Greg Hotchkiss - Director of Media Relations | Sunday, August 8
Following our final game on Saturday, a sixth consecutive victory and win over the English National Team, we boarded a bus for Dublin and the wonderful Shelbourne Hotel for our final two evenings in Ireland.
On Sunday, our plan was to attend a hurling match. Hurling, along with Gaelic football (rugby) are the two Gaelic Athletic Association sports. It is an extremely popular sport in Ireland. That was evidenced in and around Dublin by fans everywhere displaying jersey colors of their favorite or native teams. Teams are made up of men from their native county. There are no trades between the teams so there is 100 percent loyalty to the native teams. This explains why there is so much fan loyalty for their respective teams. The sport is played by amateurs, amazing since it is extremely violent. These men are not getting paid to take this physical beating! They do it for love of sport and county. The physical contact is amazing. Players wear only a helmet and basically there are no rules except that you must use your paddle to pick the ball off the ground. Scoring is done two different ways: three points are awarded to a team that scores and shoots the ball into a soccer goal, one point is awarded for teams that hit the ball through two uprights resembling those seen on a football field. The game is played with a stick containing a small paddle on the end. It reminds one of a rougher version of lacrosse combined with the violence and checking of hockey.
We boarded the bus and were handed our tickets. Our bus driver talked about hurling and what we would see that day. We asked him if there were any crazy lunatic fans such as those seen in British soccer and he responded sarcastically by saying, "the only lunatics involved are on the field!" Well, that explained a lot. And when saw how physical the game was, we knew what he meant.
We arrived at Groce Park in the middle of the first contest. Our bus dropped us off a block from the stadium and as we got off the bus, we followed the energetic fans to the stadium entrance. Fans were everywhere displaying the bright red of Cork and the yellow and black of Kilkenny. It was amazing to see the fans. They are so loyal to their teams. This was really a family affair as children with their parents could be seen all over. We entered the stadium through a large blue steel gate. The gate resembled entering through the doors of a jail. Once inside, we were astonished at the atmosphere: festive and exciting. In front of us was the Gaelic Athletic Association museum and we moved closer to take a look. On the wall outside the museum were the counties represented by the GAA and each county's coat of arms. Inside the museum, there were photos and displays of past GAA greats.
It was a sight to see as we made our way to our seats. Players ran up and down the green field, swinging their sticks, making passes, catching the ball and cross checking their opponents. There were 41,000 fans in the stadium, all separated by the colors of their teams. The brilliant colors lit up the arena as the teams battled on the field.
We arrived in the middle of the first match of a doubleheader. Our game was a GAA semifinal match between County Cork and County Kilkenny. There was much riding on the outcome as the winner would advance to next week's championship game. Kilkenny is a national power in hurling, while Cork was the decided underdog. We watched pre-game warm-ups, methodical and similar to any warmup for any sport. Finally it was time to play. A band led both teams onto the field in a pre-game parade circling the perimeter of the field. As the parade made its way around the field, each section stood and cheered as they walked by. These people didn't need a large jumbotron or artificial noise as entertainment. They didn't need to be entertained. All they needed was the sight of their teams.
Immediately as the game began, a fight broke out on the field. The crowd roared to its feet and our players stood and cheered. They couldn't believe how exciting this sport actually was. The crowd and ooed and awed at the violence, the checks and the player-to-player collisions. Finally, Kilkenny scored when a player hit the ball 50 yards through the uprights for one point. Kilkenny continued its scoring, dominated the match and ran away with the game.
Our players also got into the game as groups of them adopted support of the rival teams. Nasir Robinson and Travon Woodall were standing and cheering on the black and gold of Kilkenny as it continued to score at will. One player went down with an injury and Nasir took much pleasure in seeing the player struggle to his feet and continue playing, "the way of the Warrior," he said grinning. Fitting because his nickname is the "Warrior."
This trip was beneficial all the way around and for everyone involved. We had an opportunity see a part of the world that many of us had never experienced. We had a chance to bond as a team both on and off the floor. We also learned that our team is very good and we expect to be outstanding in the coming season. Everyone is excited for the upcoming season!
Greg Hotchkiss - Director of Media Relations | Saturday, August 7
Today we decided to take a bus tour of Belfast. After a quick team meeting, we boarded our bus and our bus driver served as our tour guide.
As we drove toward our first destination, our bus driver explained to us the history of the Catholic-Protestant issues in Northern Ireland and how they came about from a historical perspective. The kings of Northern Ireland joined forces with Ireland against the British, led by King James. After the British won the war, King James took away the lands from the kings in Northern Ireland, threw the Irish Catholics off the lands and sent Protestant Scots from Scotland in their place to populate the lands. The Scots moved in and farmed the lands. That is why the ties between Northern Ireland and Scotland are so strong. The culture and language is similar and it also explains why there has been trouble in this region, although, the last real sign of violence occurred more than 10 years ago. The British finally granted Ireland independence in 1921 but the six counties of Northern Ireland all voted to remain under British control.
Our first visit was to the Shankill Road Protestant area. This community is 100 percent Protestant and Unionist, loyal to Great Britain. On the other side is the 100 percent Catholic and Republican Falls Road area. These two communities are divided by a large green and white wall rimmed in barbed wire. The wall was intended to keep order between the two sides.
On Shankill Road, one could tell just by driving down the street of its loyalty with Great Britain and the white and red county of Ulster flags flying everywhere. As we approached the main strip, our bus driver noticed a surprise demonstration parade ahead. Dressed in brilliant blue uniforms and hats with drums beating in unison, the 20 men marched and continued on their way as our bus passed on the right. Also following the parade were several policemen dressed in bright yellow jackets present to make sure nothing got out of hand. The bus stopped a few blocks ahead of the parade so we could get out and take some photos of the scene, but our driver warned us not to "dilly dally" and get too close to the men for fear of rocks flying at us! And this was no joke as you could hear and feel the fear in his voice. He also told us in the true Irish way, "it would be wise to be fleet of foot and get back on the bus." We also stopped to take some photos of a paramilitary mural. There are murals, shrines and tributes everywhere on Shankill Road. Our players were extremely interested as the guys snapped photos of everything. Later we found out that several of the players had taken some related history courses at Pitt.
It was explained to us that the Catholic community ran parrellel to the Protestant area and as we turned down an adjacent street we saw the large wall rimmed with barbed wire that separated the two communities. It was amazing to see the graffiti on the wall and the messages. One sign warned "Stay Out," another said "Death to All Visitors." There was a bright red flag with a skull and crossbones flying at the wall. It reminded one of a confederate flag. Finally, we exited the Protestant area through a huge open gate at the wall that at one time was obviously sealed with soldiers. It is incredible to see the division of the two communities especially as United States natives, since we enjoy the religious and political freedom that many people sadly do not have.
