A 10-day trip to and from Italy, which concluded last month, continued a multi-decade tradition for the Rose-Hulman men's basketball program.
Coach Rusty Loyd, assistant coach Jon Lester, 17 players and 13 others left O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on May 27 (Memorial Day) and returned home June 5. In between, they visited the scenic cities of Rome, Florence and Venice and found time to play two exhibition games.
John Mutchner, the winningest coach in program history, started the Rose trip tradition in the 1970s.
"They went to Hawaii on several occasions," Loyd told the Tribune-Star. "They were the first [United States] college team to go to the U.S.S.R. and play [in the 1980s]. That was kind of a big deal at the time."
Then the late Jim Shaw, who hired Loyd as an assistant, continued that tradition during his 20 years at the helm.
NCAA rules allow college teams to travel to an overseas destination every three years, but Rose-Hulman men's basketball chooses to go every four years so that each player who comes through the program can make one extravagant trip.
Concluding his fifth year as head coach, Loyd organized a team trip to Germany and the Czech Republic after his first season in charge in 2015. But he wasn't able to accompany the other travelers because he tore his Achilles tendon about three weeks earlier, forcing Lester to serve as the trip leader.
So this year's Italy trip was the first for Loyd as a head coach and he thoroughly enjoyed it.
"Coach Shaw had been to Italy [in 1997]," Loyd mentioned. "My wife and my daughter went with me on this trip and my wife is of Italian heritage, so that was kinda fun.
"Culturally, Italy is just an incredible place to go, just to see the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Trevi Fountain, the 'Duomo,' the Vatican, all the churches..."
Loyd's crew arrived in Rome on May 28, then traveled to Florence on May 31. On June 3, the Engineers and their guests entered the "City of Water" — Venice.
"Venice is the most unique city I've ever been in in my life," Loyd emphasized. "There are no cars, no motorcycles, no buses. It's literally all boats and small water vessels. The streets are literally made of water. ... We ended up buying a 48-hour water-bus pass."
Loyd said he and his family found time to break away from the main group and visit some of the outlying islands near Italy. He also named the Leaning Tower of Pisa as the one site that you can't fully appreciate unless you see it in person.
"When you walk up to it, you say, 'Wow, that thing is leaning a lot farther than I realized,'" Loyd noted. "It's an extremely tall tower that looks like it's in the process of falling over."
Regarding the basketball portions of the trip, Loyd said the first exhibition game was against Smit Roma, a club team of 17- to 23-year-olds, on May 29 in Rome. The Engineers won 84-50. After that matchup, players made friends with the opposition while trading jerseys.
The second contest was more challenging score-wise. Rose edged the more adult-oriented Olympia Legnaia on a buzzer-beating shot by Samvit Ram on June 2 in Florence.
Food-wise? Well, Loyd said his group wasn't likely to stop at American-Italian restaurants in U.S. airports after they returned. They devoured enough genuine Italian pasta meals to last several weeks.
"This will be something that I'll share with these players forever," Loyd said, summarizing all the memories made on this trip. "It was a life-changing experience."
Loyd admitted that he's already started fundraising for the 2023 Rose-Hulman trip. He's got a few ideas in mind, but the location has not been determined yet.