July 27, 2007
AUBURN - Auburn basketball gets an early jump on the 2007-08 season as it begins the first of 10 practices Sunday in preparation for its three-game, six-day basketball tour of Cancun, Mexico, from Aug. 8-13. NCAA rules allow only Auburn"s returning players to make the trip, and the team will practice each day from Sunday through Aug. 7.
"It is going to be exciting for our kids to be able to get back on the court," said head coach Jeff Lebo. "It is nice to be able to practice and play in a time when they would normally be home. Hopefully, we will get a lot out of this trip. It will be business and also a little pleasure."
Auburn will play three games against teams in the Mexican Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional beginning Aug. 9 vs. Quintana Roo Pioneros followed by Selection Quintana Roo Aug. 10 and a second game vs. Quintana Roo Pioneros Aug. 11. All three games begin at 7 pm Central.
The Pioneros play Team Mexico, which is coached by former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, July 27-29 as part of Team Mexico"s training for the FIBA Americas Championship in Las Vegas Aug. 22-Sept. 2. The tournament qualifies two teams for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The Pioneers open their Mexican Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional schedule Sept. 6.
Playing for the Pioneros will be local stars Cesar Campos and Mauricio Ramos along with Tomas Rios, Oswaldo Guzman, Miguel Ojeda and Enrique Baños.
The Tigers leave Auburn at 3:45 am on Aug. 8 before flying from Atlanta to Cancun. The team will practice later that afternoon.
The Tigers will tour the Mayan Ruins of Tulum, 82 miles south of Cancun, in the morning of Aug. 9. Tulum is one of the most beautiful cities of the Mayan culture with the most spectacular view of the Mexican Caribbean. The city of Tulum is the only known archeological site located by the sea and was constructed at the top of a cliff facing the blue sea and has the world"s second-largest coral reef.
"We get to go to Mexico and will bond a lot with each other," said rising junior Rasheem Barrett, who played for Reach USA along with teammate Quan Prowell in a 10-day basketball tour of China last month. "It will do a lot for us as a team, and we will grow up even more. Our team against each other this whole summer so it will be good to play against someone else. That is the best part.
"For Quan and I having been to China, we have a step ahead of everyone else and can help them adjust. It is good to go somewhere you are not familiar with and learn and play our best against older players. It is always good to go to another place other than where you live and learn things to bring back. I did that in China. I didn"t know what I was going to learn, but I received a lifetime lesson over there. I expect the same in Mexico. I am going to tell my teammates to keep an open mind to whatever they see and experience."
The following two-and-a-half days in Mexico are only basketball for the Tigers as the play their games against the country"s professional teams.
"We will get a good feel of what kind of style we are going to play," said Lebo. "We have 10 days of practice and will play a couple of games to see how some of the guys, who maybe didn"t play a lot last year, perform. They will get a chance to play, and we will see how they fit in. We like to play fast, and we like to use our depth. When you get into a long year, we like to have guys fresh at the end of the year because that is when you have to be playing your best."
The team will close out its trip with a tour of Isla Mujeres, a small, calm island located to the north of Cancun on Aug. 12. Isla Mujeres combines the beauty of the Caribbean, the dense tropical jungle and the wonderful heritage of the Maya civilization. It stands out as one of Mexico"s natural treasures.
The Tigers will leave Cancun in the afternoon of Aug. 13 and return to Auburn that evening.
This is the fourth foreign tour Auburn has experienced, going to Spain in 2001; France, Germany and The Netherlands in 1997; and Israel in 1973.