We drove downtown Belfast to City Hall. We stopped and took photos of the Queen Victoria statue in front of the City Hall. We saw the Albert Memorial Clock Tower. Our bus driver told us a story of former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to Belfast and Northern Ireland on several peace missions. Clinton is held in high regard in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Clinton was in the news in Great Britain recently because his daughter Chelsea's wedding. The Irish and British refer to Clinton as the "King of Kings."
Next, we proceeded to the prestigious Stormont section of town that contains a British Parliament building. Stormont is obviously the upper class part of town. The streets are lined with beautiful homes and it has a parklike feel to it. Finally we came across the British Parliament building, a giant, beautiful white piece of architecture that reminds one of the capital building in Washington D.C. We stopped to get out of the bus to take some photos. Then we noticed some men on the lawn hitting a ball with a white stick. These men were competing in hurling! The men explained that they were competing for "puc-fuda," in Gaelic, which means hitting for distance. Since our plan was to attend a hurling match in Dublin on Sunday, all of our players went down and asked if they could try and take a few swings! Lamar Patterson was the first to try and he barely hit the ball. Then Gilbert Brown tried a few swings no avail. Each of our players and coaches tried to hit the ball up the fairway. Freshman Aron Nwankwo, who played lacrosse in high school, proved to hit it the farthest. Even Coach Dixon joined the act as he swung several times at the heavy ball. It was certainly harder to hit the ball than it looked!
After we boarded the bus again, we headed straight for the 100 percent Catholic part of town. We stopped to take photos of the Irish Republican Army remembrance area. There were murals painted on the walls commemorating Frederick Douglas, Nelson Mandela and the eradication of racism. It was both surprising and stunning to see these international peace warriors depicted on walls in Belfast, Northern Ireland!
It was time to prepare for the game, so we headed back to the Europa Hotel.
Greg Hotchkiss - Director of Media Relations | Friday, August 6
Our plan for Friday was to pack up our belongings, check out of our hotel in Dublin, board a bus and drive directly to Belfast for the next two nights. Tonight we would play our fifth game on the tour, a contest against the four-time Australian national champions Melbourne Tigers Australian basketball club. Melbourne had a reputation for being one of the top clubs in the world. It would prove to be our toughest game.
After breakfast we boarded the bus for a two-hour drive to Belfast, Northern Ireland. We passed through the countryside on another overcast and rainy Irish day. We didn't even know we crossed the border into Northern Ireland until we started seeing British flags and the County of Ulster flags (white with a red cross) flying at the highway exits along with the yellow license plates on vehicles instead of the Ireland white. We were expecting some sort of welcome sign similar to what one would see at state borders in the United States but we never saw it. Maybe we missed it. One of the Ireland books that I read beforehand stated that even the Irish sometimes don't know where the boundary lies between Ireland and Northern Ireland!
Historically the site of much political and religious unrest, Northern Ireland is governed and controlled by Great Britain. The six counties of Northern Ireland remained and voted to stay under British control after Ireland received its independence from Great Britain in the 1920s. It is viewed by many outsiders to be an unsafe place but the last conflict there was 10 years ago. Still, after talking with natives at the two basketball games in the coming days, we found out that bombs continue to go off daily in Belfast. One man claimed that he hears maybe three-to-four bombs per day, but said they are aimed at rival gangs and not at tourists. He also said that he witnessed several bomb blasts. We will have more on that in Saturday's blog!
On the highway, it was interesting to see some of the street signs in Northern Ireland. A yield sign read "Give Way," another read "Right on Carriageway." I think we need to borrow that "Give Way" sign in Pittsburgh! The best one was "No Pitter Patter," whatever that was supposed to mean? Also we noticed that on property signs "To Lease" was written "To Let." On the interstate highway there was a bus line with bus stops filled with people. That was a little different.
Immediately after we exited the highway, one had a different feeling in Belfast. It was obviously different than Dublin as barbed wire lined both sides of the street. A city jail was on our left with vacant property on our right. Graffiti was everywhere on buildings. Once in downtown Belfast, we instantly spotted our hotel, the Europa. The Europa, which we would later discover, had the distinction of being the "most bombed hotel in the world," was located in downtown Belfast. Gilbert Brown got online and actually found out that this fact was true. Apparently, the hotel had been bombed and rebuilt many times over the years. That would explain the hotel's old world charm blended with the modern amenities. I do know one thing, I would not want to pay the Europa's insurance bill!
Across the street from the Europa stood two authentic bar/restaurants: the Crown Bar and Robinsons Bar and Grille. Nasir Robinson took much delight in seeing his namesake on Robinson's place. We were told that the Crown Bar is a historic landmark and is owned and operated by the English Trust. The Crown Bar is noted for its amazing decoration on the inside. There was also the Anglo-Irish Bank, something you definitely won't find in Dublin.
As we were told by our bus driver, Belfast is a city of the industrial revolution. The Titanic was built at its port and shipbuilding is a major industry in Belfast. The city has more of a European and industrial feel to it. It was also common to see men walking down the street in fatigues. Tourism is not as big of an industry here as in Dublin. Though the people are very friendly in Belfast, the people are a bit more outgoing in Dublin. There is more of a harder edge to people here, possibly because of the civil strife.
The British Pound is used as currency in Northern Ireland so a few of us visited an exchange store to switch our Euros over to Pounds.
We checked into the Europa and quickly got ready for shootaround at Odyssey Arena. Finally we came across Odyssey Arena, an 8,000-seat stadium style structure. It reminded us a little of the Sprint Center in Kansas City where we played the CBE Classic last year. It is easily the largest and most modern facility that we would see here.
The game that evening against Melbourne was extremely physical. The Tigers were the only team we met who could match our size. They even led at halftime, but eventually we started playing quicker and more physical and went on a 14-0 run to secure the win. The game atmosphere in Belfast was a bit different. The announcer, an American from Cleveland yelled and played music during the game to try to spice up a very quiet crowd of 3,300. After the game, our players greeted the fans in an autograph line and the fans came to life with excitement and energy.
Greg Hotchkiss - Director of Media Relations | Thursday, August 5
In the morning, the entire team set out for a community service visit to Our Lady Children's Hospital in the Crumlin section of Dublin. The visit was arranged by Patricia Rooney, who had in the past, had organized visits for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney. The hospital was intended for children with serious illnesses such as cancer. Many of the doctors at the facility had either attended the University of Pittsburgh and/or trained in Baltimore or Pittsburgh. It was amazing to see the affect our players had on the children there at the hospital. Many of the children were moved to tears. Our players passed out toys and Pitt items to the kids. It certainly brightened the day of many sick children. After the hospital visit, Coach Dixon and the team attended Dublin City University for practice.
Following Wednesday's game, a reception was held for the players with pizza and sandwiches available. Everyone we dealt with was so friendly in Dublin. Immediately after both games and after the two teams shook hands, children rushed the court and mobbed our players in search of autographs and conversation. Pitt really made an impression on the crowds in Dublin.
