While most Penn students eat large meals and gather to watch football on Thanksgiving, both of Penn’s basketball teams will spend their breaks on the hardwood.
The women's team will travel to the Bahamas for the Junkanoo Jam beginning on Thanksgiving Day, while the men will leave campus a few days early and travel to South Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase, which begins on Monday. While the Junkanoo Jam is comprised of a lot of higher caliber programs, the Gulf Coast showcase is comprised primarily of mid-major programs.
However, aside from the obvious intrigue on the court, a lot coordination and planning is done by the Penn Athletics staff in order to make this all possible. That is where “Basketball Travelers” and “BD Global” come in for the women's and men's teams respectively.
Described as a “college basketball travel agency” by Penn women’s basketball director of operations Christine McCollum, the company’s role, according to its website, is to organize “exciting, memorable, and unique tours and tournaments for college and high school teams and their fans.”
In fact, Penn women’s basketball used the agency for its summer trip to Italy in 2014. This year, the women’s team will be staying in a resort where they will have the option to paddle board, snorkel and enjoy the amenities the place has to offer. More than just a tune up before Ivy League play, women’s coach Mike McLaughlin sees other value to early season tournaments.
“Coach McLaughlin is very big on travel to begin with,” McCollum says. “He really feels that giving his players during their four years the opportunity to travel to different places is important for their all-around experience.”
In particular, he also loves input from his players for future travel destinations. Last year, during the California trip, then-juniors Michelle Nwokedi and Anna Ross pitched the idea of a tropical trip.
From there, McCollum and McLaughlin worked with Basketball Travelers to find a trip that would please Penn's two star seniors and the rest of the squad.
For the men, similar planning was also required to secure the team's spot in its tournament.
"For these multi-exemption team tournaments, they have the participants a year in advance,” Penn men’s basketball Director of Operations Brad Fadem said. “So we kind of knew about [the Gulf Coast Showcase] for a little while.”
Throughout the summer, Fadem kept in touch with tournament directors to organize practice times and living arrangements. However, since the tournament was more accessible than the women’s tournament in the Bahamas, the flight and travel arrangements had to be coordinated solely by the team.
Fadem noted the difficulty in arranging travel plans for large groups. However, with his experience in the past, this task proved to more than manageable.
Another factor for the men's team in choosing this tournament was the level of competition. The coaching staff and directors thought games against mid-major opponents would be more beneficial than facing lofty odds against basketball blue-bloods such as Kentucky, Duke, or North Carolina.
“All the teams would provide us with really competitive games that were also winnable,” Fadem stated. “We also liked the format of the tournament with three games in three days all in a neutral site, which benefited our student-athletes."
Come Thanksgiving, Quakers fans will surely enjoy watching their teams fight it out on the court. However, without the full year of planning and hard work on the part of people like McCollum and Fadem, none of this would be possible.
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