STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
MISSOULA – With more than two months until practices officially begin and three months until the college basketball season gets underway, most gyms across the country are filled with youth camps or are even left dormant this time of year.
Beginning next week, however, Montana’s Dahlberg Arena will be an exception.
Montana will embark on a foreign tour to Costa Rica Aug. 3-8, a trip sanctioned by the NCAA once every four years. The trip to Central America will be nice, sure. But more than that, head coach Travis DeCuire hopes it gives his Grizzlies an advantage – both on and off the court.
In preparation to the team’s voyage – which will include two games, a community-service outreach and team-bonding activities – the NCAA allows teams to partake in 10 practices. This means that while nearly every other team is restricted from practicing until the final days of September, UM will get a head start.
The practices will be advantageous for UM’s pair of scrimmages in Costa Rica. But it also will give the Griz – a group that features five freshmen and three transfers – an opportunity to jell together, in an informal setting, well before the countdown to the season approaches.
“This will give us the chance to introduce concepts to our underclassmen, which is hard to cram everything in a few weeks before the season,” DeCuire said. “Once we introduce something, they can then hone it during the second half of their summer and beginning of their fall, when they’re in the gym and not with coaches.”
The Griz will practice several times over the next two weeks before departing Thursday, Aug. 3, for San José, Costa Rica. They’ll have less than 24 days to adapt to the new culture before they face their first test: the Costa Rica National Team. The following night, still in the nation’s capital, the Griz will take on Laurentian University, a school in eastern Canada.
“Those two games will give us a chance to evaluate where we’re at as a team in the summer, which is huge,” DeCuire said. “Not only do we get to introduce concepts, but we get to compete while doing it.”
While in San José, the Griz will also spend time at an orphanage, a service activity that will include a homeless shelter, food bank, health center and animal farm.
On Sunday, Aug. 6, the team will travel 65 miles to Los Sueños, an area of western Costa Rica that’s nestled between the Pacific Ocean and an 1,100-acre rainforest. There, the purpose of the trip will shift from basketball to bonding.
DeCuire has been on three foreign tours before, and while the extra practice time and competition is a bonus, the biggest advantage is generally seen months down the road, when he notices a boost in team chemistry.
“The practices are huge, but even more is the bonding,” DeCuire said. “I’m excited for our guys to get together, in a new and different environment, and enjoy each other’s company and try to become the closest team that we can be.”
The final two days of the trip will feature fun activities for the team, including a stop at a crocodile bridge to see some of the largest crocodiles in the wild, and an 80-acre zip-line exhibit, with one stringing more than a half-mile down a mountain.
The tour is being coordinated through Basketball Travelers. Check GoGriz.com and UM men’s basketball’s Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly for updates from the team while they’re in Costa Rica.
UM welcomes a large crop of freshmen and transfers that will add height and depth to its roster in 2017-18, but it also returns three starters and its top two scorers from last year’s squad. Overall, the Griz return more than two-thirds of their starts (68.1 percent), rebounds (68.1) and steals (67.4), and nearly two-thirds of their blocks (65.9), points (62.1) and assists (59.9).