Dublin is such a fabulous city. There is so much to do and so much to see. I am not sure we even came close to seeing everything. Everywhere one walks, one can hear the hum of Irish music and people conversing. Dubliners are very social and outgoing and love to meet new people. It is definitely an inviting, festive and merry city. The shopping districts of Grafton Street and O'Connell Street were incredible and always busy with shops lining the streets at all ends. Temple Bar is the famous party district, containing bars and restaurants.
Several of us had the opportunity to visit the Guinness Storehouse. A six-level structure, the Guinness Storehouse proved to be a shrine to Guinness beer and Irish culture. The old factory contained interactive displays on brewing beer, advertising and the success of Guinness. The sixth and top floor had an amazing view of Dublin. One interesting fact about Guinness is that it sponsored the Guinness Book of World Records. The book came about because of a bar argument between two men over which bird was the fastest in the world. The idea was to publish a book to be made available in bars worldwide to solve such debates. Over time, the book has sold more copies worldwide than any other literary piece with the exception of the Bible and Koran. What amazes me most is how Guinness has entrenched itself in Irish culture. Guinness signs are everywhere and I mean everywhere!
Before I left for Ireland, one of the view books that I read mentioned the great taxi cab drivers in Dublin. It stated that if you are ever in the city, you must be sure to take at least one taxi ride since it is an experience that you "will never forget." Well, I found that to be especially true. The taxi drivers are knowledgeable and friendly. And they love to talk about Dublin and Irish culture. It is also interesting to know that cabs are plentiful and easy to find in Dublin, even on side streets. In fact, one taxi cab driver told me that there are 100 more cabs in Dublin than in New York City! If that's true, maybe Dublin can send a few cabs to Pittsburgh! He also said that with so many available cabs, supply is much greater than demand. And that, my lads, is not good for business.
Pitt Basketball Completes Summer Tour to Ireland with 82-69 Win Over English National Team
BELFAST, Northern Ireland--Pitt completed its 2010 Summer Tour to Ireland with an 82-69 win over the English National Team Saturday evening before 1,839 fans at Odyssey Arena. The win gave Pitt a perfect 6-0 record on the tour.
Three Pitt players scored 13 points apiece including Talib Zanna (game-high nine rebounds), Ashton Gibbs (five assists) and Travon Woodall (three assists). Nasir Robinson added nine points and J.J. Moore finished with seven.
Pitt jumped out to a 25-5 lead in the first quarter by holding England to 11.8 percent shooting (2-17). Pitt led 52-23 at halftime. In the first half, the Panthers outrebounded England 27-16 and finished with 15 assists and only three turnovers. Zanna (six rebounds) and Woodall (3-3 3FG) each sparked the Panthers in the first half with 13 points apiece. A Woodall 3-pointer gave Pitt a commanding 11-3 lead with 4:57 to go in the first quarter. Zanna converted a 3-point play to give Pitt a 39-15 lead with 3:34 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers extended their lead to as many as 38 points early in the third quarter.
Pitt outrebounded England 51-39 and grabbed 23 offensive rebounds. The Panthers also registered 24 assists on 32 field goals made.
Former Duquesne center Mike Williams played for England.
Following the game, Pitt traveled back to Dublin where it will spend Saturday and Sunday in the Irish capital. On Sunday, the Panthers are scheduled to take in a game of hurling as the Gaelic Athletic Association championships are being played this weekend at Dublin's Croke Park.
Earlier this morning, Pitt took a bus tour of Belfast. The team visited the Protestant Shankill Road community, saw a Protestant parade, visited the Stormont section of town where the British Parliament building resides, had an opportunity to swing a hurling stick on the Stormont grounds and visited the Catholic Falls Road section of the city.
Over the entire six-game trip, Pitt averaged 93.8 points per game, 50.8 rebounds per game, shot 48.5 percent (220-454) from the floor, 40.5 percent from 3-point range (41-101) and finished with 140 assists and only 77 turnovers. Gilbert Brown led the Panthers in scoring (12.8), Brad Wanamaker led the squad in assists (35) and Dante Taylor led the team in rebounding (7.2 rpg.) with Talib Zanna close behind at 7.0 rpg.
Pitt Defeats Melbourne Tigers 92-76 to Improve to 5-0 on Ireland Summer Tour
BELFAST, Northern Ireland--In a physical game that saw 50 combined personal fouls, Pitt used a 14-0 third quarter run to take control of the contest and register a 92-76 victory over the Australian professional team Melbourne Tigers Friday at Odyssey Arena.
The game drew 3,309 fans and gave Pitt a perfect 5-0 record in its Summer Tour to Ireland. Pitt has one game remaining: tomorrow night against the English National Team. Tipoff is at 5 p.m. Ireland Time.
After trailing 46-45 at halftime, Pitt used a 14-0 run to take a 67-52 lead with 2:18 to play in the third quarter. Gary McGhee started the rally when he reached down to pick up an offensive rebound off the floor and layed it in, Gilbert Brown followed with a steal, passed to Nasir Robinson who found Ashton Gibbs for a layup and Brad Wanamaker grabbed a defensive rebound and found Robinson for a layup. Lamar Patterson then converted a 3-point play off an offensive rebound, a Travon Woodall steal and layup and two Brad Wanamaker free throws gave Pitt its 13 point lead.
Pitt led the contest by as many as 19 points and outscored the Melbourne Tigers 28-9 in the deciding third quarter.
The Melbourne Tigers are a four-time Australian professional championship team. The Tigers featured the most experience and size that Pitt will face on its six-game basketball tour to Ireland. Former Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf, who signed a contract with the Tigers in May, was not in Belfast.
Six Panthers reached double figure scoring. Brown (seven rebounds and six assists) and Gibbs (three 3FGM) both led the Panthers with 15 points apiece, Nasir Robinson finished with 14 points, Woodall scored 12, J.J. Moore registered 11 and Wanamaker finished with 10. McGhee led Pitt with eight rebounds.
Pitt outrebounded the Melbourne Tigers 49-34 despite the Tigers' frontline of former Utah 7-footer Luke Nevill and several other players over 6-feet-8 inches tall.
Pitt built a 28-19 lead with 7:57 left in the second quarter on a Gibbs 3-pointer but the Melbourne Tigers battled back. The Tigers took their first lead, 43-42, with 1:40 left in the second quarter on a 6-0 run. On the first play of the second half, Brown gave Pitt the lead for good when he grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled up the middle of the floor and flew threw the air for a spectacular dunk. The play gave Pitt a 47-46 lead and sparked a 6-0 Pitt run.
