Personal photos and videos that last a lifetime have kept St. Louis University basketball players busy for hours. Paella in Spain was a culinary highlight. And the sites in Italy were “mind blowing”.
These things were at the forefront of a 10-day trip for a group just brought together by basketball.
How much the Billikens gained in practices and games during their European tour remains to be seen, but coach Travis Ford said it was clear the Billikens gained more defensively than offensively.
The cultural and bonding experiences will endure. Ford and his team will do their best to apply some basketball lessons learned when the team meets again for one-on-one practices next week.
“They embraced tours and sightseeing,” Ford said. “Sometimes on these trips it gets old, but they were ready for every one of them. They participated and asked questions.
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“As for basketball, it was more of a chance for me to see the new players in the system and for them to get meaningful minutes. I don’t know how much we got out of it yet (because) we won every game by 30 or 40. I know we benefited more defensively than offensively.
Ford said the staff broke down the game tape, but the competition was questionable in all three games, making it difficult to analyze.
All opponents struggled to defend the Billikens, who averaged 97 points with Gibson Jimerson leading the team in scoring. Playmaker Yuri Collins was able to separate defenses for quick scores, allowing SLU to play little of their offense.
Ford embarked on the journey with big plans. He had developed a shooting alignment, a defensive alignment, a physical alignment. He wanted to play two great men together. Most of this was left unused due to the way the matches went.
“We couldn’t direct our offense because we created so quickly,” he said. “The teams didn’t know how to protect us. But we kind of know who we are, especially the top seven or eight guys. If we were a rebuilding team, we would probably want better competition. No one was injured and everyone was able to play.
There were some things that stood out for Ford.
Javonte Perkins, who is coming off an ACL injury, looked good and played plenty of trouble-free minutes in the first two games before seeing just five minutes in the final. Javon Pickett showed great rebounding potential despite missing the middle of the game with a turf toe.
Sincere Parker has some defensive work to do, but his ability to block shots has been a revelation. Kellen Thames has shown signs of being a top defender. And Thames, Fred Thatch Jr. and Perkins will fill the minutes at point guard when Collins rests.
Parker was also the team’s second-leading scorer, although keeping stats was sketchy.
“We knew he could score, and he’s not just a shooter, but he can score in a lot of ways,” Ford said. “The other thing we saw was his blocked shots. He blocked a ton at the rim and really bounces back. He’s got extremely long arms. He’s done three or four dunks. He’s deceptively athletic. Now, on the other side of the ball, he needs to improve defensively.
Ford said he liked the idea of Francis Okoro and Jake Forrester’s big man suit. But Forrester missed the first game, and the two weren’t used simultaneously in the other two games.
Thus, all the combinations he wanted could not be used. This went for both defense and attack. The Billikens have held all three opponents to an average of 55 points, but no one knows what, if anything, that means at this point. Ford said he believed SLU could be an elite defensive team.
“I think we can with the addition of Javon Pickett, who is a very good defender,” he said. “Jake is a good defender. Kellen is part of the elite and can be a game changer. There are lineups we can play that will be very strong defensively.
The group spent more time sightseeing and eating than playing basketball during the trip, which is allowed once every four years.
The only travel problem was a delayed flight from Spain to Italy, forcing the team to travel directly from the airport to a gymnasium for a match. Better now than January.
The paella in Spain was made by the team under the guidance of chefs. The Billikens visited the usual historical sites, including the Forum, the Colosseum and the Vatican.
Upon his return, Ford gave the team two weeks off before things got more serious. He’s been away but isn’t sure they’re taking much of a break.
“I let them recharge their batteries on their own,” he said. “But they’re in the gym every day from what I understand. That’s just the kind of this group.