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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Foreign tour gives KU women’s basketball educational experience

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One of the main things that University of Kansas women's basketball coach Brandon Schneider was curious about before his team's four-game foreign tour earlier this month in France and Switzerland was how transfer guards Jessica Washington and McKenzie Calvert would perform in a game environment.

Washington and Calvert were able to practice with the Jayhawks during the 2015-16 season while sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules, and they took advantage of their first time to shine as they helped KU post a record of 4-0 on the tour.

"I thought we got a glimpse of some of the things we hope to see on the court this year. They made shots," Schneider said of Washington and Calvert. "They shared the ball. They stirred it up defensively. I was really impressed."

Calvert — a redshirt sophomore from Southern California — scored in double figures in all four contests while averaging 13 points per game, and Washington led all scorers with 13 and 17 apiece in the Jayhawks' two wins over the AMW All-Stars Aug. 11 and 12 in Paris. While Schneider was glad to see Calvert and Washington contribute to the Jayhawks' balanced offensive effort, what stood out most to him was their play on the defensive end.

Schneider has appreciated that hard-nosed style of play in practice — especially from Washington — but he has continued to think of ways to get the North Carolina transfer to take her defensive intensity to another level.

"I call her soft all the time, and she just kind of looks at me and smiles. It's nice to see her really respond to that challenge," Schneider said. "She took charges, she dove on the floor, saved a ball between her legs (and) had to run it down. Those type of hustle plays that I value so much, we're going to need them. Not only from Jess and Kenzie, but it needs to just be what we do."

The second-year Kansas coach lauded his players for the game-to-game adjustments that they made throughout the tour. The Jayhawks edged the AMW All-Stars, 77-71, in the first game of the tour, and then came back the next day to claim a 95-52 victory over the Paris-based team. Schneider's squad then recorded two blowout wins in Switzerland to conclude the tour — defeating Sion Select, 87-22, and Nice Select, 113-27.

"Team chemistry, I think, especially in women's basketball is really, really key to having the kind of program that you want," Schneider said. "Trips like this I think really help get it off on the right foot, if you will."

Senior Jada Brown said that the Jayhawks shocked themselves by being able to win the last three games as handily as they did, and believed that the tour was a great opportunity for each player to get a lot of time on the court.

"We didn't expect to win by that much, but it was fun. Everybody got to play," Brown said. "It was the first time that everybody — including the transfers — got to play together. It was just good tempo, and the fact that we could beat them by that much was fun, too."

Along with learning about how to play with each other on the court, the Jayhawks and Schneider's staff believed that the tour as a whole was an all-around educational experience. Schneider got his first taste of coaching a game under FIBA rules. There were certain aspects of the international style of play that Schneider struggled with, but he enjoyed the change of pace.

"I screwed them up several times just on when you can and can't call timeouts. That was the biggest thing," Schneider said. "With the 24-second shot clock, the game is obviously a lot faster. I really like the offensive rebound, the clock resets to 14."

Schneider wanted to make sure that the Jayhawks got an educational experience off the court as well. Schneider took his team to see the scene of the terrorist attack that took place in Nice, France on July 14, which killed 86 people.

"Obviously, it was really, really fresh. We talked about that as a team, and I told them, 'Hey, if we were in Honolulu, we'd be going to Pearl Harbor. If we were in Oklahoma City, we'd be going downtown. Obviously in New York where the towers fell,'" Schneider said. "It just so happens that this happened a month ago. You're getting a lot more out of it than just team chemistry and basketball."

The Jayhawks also partook in several activities such as paddle boarding and parasailing, and visited the Eiffel Tower.

"I never really thought about going up to the very top of the Eiffel Tower until it actually happened. We got up to the second floor and we're like, 'This is already pretty high. It goes much higher than this?'' sophomore Kylee Kopatich said. "Then they allowed us to go on a scavenger hunt, which showed like the different big monuments in Paris and stuff I haven't even heard of quite honestly. Being able to see that and take pictures in front of it, it was crazy."

Between the bonding on the basketball court and in the team's exploring in France and Switzerland, Schneider said the likelihood of another foreign tour down the road is high.

"As long as the NCAA permits it, we'll do one every four years," Schneider said. "They have it set up so that each recruiting class can participate in something like that."

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