Pitt Wins Fourth Game Of Ireland Trip, an 88-62 Win Over Dart Killester Club
DUBLIN, Ireland--Pitt outscored the Dart Killester Club Team 29-12 in the fourth quarter en route to an 88-62 win over the hosts Wednesday at Dublin City University. The win improved Pitt to a perfect 4-0 in its Summer Tour to Ireland. The Panthers have claimed their four games by an average of 40.0 points per win.
Following the contest, Pitt senior Gilbert Brown was presented with a golden basketball as he was honored as the Man of the Match. With a team-high 14 points in the game, Brown was the only Pitt player to record double figures in both games during its two contests in Dublin. Sophomore Dante Taylor finished with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, junior Ashton Gibbs and senior Brad Wanamaker each chipped in nine points, and sophomore J.J. Richardson, redshirt freshman Talib Zanna and senior Gary McGhee each scored eight points apiece for the Panthers.
Dart Killester's Jermaine Turner led the way for the hosts with a game-high 27 points on the evening.
Pitt put the game out of reach by outscoring Dart Killester 29-12 in the fourth quarter. Pitt's 7-0 fourth quarter run sparked by Taylor's offensive rebound dunk, a Gibbs 3-pointer and a McGhee dunk off a Richardson pass put the game out of reach.
Dart Killester kept the game fairly close throughout the contest. It cut Pitt's double digit lead down to six points at 47-41, but Wanamaker answered with a key jumper with 5:20 left in the third quarter. The Panthers led just 59-50 at the conclusion of the third quarter.
Brown did much of his damage in the second quarter, giving the Panthers the lead for good with dunks on back-to-back plays. Pitt led 39-30 at halftime after it trailed by its largest margin over its first four games in Ireland--five points (14-9)--in the first quarter.
Once again, the Panthers grabbed over 20 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Dart Killester 50-25 in the game.
Pitt spent Wednesday morning at the Newgrange burial site.
Pitt is off tomorrow. It is back in action when it travels to Belfast, Northern Ireland to play the Melbourne Tigers (Australia) on Friday, August 6 at Odyssey Arena. Tipoff is at 8:30 p.m. Ireland Time.
Gary McGhee | Wednesday, August 4
This is my first time overseas. Ireland is a great country. I really like it. Dublin is a great city. There are lots of things to do and lots of sightseeing opportunities. Cork was also a great place.
Basketball is played a little bit different over here. It is more of a finesse game. They let us play a little bit but it is definitely not as physical in the United States or in the Big East.
There are a ton of rule differences in the game. The intentional foul rule was totally different for us the other day. If the defender fouls an offensive player with the ball on a fast break from behind, it's called as an automatic intentional foul regardless if you foul the guy or not. That's totally different. You rarely get that call in the United States. The 24-second shot clock speeds the game. I think it helps us out and makes us push the ball a little bit more. Then you have only 24 seconds to play defense. With the quicker shot clock we go into our clock plays and those mostly involve the guards. It's a little tougher for me being a center to score in the international game. Our big guys, including me, we need to look to crash the offensive glass more. The wider lane makes it more difficult to score for a big man. I can't post up in the same spot that I want to so when I receive the ball, I need an extra dribble or two to get to the basket to get a closer shot. I have to take two dribbles to get better position instead of one. It changes your game a little bit. The wider lane also makes three seconds easier to call. We got caught a few times in the lane.
The food here in Ireland is a lot different than back home. It's different because they don't use seasoning as much. In the United States, we use a lot of pepper, salt and spices but there is none of that here.
The Irish accents are really strong. The people speak English just like us but it's different. Sometimes they slur their words. I find myself asking them to repeat themselves because I can't follow the accent. We were out the other night and we met some native Irish. They thought our accent was strong!
Driving is a whole different deal here. Cars drive on the opposite side, go the opposite way and the steering wheels are on the opposite side. It must be totally different driving here. Being an American, it's dangerous! I'm happy we have a bus to get around in. I wouldn't want to drive here, I might wreck if I had to!
I really had a great time at the Blarney Stone. It was a good experience. I found out that I was afraid of heights as my stomach was feeling shaky. We had to climb a narrow spiral stairway and I really felt closed in. Gilbert (Brown) recorded some video of me trying to walk up the stairs. When I bent down to kiss the stone, that's when my stomach really dropped.
Visiting the Ambassador's house was a great experience.
Ashton Gibbs | Wednesday, August 4
Ireland is basically similar to the United States in a lot of ways. The businesses and restaurants are all the same, the language and the people are the same. I really like Dublin. It reminds me of a city in the United States. The food is good and the people love us out here.
The one thing that has stood out is the fans. I just can't believe their energy. They are so supportive. The little kids, the adults, when they see players from the United States, they want to reach out and touch you. They want to talk to you and learn everything they can about the game. Basketball is not such a popular sport out here but we've seen quite a lot of support. So far we've had great attendance at games and we'll see how many show up tonight in Dublin. It's amazing to see the kids. After the games, they rush onto the floor to try to get our autograph and they are literally standing outside our lockerroom when we come out to shoot around. It's those little things that have made this experience so exciting.
I've been very fortunate to travel outside the United States with the U.S. Basketball team last summer and I am really impressed with Ireland. It's a great place to visit! So far it's been a good trip. I can't complain.
The food here is better than what I expected. We always get a decent amount. You can order the same food that you can order in the States: chicken tenders and fries, hamburgers.
The hotel accommodations have been very, very good. In Cork, it was a little different to have one queen size bed and one twin bed in a room. Thanks to my roommate Nick Rivers, I was able to sleep on the queen size bed. In Cork, you had to insert your room key to be able to turn on the electricity in the room as soon as you entered the room. I guess they have that feature to save electricity. Also the electrical outlets are different and our coaches gave us some European outlets so we could use our electrical items. Those two features are definitely a little different than hotels in the United States.
The Irish accents here are little hard to figure. I always have to ask people to repeat themselves. What's funny is that they think we have an accent so that's very different. I wonder how we sound to them because their English sounds totally different to me! I also noticed that everyone smokes here too!
Ambassador Rooney's house was incredible. I was surprised and impressed inside and outside. I also didn't expect to find a football field in their backyard! Mr. and Mrs. Rooney welcomed us with open arms. They are genuine, down-to-earth people and very accommodating. What's really neat is that they thought of Talib Zanna and invited the Nigerian Ambassador to our party. To meet both ambassadors was a great experience. When you are treated that well, you are extremely thankful. Mr. and Mrs. Rooney made our trip!
As far as the basketball goes here, they call more fouls. The game is less physical and the lanes are different.
The Blarney Stone was nice and fun, but definitely a tourist attraction. I learned a lot about the history of the castle and the story behind the Blarney Stone. It's something that I will definitely tell my kids. I also found the castle interesting, especially from the standpoint of seeing where people lived in earlier years.
I like it here. It's a good vacation spot.
