Only every four years, is it possible for a NCAA Division I college able to tour overseas outside of the basketball season. Thankfully for three lucky Australians on the University of Harford's roster, the Hawks chose to embark on a 14-day journey during their basketball offseason. Landing back in Australia on 17 August, Hartford boasted a schedule that included five games played across three cities.
For senior 6'2" guard Corban Wroe, 6'4" junior guard Taylor Dyson, and 6'9" sophomore center Dougal Weir, the tour Down Under was an opportunity to return home. It was a chance to expose their team mates and coaching staff to the Australian culture and attractions, but also an opportunity to play in front of family and friends - something that rarely happens in playing on the other side of the world. This sentiment was shared by Head Coach John Gallagher, who was leading a team to Australia for the second time after making a similar trip in 2010.
"This is about more than basketball. It's an educational opportunity to see another culture, see the amazing sights of Australia, and meet amazing people along the way. It is also a bonding experience and an opportunity for the team to experience something together, and it will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives."
I was fortunate to be able to catch up with the three talented Aussies following their game against Knox in Melbourne. All three talented young men were happy to share their experiences, highlights and ambition for the season ahead.
As one of six seniors on the team, Wroe advised that he had no idea the team would be heading to Australia during his time at college. It was not until he committed to Hartford well before the 2011/12 season commenced that the team's plans became known.
"When I was recruited to Hartford, I had no idea they were planning to travel to Australia. They told me of their plans only once I committed - it was a great surprise."
Rapidly improving big man Weir was quick to share how good it was to be back in Australia, relishing the opportunity to play in front of family and friends. However he also reported feeling strange to be playing against the same club he represented as a junior right up to leaving for Hartford.
"Playing against my old club Norths Bears was honestly a bit weird. I played for them since I was 10 years old. Coming back to play against them on my old home court was just weird. But it was also an awesome experience too."
Maybe it was the long trip and the associated jet-lag, but the Hawks were unable to earn a win against Weir's old club in their opening game on tour, going down 76-83. In recognition of Weir's homecoming he earned his first start and collected 3 rebounds, however it was Victorian Dyson who would impress with a 16 point and 10 rebound double-double while Queensland's Wroe chimed in with 13 points.
Their next test would prove more difficult against the Sydney Kings of the NBL. The Hawk's took the game right up to their NBL's Kings, leading for most of the game before the experience of the professional outfit shone through to win 100-86. Wroe collected 17 points and Dyson chipped in 10 of his own in the respectable showing.
Weir recounted that the game against Sydney was something to savour.
"Playing against a national league team like Sydney in your home state is something else." Wroe further explained that it was always good to test oneself against quality players and teams such as the Kings.
"We played pretty well and were happy with our performance. Playing against Coach Cotter who was previously my coach was a great experience. It was good to get out there and play against him this time. We shot the ball really well - the 24 second shot clock has been really fun (35 seconds in college). It has meant we have had to shoot more and is really helping with our shot selection."
Sydney's inclement weather hampered the team's sightseeing and was the talk of the team according to Wroe.
"The pressure is on. Normally Sydney's weather is better than Melbourne's but it has been the total opposite. 'Doog's' (Weir) has really let the team down! The pressure is now on me for Queensland to deliver better than Melbourne's unseasonably great weather."
The hot-shooting continued for the Hawks against Dandenong, accounting for the 2014 SEABL finalists 80-63. Dyson continued his good form in delivering 15 points in their first win on tour ahead of their next contest against his junior club Knox.
"We played really well against Dandenong. We continued to shoot really well and this time got rewarded with the win," stated Wroe.
Dyson elevated his game to another level against his former club Knox, racking up 25 points as Hartford came from behind to earn their second straight win on tour. In an entertaining game that featuring some sizzling hot shooting from both sides from beyond the arc, including three buzzer-beating triples to end the first three-quarters, the Hawks prevailed 83-76. Wroe was also again integral, piling on 16 points of his own.
After the game, Dyson took some stick from his team mates for wearing his Victorian state representative socks during the game.
"He's always wearing his Victorian state gear around on campus and during games. He is a typical Victorian," stated Wroe tongue in cheek. Dyson was quick to reply.
"I'm a proud Victorian! It has been awesome to be able to come back to Australia and play in front of family and friends and show the rest of the team our great country. I was only playing about 5 minutes per game for Knox when I left, and to come back and play like that it is great to see how much I have improved. Playing against NBL teams is also a clear highlight, and we are now looking forward to Cairns."
Taylor Dyson has been in outstanding form on tour - Courtesy University of Hartford Athletics
While Hartford takes a break from playing their final game of their tour until Tuesday night against Cairns, in the meantime they will continue to play tourist. However all three Aussies were expecting big things for the season ahead, especially after the disappointment of last season.
"It is simple - win or bust," stated Wroe who was named to the America East All-Defensive Team last season.
"As one of six seniors this is it for me. As far as I am concerned we were meant to win it (America East title) last season. I will be looking to score more this season while still being a strong defender and facilitator. We will live and die by shooting the three-ball - we love shooting them and practice a lot."
"The title definitely is our goal," chimed in Weir.
"I don't think I will be needed to be a scorer, but I hope to provide some energy and rebounding in coming off the bench." Dyson was just as adamant;
"I too want to win that championship. If we can stay healthy, then there is no reason why we cannot win. We have some great shooters on the team. My role will be to keep shooting the ball and doing everything else that may be needed by the team to win."
With lofty ambitions and clearly defined goals, Hartford and their three Australian's are certainly a team to watch out for during the 2014/15 college basketball season. The Hawk's are a team to look out for, and are sure use their experience down under to help launch their tilt at the America East title.
Hartford Hawks take on Cairns Taipans on 26 August 2014, tip-off at 7:00pm at Cairns Basketball. For tickets call Taipans HQ on (07) 4041 3000.