SYDNEY, Aus. - This summer, the men's basketball team from Whittier College was given the exciting privilege of traveling to Australia for their international tour. Per NCAA regulations, each basketball program is allowed to go on one foreign tour every three years, and this summer, the Poets headed down under. The hope is that the 11 extra days of practice and four games against international talent will spring-board the Poets as they officially begin their season October 15. The players eligible to participate in this tour were the 10 returning members from the 2016-2017 team roster.
Fourteen hours after departing Los Angeles International Airport, and two calendar days later, the Poets arrived in Sydney, Australia at 6:20am local time. The group hit the ground running as they were immediately whisked away onto the tour bus to take the scenic route to the hotel, stopping to take pictures along the coastline cliffs and at Sydney Harbour. Along the way, they also stopped at Bondi Beach, a popular tourist hotspot, to get their first taste of Australian beaches. After checking into the hotel, the group quickly grabbed their gear and headed to practice at the Sydney Boys High School in Moore Park, the location for the following night's game. After a light shootaround, it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner that evening.
Following a picturesque walk through downtown Sydney, the group arrived at their dinner venue. Showtime Basketball, the Poets' travel company, generously booked a reservation for the group at the Opera Kitchen, located on the lower concourse level of the Sydney Opera House. A gourmet spread of seafood, including oysters, salmon, prawns, and tuna, as well as a large variety of burgers, sandwiches, and skewers was enjoyed while taking in the breathtaking views of the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the lights of the city skyline.
No time to sleep-in for the jet-lagged bunch, as they hopped on the ferry to Manly Beach first thing in the morning. On the way, they were able to experience the fantastic views from the water surrounding the Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the light of day. The afternoon consisted of checking out the sights and shops of the beach town, exploring the rocks and tide pools along the water, and taking in the views from the local restaurants. Following the ferry ride back, it was time to change and get ready for the first game of the tour, an exhibition against the Sydney Boys High School.
The Sydney Boys High School was overmatched from the tip-off, as Whittier College showed no signs of jet-lag early on. Whittier was in cruise control from start to finish, jumping out to a 6-point lead after the first quarter, and had a comfortable 13-point lead by halftime, 48 - 35. But that lead wasn't good enough, as the Poets came flying out of the gates at halftime, looking to extend their lead. After three quarters, the lead had ballooned to a commanding 35 points. At the final buzzer, the score was Whittier – 112, Sydney Boys – 68. Conner Longmire led the Poets with a game-high 21 points off the bench to go along with his 10 rebounds, and huge games off the bench for both Ryan Henry (16 points) and home-country hero Jordan Lingard (14 points, 12 rebounds) proved to be too much for the Sydney Boys, as the Poets began their tour at 1-0.
Again up bright and early, the Poets headed to game two to compete against the Australian College of Basketball, located at Netball Central, the newest facility built within Sydney Olympic Park. Once again, the Poets swung first and jumped out to an early 9-point first quarter lead. However, ACB battled back to reduce the lead to 4 at halftime, Whittier – 44, ACB – 40. After seeing their first form of resistance so far this tour, the Poets responded valiantly and began pushing to extend their lead in the third quarter, going up 63-52. The Poets kept their foot on the gas pedal until the very end, winning by a final score of 83-68. Whittier was piloted to victory by a balanced attack from Jake Moore, who led the Poets with a game-high 15 points and 7 rebounds, Eric Davis, who finished the game with 14 points, including 2 highlight-reel dunks, and Jacob Aruta, who added 13 points. Ryan Mendez provided a huge spark off the bench for the Poets with 9 points, and Louis Kurihara and Jordan Lingard ended with identical stat lines of 7 points, 10 rebounds, and 1 assist, as the Poets improved to 2-0 on the tour.
Upon conclusion of the game, it was left up to a players' vote of how to spend the afternoon between games, either head back to Manly Beach for lunch, or back to the hotel to rest. After a quick and unanimous vote, the group was headed back to the Travelodge Hotel Sydney.
Game 3 in two days was against the University of Sydney, with a 7pm scheduled tip-off, 8 hours after the start of the second game. Whittier showed tired legs early, as Sydney jumped out to an early 21-14 lead, but the Poets refused to let the home team extend their lead. A pro-level stepback jumpshot from Louis Kurihara ignited the team as they continued to fight to keep the game within single digits. The Poets won the second quarter and remained within striking distance, as they went into halftime down 36-42. In the second half, Whittier continued to battle their toughest competition so far this tour, as well as their own fatigue, refusing to go down easily. Jacob Aruta (17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) exemplified the heart of a lion as he led the charge for the Poets, ripping down one offensive rebound after another, and finishing a seemingly never-ending barrage of and-1's in the closing minutes. Rion Black-Hogins (9 points) played key minutes off the bench for the Poets in the final moments, getting multiple deflections and creating havoc on the defensive end which led to turnovers underneath Whittier's basket. Along with Aruta and Black-Hogins, the defensive lock-down of Ryan Mendez was crucial as the game came down to the wire, as he checked into the game in the final moments, immediately ready to scrap. The Poets would not bow out quietly, as they cut the lead to 3 in the closing seconds, but ultimately could not find the bottom of the net when it counted most. After icing the game with 2 free-throws, Sydney University went on to stun the Poets by a score of 92-87. Conner Longmire finished the game with 16 points off the bench, and Nick Potthoff ended with 12. Following their first loss of the tour, the Poets moved to 2-1 on Australian ground.