Pitt Claims 110-61 Win Over Irish National Team; Five Panthers Reach Double Figures in Victory
DUBLIN, Ireland--Pitt outrebounded the Irish National Team 56-20 en route to a 110-61 victory Tuesday at Dublin City University before 897 fans. The victory improved Pitt's record to 3-0 on its summer tour to Ireland. Pitt now has defeated the Irish National Team two times.
Four Panthers reached double figures in the win including freshman J.J. Moore (14 points), sophomore J.J. Richardson (13 points), senior Gilbert Brown (12 points), junior Ashton Gibbs (12 points) and junior Nasir Robinson (10 points). Sophomore Dante Taylor led the Panthers with 10 rebounds as the Panthers pulled down 22 offensive rebounds and shot 53.8 percent (42-78) from the floor.
Pitt pulled away midway through the second quarter and took a 17-point lead when Moore was fouled while swishing a running jumper. Moore missed the ensuing free throw, but freshman Talib Zanna grabbed the offensive rebound and layed it in while he was fouled. Zanna converted the following free throw to give the Panthers their largest lead of the game at 39-22. At halftime, Pitt led 50-31 on account of a 30-9 rebounding advantage.
Gibbs capped a 14-3 run with a driving layup to give Pitt a 63-34 lead just three minutes into the second quarter. He scored seven of Pitt's 14 points in the run.
Pitt started Gary McGhee at center, J.J. Richardson, J.J. Moore and Gilbert Brown at the forward positions and Ashton Gibbs at point guard. All players played an equal amount of minutes.
Pitt will be situated in Dublin for the next three evenings. The Panthers are back in action when they play the Dart Killester Club Team on Wednesday, August 4th at Dublin City University. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. Ireland Time.
Day four in Ireland began in the morning with a quick breakfast. Our plan was to take a short bus ride over to view the Book of Kells on the Trinity College campus, then travel to Dublin City University for a two-hour practice.
Located at Trinity College, which was founded in 1592, the Book of Kells is a precious link to Ireland's antiquity. Handwritten in Latin and illustrated by monks in 800 AD, the book consists of four gospels. It was discovered at a monastery at Kells. The book is bound in four separate volumes, two displayed in a glass case. Pages are turned to a different page spread each day.
The tour began through a bookstore and led to a room of murals depicting the artwork and literature of the four books. The final room contained the four original books in a glass case. The intricate work on the pages is absolutely astounding. It is amazing that someone could be that precise with the work. One mistake and the pages would have been needed to be reworked completely! Next it was time to tour the Long Room, a library of 200,000 volumes of ancient works. As you soon as you walk into the Long Room, you can feel the history and smell the musty old books. Thousands of old books are separated by black wooden bookcases. We were not allowed to take photographs anywhere.
After visiting Trinity College, we bussed over to Dublin City University for a two-hour practice and site of our next two games. Located at the university, the arena was about the same size as the stadium in Cork. You won't find a 12,500 seat basketball arena in Ireland, that's for sure, but you will find a 70,000 seat futbal stadium. Coach Dixon conducted a normal practice. Following practice, Coach Dixon gave a 30-minute coaching clinic. Over 40 Irish coaches were in attendance. He fielded all types of questions from the group, which watched the entire practice.
After practice, lunch was on our own. A group of us took a bus trip through the suburbs of Dublin and along the shoreline toward the ocean.
What has amazed me about Ireland is that the mall culture of America has not caught on here. It is non-existent. It was especially evident in Cork. The downtown area in Cork was the place to be for all facets of life and at all times during the day: morning, afternoon and night. It was the place of commerce, the place to socialize and the center of all activity. Dublin is the same way. There are small businesses everywhere and on every street corner. Our hotel, the Shelbourne, is located across from a park named St. Stephen's Green. It reminds me a bit of Central Park in New York City. We are two blocks from Dublin's main shopping district, Grafton Street. The street is blocked off to traffic and reminds a visitor a little of Bourbon Street in New Orleans but without the bars and atmosphere. At Grafton Street, one will find all of the fashion shops, boutiques and restaurants along with street performers. The hum of Irish music is everywhere. One man was out there playing bagpipes and another group playing some contemporary music. Our hotel is 6-7 blocks from the popular Temple Bar district which contains all of the Irish pubs, restaurants and nightlife. People are everywhere. Monday was a national holiday which explains why most of the stores and businesses were closed. We are also several blocks from Dublin Castle and Trinity College.
Pitt plays game three vs. the Irish National Team
Player blogs on their thoughts about Ireland
- Greg Hotchkiss | Follow on Twitter
Day three in Ireland began with our second game of the trip, a 92-52 win over the South Regional All-Stars at Neptune Stadium in Cork. The people in Cork and Neptune Stadium were so helpful and generous. They really put on a great show! We would like to thank all of those who helped navigate our visit in Cork, especially stadium manager Paul Keohane (Spyder), Neptune Stadium chairman Pat Lucey and Neptune Stadium president Leo O'Donoughue. What stood out was the accommodating nature of the people in Cork. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. The people of Cork are similar to those found in Pittsburgh. They have a tremendous amount of pride for their city and they go to great lengths to inform us about all things Cork. It is a fabulous city. Prior to the first game against the Irish National Team, a girl came out and sang a song that we later learned was a tribute to the city of Cork. It was a song about Cork and reflected the citizen's love for their hometown. It reminded us of the same pride those in Pittsburgh feel for their native city.
Immediately following the game, we boarded a bus for Dublin and a reception with Pittsburgh Steelers owner and United States Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia Rooney. As we made our way through Irish countryside, we passed through Curragh (pronounced Corrah) in County Kildare, one of the most famous horse breeding areas in the world. Eventually the pastoral landscape gave way to the urban sprawl of Dublin. A city of two million people, Dublin is the center of culture in Ireland. As we made our way through the downtown streets of Dublin, we passed many historical landmarks, churches and cathedrals. We passed a train station where the Great Train Robbery movie starring Sean Connery was filmed. We saw the Guinness Factory and Trinity College. Literally every building on every block has some sort of significance. Dublin contains a mix of medieval buildings interspersed with modern architecture. Double decker buses and taxi cabs were everywhere.
The Ambassador's Deerfield residence is located in the prestigious Phoenix Park section of town. According to Mr. Rooney, Phoenix Park is the largest park in Europe. Our bus driver explained that the name "Phoenix" derives from the Egyptian meaning "rise from the ashes." Certainly Phoenix Park is an amazing place as the area reminded us of the Mall in Washington, D.C. with its plush parks, landmarks, green landscape, original gas burning nightlights and chestnut trees lining the avenues. People were seen jogging and picnicking in the park and on athletic fields. We were also told that wildlife and deer inhabit the park. The Deerfield Residence is the former home of the Chief Secretary (President) of Ireland. It has been the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland since 1927 and is located near the new Chief of Secretary of Ireland's residence. As we were told, the close proximity of the residences has to do with the fact that the Irish have much respect for the United States since the U.S. was one of the world's first countries to recognize Ireland's independence.
