What do math and basketball have in common?
Well, other than the obvious connection of statistical analysis, they’re both universal languages.
At least that’s what Penn women’s basketball learned on its alumni-funded trip to Italy in mid-August.
“After one of the games we went out to eat, and I thought that was the pinnacle of why we do this. We got to separate our players and [the other team’s],” coach Mike McLaughlin said.
“Their English was limited and our Italian was limited, but they were able to communicate through one common bond which was the game of basketball.”
In addition to the challenge of facing strong international competition, the Quakers had to deal with a language barrier — which all but eliminated communication with the other team and referees — and FIBA rules.
Fundamentally, basketball is basketball, so the language barrier was rather easily overcome at game time. But the rule differences required some early adjustments for the Red and Blue.
The most glaring differences were the 24-second shot clock and eight-second backcourt rule, each significantly shorter than the NCAA rules of 30 and 10 seconds respectively.
In addition, the three-point line in FIBA rules is around a foot and a half further out than in the NCAA. However, the Quakers didn’t have any trouble from long range in their final game, as they shot 7-for-15.
Another unique challenge to the trip for the team was a roster lacking in depth.
With NCAA rules preventing the team from bringing along its newest members from the class of 2018, Penn found itself short-handed with only nine players in physical shape to play. Senior forward Katy Allen (foot) and junior guard Keiera Ray (knee) are continuing to recover from prior injuries and had to sit out the entire trip.
Through the first two games of the trip, the Quakers were doing just fine despite the thin roster, cruising to a pair of victories. However, early in the third and final game of the European slate, sophomore guard Melanie Lockett went down with a knee injury, limiting the Red and Blue to just eight players.
“We only had nine players for the trip, so it gave some players that haven’t played much since they’ve been here the chance to play,” McLaughlin said. “It was a terrific experience for them on the court.”
Foremost among the Red and Blue taking advantage of their playing time was junior Brooklyn Juday, who scored 12 points against La Spezia — including a pair of huge three-pointers — after only playing 22 minutes for the Quakers last season. Additionally, sophomores Jackie Falconer and Sade Gibbons saw some of their first action at Penn after minimal playing time last season.
And though their final game — against a professional German team — ended in a 62-56 loss, the Quakers grew through the unique experience of playing and traveling throughout Italy.
In terms of the future of the team in the coming year, McLaughlin’s message was simple. The graduated class of 2014 leaves the team lacking in ball-handlers, an area where an incoming class of recruits will look to provide assistance.
“In terms of our guard play, we’re going to rely on some freshmen that have not gotten [to the team] yet, but will contribute quickly,” McLaughlin said. “We return Renee Busch and Kathleen Roche, who played primarily at the three, but primary ball-handlers is where we’re going to need younger kids to step up.”
When Penn women’s basketball begins its preparations for its Ivy title defense, it’ll have this experience to look back on fondly.