Pitt's next stop: Ireland
Steelers owner and United States ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney will host the Pitt basketball team in Ireland this summer.
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Steelers owner Dan Rooney will get a visit from one of his favorite sports teams in Ireland in August. While the Steelers are sweating through training camp in Latrobe, the Pitt men's basketball team will be received by Rooney, who is serving as the United States ambassador to Ireland.
Pitt will play six games in three cities from July 31-Aug. 7. The Panthers will travel to Cork, Dublin and Belfast for two games in each city against professional, national and club teams.
After playing two games in Cork, Rooney will have a reception for the team Aug. 2 in Dublin. The Panthers also will meet with Peace Players International, an organization that uses basketball to promote peace and togetherness between Protestant and Catholic youth in Northern Ireland. In addition, they will be visiting a children's hospital in Dublin that is managed by UPMC.
"As a lifelong Pittsburgher, it will be very special for me personally to host the Pitt basketball team here in Dublin during its tour to Ireland," Rooney said in a statement. "It will be such a pleasure having these fine young men from Pittsburgh and all of their traveling party be a part of all things Irish."
Teams can take a foreign tour once every four years under NCAA rules. Pitt's most recent foreign tour was in 2004 when the Panthers traveled by bus to Toronto for three games over Labor Day weekend. This trip is a much bigger undertaking.
Director of basketball operations Brian Regan, who has visited Ireland on several occasions with his family, has been in charge of coordinating everything from obtaining passports and visas for Pitt's players and staff to scheduling games.
"It will be tremendous for the guys," Regan said. "During the season, everything is cut and dried in terms of what we do. Now there will be a little bit of a cultural experience for them. When we go to Washington, D.C., to play Georgetown or New York for a game against St. John's, we don't sightsee. At least, it will be a different flavor for the guys.
"For the players, it's a great opportunity to see a different part of the world. There will be areas we go into that will be similar to areas from where they're from, just a different kind of people living there."
Peace Players International was founded by former Colgate basketball player Brendan Tuohey. Regan, who used to coach at Colgate, has become familiar with the work Tuohey has done for Peace Players International.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to [convey] to the players the full breadth of the situation," Regan said. "I think they'll be blown away. I believe they're up on current events, but, sometimes, that situation in Northern Ireland might not be current to a lot of people, and they might not realize what's going on over there. The opportunity to see that firsthand will be an unbelievable experience for them."
From a basketball perspective, the trip can be quite advantageous for the coaches and players. Under NCAA rules, teams are allowed to practice 10 times before the trip. The first of those practices took place Friday morning inside the Petersen Events Center.
"To me, the most important thing is the 10 practices and the experience you get from it," coach Jamie Dixon said. "The games ... you never know who you're going to play."
Pitt will play the Irish national team twice, the South Conference all-stars, Dart Kilester Club team, the English national team and the Melbourne (Australia) Tigers, a professional team from Australia's top professional league. Former Syracuse player Eric Devendorf plays for Melbourne.
"If the Australian team has all of their players, they will be a very good team," Dixon said. "That's a professional team that has won the Australian national league a number of times. That's a team that would beat the top college teams if they had all of their guys. They'll have former NBA guys or borderline NBA guys, and they'll be much older."
Pitt's players believe the extra practice time and games will help their veteran team -- seven of the top eight scorers, including four starters return -- in preparation for what they hope is a memorable 2010-11 season.
"It will be real good for us to bond as a team," senior Gilbert Brown said. "We get an early start to develop team chemistry.
"To have the freshmen practice, it helps us to mold them and develop them, so when October rolls around everyone knows what they're doing. There won't be any steps back. It will all be forward.
"We have nine more practices, and I'm looking forward to them."
First Published June 26, 2010 12:36 am