Upon entering the Deerfield grounds, we were struck by the beautiful, perfectly manicured gardens. The Ambassador's residence was a beautiful white house that resembled the White House. The tranquility of the place was amazing. At first glance, the home appears that you could walk right up to it, but the grounds are surrounded by a mote, security gate and security personnel. As with any political residence in a foreign country, obviously there were several security measures taken. Our bus was checked thoroughly and we were tested for explosives.
Once off the bus, we entered through the front door, proceeded down a red carpet and were greeted immediately by Mr. Dan Rooney and wife Patricia in the greeting room. First of through the line was Athletic Director Steve Pederson and his wife Tami, then Jamie Dixon and his family and then onto the players. Each of us signed a guest book. Hanging on the wall was a painting depicting the city of Pittsburgh in the 1700s. Seniors Gilbert Brown, Gary McGhee and Brad Wanamaker presented the Rooneys with a glass encased basketball with the words, "Pitt Ireland Summer Tour 2010" and several University of Pittsburgh photographs. We entered the back end of the house which contained a formal dining room, sitting room and ballroom. Ice cream, snacks and desserts were served to our players along with the other assorted guests. On display in the rooms was artwork created by several Pittsburgh artists. The stairway leading up to the bedrooms contained several photos of the Rooneys with President Barack Obama, along with miscellaneous personal photos. A plaque in the hallway contained a list of notable guests who had visited the house including former Presidents John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In the backyard an American football field lined with field markers and uprights on each end was on display. The field was built in honor of the Pittsburgh Steelers and was used for an event on July 4 when a few locals and Americans played a flag football game on the grounds.
Situated at the front of the social room was a podium draped with a University of Pittsburgh banner. Mr. Rooney first ascended to the podium and addressed his guests with some inspiring words. His message was that "all of us are ambassadors for the United States" and that "all of our actions reflect on how we are viewed as Americans." Mrs. Rooney talked about what an honor it was to host the Pitt Basketball team since she is a proud graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She spoke about a conversation she had with Coach Jamie Dixon at a Pittsburgh Penguins game when they discussed the possibility of the team attending the residence. Coach Dixon then spoke about the generosity of the Rooneys and expressed gratitude for all they have done for the city of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC and their service to country. Pitt senior Gilbert Brown expressed his thanks to the Rooneys for inviting the team into their home and junior Ashton Gibbs thanked the Rooneys and talked about what a great country Ireland is and how much fun the team has had here.
Following the speeches, the team took a group photo with the Rooneys in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln. As we were snapping pictures, a black limousine pulled up in front of the house and an African American woman dressed in brilliant African garb emerged. Mr. Rooney introduced the woman to the team and informed us that she was the Ambassador to Nigeria! When we found out that fact, we introduced her to Nigerian native Talib Zanna and walk-on Aron Nwankwo, whose father is a Nigerian native. Talib and Aron were visibly moved as they came forward for some photos!
Visiting the Rooneys was truly the highlight of our summer tour!
Pitt visits the Book of Kells on the Trinity College campus
Player blogs on their thoughts about Ireland, the Blarney Stone and their visit to Rooneys
Pitt is now in Dublin
Pitt plays its third game of the trip against the Irish National Team
- Greg Hotchkiss | Follow on Twitter
Pitt Wins Second Ireland Summer Tour Game Against The South Regional All-Stars, 92-52; Three Panthers Score in Double Figures, Pitt Grabs 30 Offensive Rebounds
CORK, Ireland--Pitt took advantage of 30 offensive rebounds and nine 3-pointers in winning a 92-52 decision against the South Regional All-Stars on Sunday afternoon at Neptune Stadium. Played before 857 fans, the game marked Pitt's second contest of its 12-day, six-game Ireland Summer Competition Tour. Immediately following the contest, the team boarded a bus bound for Dublin and a reception with Pittsburgh Steelers owner and United States Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney.
Utilizing its strength and size advantage inside, Pitt grabbed 30 offensive rebounds in the game and outrebounded the host South Regional All-Stars 61-30. The Panthers also forced the All-Stars into committing 22 turnovers. Three Panthers reached double digit scoring including freshman J.J. Moore, who finished with 14 points on 6-9 shooting (2-3 3FGM), Talib Zanna, who notched a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds and Gilbert Brown, who finished with 10 points. All 14 Pitt players saw action in the game. Ten Panthers scored more than five points in the game and five finished with seven or more rebounds.
Pitt led the entire game but took control of the contest early in the third quarter when it used a 10-2 run to build a 47-25 lead. Travon Woodall scored all of his eight points in the run as he nailed two 3-pointers and Brad Wanamaker hit a key jumper in the rally. In the third quarter alone, Pitt hit 67 percent of its shots (14-21) and outscored the South Regional All-Stars 32-13.
The Panthers went up 73-39 on a J.J. Richardson layup midway through the fourth quarter.
Pitt led 37-23 at halftime after grabbing 19 offensive rebounds in the first two periods and despite coverting only 15-37 field goal attempts.
The South Regional All-Stars were led by Phil Taylor's 12 points and Rob Lynch's 10. Taylor converted 4-13 3-point attempts. The All-Stars were limited to 33.3 percent field goal shooting (19-57) in the game. The All-Stars' tallest player was 6-foot-6, while three others stood 6-foot-5.
The Panthers started Zanna and Lamar Patterson at forward, Dante Taylor at center and Wanamaker and Travon Woodall at guard. Pitt's three freshmen--Moore, Aron Nwankwo and Cameron Wright--all saw their first action in the game. Due to NCAA rules, Sunday marked the first day that the trio was eligible to compete on the trip.
Pitt will be situated in Dublin for the next five evenings. The Panthers are back in action when they play the Irish National Team for a second time on Tuesday, August 3rd at Dublin City University. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. Ireland Time.
Pitt Defeats Irish National Team 99-54 in First Contest of Ireland Tour; Gilbert Brown Scores 22, Ashton Gibbs 17 to Lead Panthers
CORK, Ireland--Pitt began its Ireland Summer Competition Tour with a 99-54 victory over the Irish National Team before 1,650 fans Saturday evening at Neptune Stadium. Pitt plays its second contest on Sunday at 2 p.m. Ireland time against the Southern Regional All-Stars. Immediately following the contest, the Panthers travel back to Dublin for a reception with Pittsburgh Steelers owner and United States Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney.
Gilbert Brown led Pitt with 22 points on 8-12 shooting (4-6 3FGM) while Ashton Gibbs finished the night with 17 points, including 15 and three 3-pointers in the first half. The Panthers also received a double-double 12-point, 10-assist performance from Brad Wanamaker and 10 points from Nasir Robinson. Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna both led the Panthers with nine rebounds apiece.