Following a grueling 3 games in 2 days, the group was given a free morning to spend however they wished. Most rested and refueled in their rooms, while others took to exploring the sights of downtown Sydney, such as exploring the local shops, taking in the views of Sydney Harbour or spending the day at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium.
In the late afternoon, the group rendezvoused back at the hotel to head to their only scheduled event of the day, an Australian Rules Football game at the iconic Sydney Cricket Grounds, to watch the hometown Sydney Swans take on the Carlton Blues. Sitting in a sea of 40,000 strong, the Poets' eyes raced as they took-in this extremely popular foreign sport. As they tried to learn the rules and strategies of this rugby/soccer-like hybrid game on the fly, the Swans defeated the Blues by a score of 21.12 (138) to 8.9 (57). Yes, that was the actual score.
After spending the morning climbing the 200 steps to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout to experience the amazing aerial views of the Sydney Harbour, it was back to Sydney Airport to board the 3-hour flight up the Australian coastline to Cairns. After arriving at their destination, a 10-minute bus ride through the rainforest scenery brought the Poets to their new accommodation, the Ibis Styles Cairns.
After a little time to get settled into their new rooms, the group strolled through the city of Cairns and were treated to a gourmet dinner at Donnini's Simply Italian, a fine dining restaurant located along the harbor, courtesy of the generosity of Whittier College's Athletic Director, Robert Coleman. The hungry Poets feasted on a wide variety of delectable Italian dishes, including pizza, pasta, linguini, and seafood platters, before heading back to the hotel.
Following an early morning wake-up call, the Poets were off to board the Passions of Paradise cruise for the day. After 2 hours of sailing out into the open ocean, the group arrived at their destination, the Great Barrier Reef. The boat stopped at two locations along the reef, as the Poets spent the day snorkeling and scuba diving in the reef, along with getting up close and personal with multiple turtles, sharks, and countless species of fish.
After an exciting, and exhausting, 8-hour day in the sun and on the open water, the group headed back to Cairns. After a short rest to shower and change, it was time to meet back in the lobby to head to practice at the Cairns Basketball Association, the venue for the following evening's game. Following an extensive shootaround, the Poets pushed themselves to get their legs back as well, participating in 5-on-5 activity for the first time in 48 hours. After a highly competitive practice, the team headed back to the hotel, with laser focus for tomorrow's game.
The morning was spent visiting Hartley's Crocodile Farm, where the team was able to get hands-on with numerous native Australian creatures, such as kangaroos, wallabies, and (baby) crocodiles. Each member of the group was also able to get their own individual picture taken while holding a koala, as well as try unique dishes containing crocodile meat. In the early afternoon, the group was able to enjoy a real-life "Jungle Cruise" boat ride, where dozens of crocodiles were seen surrounding the boat in the swampy river and sun-bathing along the shores. Lastly, the Poets were able to experience an educational guide and tour of the Farm, learning about the conservation efforts of the facility. As the Poets made their way back to the hotel, they stopped for a late lunch at Grazier's Steakhouse, thanks to the generosity of head coach, Mark Jensen. Their pregame meal consisted of delicious choices of steak, seafood, lamb, and garlic bread.
After some time to rest and get ready for the game, the Poets were headed back to the Cairns Basketball Association complex to take on their final opponent, the Cairns Taipans Development Team. The Taipans are the development team for the Cairns Marlins, the professional team who plays in the Queensland Basketball League (QBL). From the tip, the Poets showed no signs of rust early, as they exploded to a 26-17 lead, and went into halftime up 51-45. However, the Taipans would not go away quietly in the second half, as they continued to battle back, led by the versatile scoring of University of Virginia commit, Kody Stattmann. However, in the end, the defensive presence of the Poets proved to be too much with a combined 10 steals from Nick Potthoff (6) and Louis Kurihara (4). A transition tomahawk dunk from Eric Davis was the exclamation point that fueled the Poets to the finish line, as Whittier went on to beat the Taipans by a score of 103-92. For the Taipans defensively, they had no answer for Jake Moore (24 points) who was red-hot as soon as he stepped into the arena, firing on all cylinders, or Kurihara (22 points) who shot lights-out from everywhere on the court. A balanced scoring attack of Potthoff (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Davis (13 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), as well as the dime-dropping efforts of Conner Longmire (12 points, 7 assists) helped seal the deal for Whittier. Stattman finished the game with 29 points and 9 rebounds, in a losing effort. With this win, the Poets completed their Australian tour with a record of 3-1.
The last day in Australia for the Poets was a day of pure rest and relaxation on the scenic beaches of nearby Palm Cove. The group spent the day soaking up the sun, relaxing under the palm trees, enjoying the food at the beachside cafes, playing catch with the football in the warm ocean water, and taking in the views of the stunning scenery. After a rejuvenating day spent at Palm Cove, it was time to head back to Cairns to pack-up and get ready for the return flight home.
At 3:45 am local time, the Poets were out the hotel doors and on their way back to the airport to begin their long journey home. Two flights, one layover in Brisbane, three airports, and 23 hours of total travel later, the Poets arrived safe and sound back at Whittier College.
A huge thank you to everyone who helped make this tour a reality, it would not have been possible without you. Poet up!