referees - and there were 58 fouls called by the time the extremely physical contest was complete.
Without a public address announcer and no stat crew in the house there was an element of mystery to some of the goings on suitable for a John LeCarre novel.
"That," stated Wright, "was about as unique an experience as you could have in basketball. But I thought we kept our composure and can take a great lesson from this."
Wright's message to his troops afterwards is simple - there will be ample time to examine the video of the games against Senegal and incorporate those lessons when practice begins in October. For now, he wants the group to clear its mind and the perfect evening in Paris offers an ideal opportunity to do so.
Following the 75-minute journey back to the hotel and a quick shower, the team is back on the bus for the short hop to a dock adjoining the River Seine. The Wildcats head down the steps and on to a boat that will take the group for a 75-minute tour of the "City of Lights" at night.
The water is peaceful and the air comfortable as the `Cats soak in all of the beauty of this city. As the craft docks to end the tour, the guide - a young Frenchman named "Frank" if you can believe it - sends his best wishes to the "Villanova Basketball Team" to a round of applause.
It serves as a fitting exclamation point to the Wildcats' final night in this fabled city.
Thursday, Aug. 11
On tap is the bus ride to Amsterdam, a journey that should take approximately six hours of driving. Jenkins, the tour guide, has mapped out a route that includes a stop for lunch in Brussels since it is a natural mid-point between here and the Netherlands.
About an hour into the ride, though, the best laid plans have to be scrapped. It seems there are strict limits on the amount of hours coach bus drivers are permitted to log in this part of Europe. There are two drivers attached to this portion of the jaunt - each takes turns at the wheel - but both are on a clock the minute they walk out of their respective homes that morning. In essence, the issue is that there isn't enough time to include a 90-minute stop in Brussels without risking going beyond the legal limits.
Any inclination to go beyond those parameters is countered by this small piece of information: once the maximum hours are reached, the bus' engine automatically cuts off. And the only agency that can turn it back on are the police.
Perhaps next time we can bring one of Krapf's longtime trusted drivers, Tony or Doc along. No way they would allow an automatic engine shutdown to interfere with getting the `Cats to their appointed rounds.
It's on to Amsterdam.
A lunch stop brings the Wildcats to a rest stop. A number of the players gravitate to a Pizza Hut counter while some of the more adventuresome folks order sandwiches that are a long deli line away from a hoagie.
There is an interesting linguistic element noticeable here as well. There is a bit more English spoken locally than in France as well as French and some Dutch. Staff member Baker Dunleavy - who played a bit of professional basketball in this part of Europe following his graduation from Villanova in 2006 - offers a bit of assistance as well.
"I think I have a pretty good handle on Flemish," he quips, noting the unofficial dialect in parts of Belgium that is said to be a blend of French and Dutch.
Belgium is also the home to Brian Lynch, a former Wildcat guard who played here professionally and married one of this nation's most famous athletes, tennis pro Kim Clijsters.
Those looking for new reading material - including the unfortunate Mrs. Sheridan, whose Nook malfunctioned on the second day of the trip - are not in luck at the gift shop. Every book and magazine is printed in either Dutch or French.
The ride here is smooth and largely uneventful. There is a hard rain falling as the bus pulls up in front of the hotel and student manager Austin Touey, graduate managers Russell Wooten and Jay Duncan, are joined by a few coaches and staffers to help unload the bus and get the luggage under cover quickly.
Jenkins, who makes his home in this city, offers a very prudent warning just before arrival. "Beware the bikers and the trams," he notes. "They can be stealth assassins."
Those who think he exaggerates, quickly learn otherwise. A biker nearly plows into Anthony Travels rep Jim O'Connor as he lifts a piece of luggage from underneath the bus.
Look both ways indeed.
Jenkins is leading a walking tour through the neighborhoods of Amsterdam and it is an impressive place. The amount of vehicle traffic is not especially heavy but bikes and motor scooters abound. So do pedestrians.
Wright makes a point to his troops.
"It's like playing defense," he tells the players of moving about this city. "You need to talk to each other."
Throughout the 90-minute walk, shouts from the American group echo down the canals.
It's pretty clear - the `Cats have come to town.
Tomorrow: Day One of EuroJam 2011.