The Irish Nationals jumped out to a 6-2 lead before the Panthers went on a commanding 15-0 run. Before halftime, Pitt hit three straight 3-pointers, including two from Gibbs and one from Wanamaker to take a 42-28 lead. It led 47-36 at halftime as Gibbs led the way with 15 first half points (three 3-pointers). Pitt outscored the Irish Nationals 52-18 the rest of the way to earn the victory.
Quicker, stronger and more athletic Pitt shot 55.6 percent (38-67) from the floor, hit 50 percent of its 3-point attempts (12-24), forced 22 turnovers and outrebounded the Irish National Team 38-19. The Panthers also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds but committed 16 personal fouls and turned the ball over 16 times.
The animated crowd also witnessed several spectacular plays including a Zanna alley-oop dunk off a pass from Lamar Patterson and two Gilbert Brown dunks including a second half play where he trailed a fast break, caught a pass in mid-air and threw the ball down.
All 11 available Pitt players saw equal playing time in the contest. The Panthers started Brown and Robinson at forward, Gary McGhee at center and Wanamaker and Gibbs at the guard positions. Pitt's three freshmen--J.J. Moore, Aron Nwankwo and Cameron Wright--did not see action due to NCAA rules, but the trio will be eligible to compete in tomorrow's game (August 1st).
The game was played under FIBA international rules which are different from NCAA Division I game operation. The teams played four 10-minute quarters, timeouts were distributed on a 2-first half, 3-second half basis, the three-point and free throw lines were at international length and an international ball was used. The arena played the National Anthems of both teams and the two squads exchanged gifts before the contest. Following the games, children from the crowd mobbed both teams for autographs.
Earlier in the day, Pitt visited the Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney Stone.
For the 2010-11 season, Pitt returns four of five starters, seven of its top eight scorers, 86 percent of its scoring and 91 percent of its rebounding. In preseason rankings, Pitt is already listed as a consensus top-10 nationally ranked team.
Pitt concluded its 2009-10 season with a 25-9 overall record, a second consecutive second place finish in the Big East with a 13-5 slate, the school's ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and a No. 3 seed upon entering the tourney. Prior to the season, Pitt was unranked and picked to finish ninth in the Big East by league coaches.
Day two in Ireland began with a quick Irish breakfast of French toast, sausage, ham and eggs. The plan was to visit the world famous Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle before the team attended its shootaround at noon.
The magical Blarney Stone, situated on the roof of the Blarney Castle, grants the gift of eloquence to he/she who kisses it. Well, it was our goal to acquire a little Irish eloquence!
On the way to Blarney, our bus driver relayed to us a story about the stone itself. As the legend goes, Cormac MacCarthy, an Irish chieftain who was then Lord of Blarney under the direct control of England, had a speech impediment and would never travel to England to listen to the queen, (Queen Elizabeth at the time). The legend has it that there was a drowning girl in a nearby river and MacCarthy dove in and saved this girl. The girl turned out to be a witch and she granted MacCarthy one wish. He asked for eloquence, so the witch told him that in order to have the gift of eloquence, he would have to go up to the castle and kiss the stone at the top. After he kissed the stone and was granted eloquence, MacCarthy was not fearful of Queen Elizabeth, who continued to try and elicit the fealty of MacCarthy. The "silver-tounged" MacCarthy smiled and flattered and nodded his head, all the while keeping his firm hold on his own sovereignty until the queen, in exasperation, is reputed to have exclaimed, "This is nothing but Blarney--what he says, he never means!" This is supposed to be the first recorded instance of the Irish's talent for concealing a wily mind behind inoffensive words. Eloquence, as defined by our bus driver, is the "ability to "deceive without offending."
Upon arrival at the Blarney Stone we stopped outside the gate and waited for athletic trainer Tony Salesi to buy our admission tickets. Dressed in blue warmups, the team posed for a few group photos as we waited. Upon entering the gardens, the team was a quite the spectacle as people positioned themselves to talk to the players. One group of elderly women excitedly stopped to pose for photos with the players. Several of the women made shooting and dribbling gestures as they were amazed how tall our players were. Everywhere you go in Ireland, there are Americans. Along the patch we met people from Harrisburg and Philadelphia. We also came across some Penn State fans as one questioned us, "Is that the real Pitt from Pittsburgh?" We also encountered a Mountaineer fan who started yelling, "Go Mountaineers, Go Mountaineers!" And at that point, one of our travel party responded, "How's Huggins?"
As we walked the trail leading to the castle, people we passed were giving us words of encouragement. One lady exclaimed in a thick Irish accent, "it's definitely worth the climb!" What climb? This definitely piqued our interest because we went into this expecting an easy endeavor. We were wrong. We found that we had to climb 120 steep stone steps, many of them in a narrow spiral stairway. Watching some of our players trying to climb the stairs and duck through the low ceilings was a sight to see. Not to mention, making our way through the narrow hallways while waiting for others to kiss the stone. Once inside the castle, it took 30 laborious minutes to make it to the castle rooftop. The roof provided visitors an amazing view of the Irish countryside and vistas.
The Blarney Stone is actually a stone wall. To kiss it, you must lie on your back on the battlements as a man holds onto your legs. You must extend downward and bend far back until your lips reach the "magical" rock. There is a photographer taking photos on the scene and it is really quite a spectacle. Everyone on the team kissed the stone and had fun doing it. They all ordered photos. As the women told us, it was well worth the wait for a little Irish eloquence!
After the visiting Blarney Castle, we bussed straight to Neptune Stadium for the pre-game shootaround. Coach Dixon has the Panthers preparing for the games like any regular season game.
While at Neptune Stadium, athletic trainer Tony Salesi and Big East official Wally Rutecki, who was presented with a gift of two pint glasses of *Murphy's Stout beer, both took a quick tour of the home lockerroom. Keeping with Irish tradition, the lockerroom contained a full Irish bar with Irish lagers and stouts on tap in a setting of dark stained woods. Also in the lockerroom was luxurious plush leather seating made specifically for the home team to relax. The players will not be partaking in the post-game amenities, but the support staff certainly will take some time to visit to the room!
*Note: Murphy's Stout is the traditional home beer of the city of Cork.
We will provide updates of Pitt's first game in Ireland tonight after the contest.
Pitt will have an ice cream reception with Pittsburgh Steelers owner and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney on Sunday
More on Pitt's hotel accommodations and adjusting to staying in Cork
Pitt plays its second game of the Ireland road trip
- Greg Hotchkiss | Follow on Twitter
Pitt landed in Dublin at 9 a.m. after an all-night flight that took off around 10:30 p.m. ET in Philadelphia. The flight was surprisingly quick and we actually landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. As we made our descent into Dublin, one could see the brilliant green landscape and shoreline through the thick fog and soft Irish rain. Once on the ground, we quickly passed through customs without issue. Everyone in the travel party was a United States citizen, with the exception of Nigerian Talib Zanna.
