What scared sophomore Jerret Smith the most about joining the Big Ten Foreign Tour team?
It wasn’t the level of competition.
Or that he might be injured.
Instead, it was the 12-hour flight to Australia.
“Jerret was a little nervous about the long plane ride,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “It was the first thing he thought of when I told him he was going. I think once we talked about it, he was great. He’s excited.”
After a disappointing loss to South Carolina in last year’s NIT championship game, Amaker and Michigan players Lester Abram and Smith will be the first to get back on the court against another team.
“It should be a fun trip for us,” Amaker said. “We’re excited to compete, and I think that these guys want to have some fun along the way.”
Amaker received the coaching nomination earlier this summer and will lead a team consisting of up-and-coming and established Big Ten players such as Ohio State’s Ron Lewis, Northwestern’s Tim Doyle, Michigan State’s Travis Walton, Minnesota’s Jonathan Williams and Indiana’s Rodrick Wilmount.
With a group coming from such a wide variety of systems, Amaker plans on keeping the strategy simple. He understands the players want to go out and play rather than spend a large chunk of time learning complex offensive schemes.
The team left from Ann Arbor last Monday, and after a stopover in Dallas and California, started its long trek to Australia.
The team had three days of sight-seeing planned before stepping onto the court against Australian club and pro teams.
“We’ve been told (the competition) will be very good,” Amaker said. “Australia’s a place that has provided good experiences both on and off the court.”
Coaches usually use the Big Ten Foreign Tour to give younger players an opportunity to gain valuable playing experience. That’s why Amaker’s pick of redshirt senior Abram to travel to Australia raised some eyebrows.
But both Amaker and Abram agreed that he needed to get back into playing competitive games after missing most of the Big Ten season last year due to a severe ankle sprain in January. Abram, along with several other Michigan players, came to Amaker asking to play on the Foreign Tour team.
“We thought he deserved it,” Amaker said. “He’s been able to practice and play pickup games all spring and summer, but (we wanted to) get more games under his belt and get back in that kind of environment.”
For Smith, the Foreign Tour will give him more experience leading a team on the court at the point guard position. With the graduation of Daniel Horton, the Wolverines will need Smith next season to step up into Horton’s vacated role.
Already, Smith has slimmed his frame down from his playing weight last season. While he said he’s dropped 20 pounds, Amaker wasn’t as enthusiastic.
“He’s dropped some,” Amaker said. “He’s working toward where we want him to go. I think that’s important that he knows that’s an area where he needs to get in better shape and realize how tough this league is.”
Smith also pointed to this trip as a chance to get to know what Amaker wants out of his point guard. The Foreign Tour allows Amaker to spend more time with Smith both on and off the court.
The Foreign Tour will not just benefit the Wolverine players, but it will also help those playing for other Big Ten schools. For some, the chance to see a different part of the world is the most exciting.
“I heard the girls are good looking,” Doyle said. “(They have) those funny accents. I talk pretty funny myself so I should fit right in.”
Wolverines Down Under
Here’s a look at how Lester Abram, Jerret Smith and the rest of the Big Ten stars visiting Australia have done so far on their tour. Action began yesterday, with the Big Ten Foreign Tour team splitting its first two games.
Game 1: Aug. 13.
Ten Team – 97
West Sydney Razorbacks – 117
4-11 shooting, 9 points and 4 rebounds as a starter
4-11 shooting, 11 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist off
Game 2: Aug 13.
Big Ten Team – 97
Sydney Kings – 89
5-13 shooting, 8-9 from the line, a game-high 18 points and 2 assists off the bench.
0-2 shooting, 2 rebounds and 3 assists as starting point guard.