HOUGHTON - Fresh off a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference division title, the Michigan Tech men's basketball team enters the 2012-13 season with the highest expectations for the program since they went 27-3 in 2002.
With almost all of last year's contributors returning - save departed senior Mike Hojnacki - the Huskies believe they have the roster in place to return to former glory.
And this year, they will start their journey together in August instead of October.
The Huskies depart for their first international competition on Aug. 15, heading to Italy for a nine days of bonding and ball.
"That is really what we are hoping to get out of it," Tech coach Kevin Luke said at the team's first practice Thursday. "We want to see some sights, spend some time together and just really bond as a team. And we want to play some good basketball too if we are capable of it."
The pre-season foreign country trip has been popular among many Division I colleges for sometime now, with perennial top-25 teams Kansas and Wisconsin two of the most recent to play across the ocean.
Unlike the big budget D1 programs, however, the Tech players (and accompanying families) will be paying their own way.
"I do want to make that clear, this is not coming out of our basketball budget. The players fundraised and what not and it is all out of pocket," Luke said. "It is something we talked about with them for a while and to a man, they all said they wanted to do it."
While seeing the sights of Rome, Florence, Vatican City and sampling some authentic Italian pizza - "hopefully it tastes similar to ours," Luke said with apprehension - along with Tuscany's local Chianti will be some of the highlights of the trip, there could be some concrete basketball boons too that come away from the excursion.
For one, the team has the chance to practice for several weeks before taking on Italian clubs Stella Azzurra, Citta di Castello and Basket Pamphili. With a roster short on experienced big men - only reigning league MVP Ali Haidar and sophomore Phil Romback have seen playing time at the '4' and '5' spots - every rep and minute of game action will help redshirt freshmen Kyle Stankowski and Connor McLeod get ready for the GLIAC season.
"I am really looking forward to seeing how we do against some of these teams," Luke said. "It will let us know where we are at, and what we need to do to get ready for October."
And of course, there is a potential story book aspect to the trip as well. The "team bonds over adversity away from home" theme may be played out in sports movies - with "Remember The Titans" probably nailing it best - but that doesn't mean it can't come true.
And Luke isn't shy about hoping for a little corny chemistry.
"You know, I really do hope so," Luke said. "We are not sure what we are going to get out of this yet, but that's what I'm looking for."