You knew you were in Ireland right off the bat when we passed a large Irish tourist gift shop at the airport. All merchandise in the shop was green. It was the type of operation one would see in the United States around St. Patrick's Day when stores try to unload all of their Irish related items. But this was all-Irish, 365-days a year. One would also be surprised that many of the people in airport wore green as well.
We had a little delay due to some transportation issues. The volume of our luggage was well beyond our normal load. People packed too much and we had a ton of boxes that we normally wouldn't have for a typical road trip. The bus was much smaller than anticipated and we were left with a van-ful of luggage that we couldn't accommodate. Then, we spent an hour waiting in line at the car rental agency. Finally, the issues were resolved as we ordered an extra van and were on our way to Cork.
Once on the road, the one fact that stood out immediately is that Ireland is extremely pastoral. As soon as we exited the Dublin Airport, one could see cows grazing in fields next to the highway. We saw a man riding in a horse-drawn carriage in an overpass above the highway. Everywhere you look, you see rolling hills and farms divided by a thin line of trees. The farms go right up to the top of the hills, which are covered in fog.
The people here have been nothing but friendly. Obviously when you're with a group of tall basketball players you endure stares in all public places, but many of the people are polite about it, often looking away to disguise the fact that they are staring. At the airport, one kid was intent on talking to all of our players and even misidentified some staff members as "trainers" as the team walked by. Most people here have thick Irish accents and it is hard to understand them at first.
Driving in Ireland is obviously totally different than in the States. Cars are driven on the left side or "wrong" side and the steering wheels in the cars are on the right side. Highway exits are off to the left instead of the right. Everything is in kilometers. Signage everywhere contains the English and Gaelic translation. Gas prices, which were around 1.33 euros are in litres. It's amazing to see the numerous American cars on the road, especially Ford vehicles. Nissan, Toyota and Hyundai models are everywhere, along with the European Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagon. We were surprised at the quality of the roads, signage and highway system. It was actually better than what you would find in the States.
Many of the businesses and stores are identical to those found in the United States. McDonalds, Burger Kings and Subways are everywhere. All the car dealerships are the same. Every bus company had an Irish name: Gallagher, McElroy or Haddaugh.
The entire bus slept on the two-and-a-half hour busride to Cork. We stopped to stretch our legs. You knew you were in Ireland when our busdriver pulled off the road, got on P.A. system and announced "Wakey, wakey." We stopped at a rest area in Port Louise that contained a Subway, Little Ceasars, O'Brien's and Burger Shack. While standing in line, our players met a man who instantly recognized Gary McGhee and claimed that he was at our Marquette game last year at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
Finally, after two-and-a-half hours in the countryside, we arrived in Cork. With several rivers running through the heart of the city and houses built on the side of a large hill, the city's landscape instantly reminded us of Pittsburgh. Cork is a city of 129,000 located on the southern shore of Ireland. We drove down the main street and couldn't believe the hustle and bustle of the place. People were everywhere. Stores, shops and boutiques on every corner of its downtown. Our hotel, the River Lee Hotel, is located at the edge of a river, two blocks away from shops, restaurants and boutiques.
After a quick lunch, the team arrived at Neptune Stadium for the first practice of the trip. Neptune Stadium will be the site of our first two games in Ireland. The arena proved to be a nice facility. The team will enjoy playing here. Pitt practiced in front of a small local crowd. The Panthers also received a tutorial on international rules from Big East official Wally Rutecki, who is traveling with the squad.
Pitt will visit the world famous Blarney Stone
More on Pitt's hotel accommodations and adjusting to staying in Cork
Pitt plays its first game of the Ireland road trip
- Greg Hotchkiss | Follow on Twitter
In preparation for its 2010-11 season, the University of Pittsburgh men's basketball team will travel overseas to Ireland for a six-game, 12-day foreign competition trip in late July, Head Coach Jamie Dixon announced on Friday. The Panthers will depart for Ireland on July 29 and return to Pittsburgh on August 9.
Pitt will play six games on the tour including two contests in Cork at Neptune Stadium (July 31 and Aug. 1), two in Dublin at the Dublin City University (Aug. 3 and Aug. 4) and two in Belfast, Northern Ireland at the Odyssey Arena (Aug. 6 and Aug. 7). Pitt will face Australia's oldest and most respected basketball club, the Melbourne Tigers, on August 6 in Belfast. The Tigers, which feature former Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf and former Utah center Luke Nevill, have claimed four Australian NBL championships including two recent titles in both 2006 and 2008. The Panthers will take on the English National Team the following day on August 7 in Belfast and the Irish National Team two times (Aug 1. and Aug. 3) in Dublin. Pitt will also face the Dart Killester Basketball Club team in Dublin on August 4. Dart Killester won the Irish national title in 2007.
In addition, Pitt has been invited to join Pittsburgh Steelers owner and United States Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney for a reception on Sunday, Aug. 1. Rooney was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ireland by President Barack Obama on March 17, 2009.
"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. "Coach Dixon, his staff and players will also visit the UPMC Children's Hospital here in Dublin as well as spend time with the Peace Players, who have used the game of basketball as a vehicle toward achieving peace and understanding in Belfast and universally. It is an honor to represent President Obama and the American people here in Ireland. 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.'"
Pitt's staff and players will meet with the local Peace Players International, an organization which uses the game of basketball to promote peace and togetherness between Protestant and Catholic youth between the ages of 10-14 in Northern Ireland. Organized in August, 2002, the Peace Players work with over 7,500 Irish children, coordinate leagues, tournaments and clinics, develop links between Protestant and Catholic primary schools and train and employ local coaches as part of its successful purpose. The Peace Players have been featured in various media reports on ESPN and CBS, as well as internationally. The organization earned an ESPY Award in 2007.
Pitt is also scheduled to visit the Children's Hospital branch of the Beacon Hospital in Dublin, which is managed by UPMC. As part of its mission to bring the most advanced health care to patients worldwide, UPMC owns and operates both the Beacon Hospital and the UPMC Whitfield Cancer Centre in Waterford, Ireland. At both locations, UPMC offers cancer facilities and the most advanced radiation therapy. The 183-bed Beacon Hospital offers services in oncology, orthopaedics, cardiology, neurology and dermatology.
Other highlights for the Panthers' trip will include two tour days in Dublin on Thursday, August 5 and Sunday, August 8. Pitt will continue to practice and follow its normal pre-game procedures each day in Ireland. The Panthers will stay in hotels in three different cities: Dublin, Cork and Belfast.
"From a basketball perspective, this is an outstanding opportunity for our team to get an early start on the season," Dixon said. "It is also a chance for the players, coaches, support staff, administration and families to experience Ireland."