Brooks: European Trip Works Well For Lappe’s Team

BOULDER – Membership in the Pac-12 Conference has afforded the Colorado women’s basketball team its share of exquisite road trips. Apologies to CU’s former conference, but which would you rather have:  a hoops itinerary that features San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles or one that boasts Ames, Stillwater and Lawrence?
No need for a show of hands . . .
But none of the Buffs’ past travels match what awaits them next month in terms of cultural opportunities, summer basketball experience or even sheer length.
“It’s the longest road trip that we’ll ever take,” coach Linda Lappe said the other day with a wide and appreciative grin.
She, her players and staff leave this continent on Aug. 12 bound for Europe. They’ll tour Italy for 10 days, starting at Lake Como, proceeding to Florence and Venice, then concluding in Rome before returning to the U.S. on Aug. 21.
Side trips to other Italian cities are planned, with three games scheduled and a fourth being considered. Lappe has made two trips to Europe, the first as a CU freshman in 1998, the second four years ago as a member of the Metro State volleyball team’s traveling party. (Lappe was Metro State’s women’s basketball coach at the time and says she was brought along as an “administrator” by volleyball coach Debbie Hendricks. Lappe grinned upon saying that, too.)
From a personal growth standpoint, Lappe wants “to make sure our players experience the culture of Italy and immerse themselves in it. We’re going to try really hard not to be Americans in Italy. I think anytime as a young person you get to have that experience, it’s only going to make you a better person and open your eyes to what else is out there. I hope they understand that the United States is only a small part of the world.”
The CU men’s team took a similar excursion to Europe last summer, but Lappe’s recent out-of-state recruiting has prevented her from sitting down with Buffs coach Tad Boyle and discussing his team’s trip. However, she remembers enough from the Metro State volleyball team’s travels to know how valuable the time was in terms of player/coach, player/player and staff bonding.
“We’re bound to get to know each other,” Lappe said. “We’re in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language and with somewhat limited cellphone access. We’ll be outside our comfort zones, but we’ll be figuring it out altogether.”
The Buffs are allowed 10 practices in preparation for the European trip and what Lappe and her staff hope to begin figuring out on the court are the source of the 2013-14 team’s leadership and who steps in for Chucky Jeffery at point guard. Lappe will use three of the 10 practices on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, then conduct the remaining seven workouts next month before the departure date.
The Buffs’ 10 pre-trip practices are being split into three this month, seven next because of how the recruiting calendar shakes out and Lappe not wanting to cram too much into summer work and risk burnout before preseason practice begins in mid-October.
“This way gives them some rest,” she said. “They’re not in shape for ten (practices) in a row. I want them healthy and to pace themselves. I don’t want us to be playing our best in August.”
In addition to the loss of Jeffery, who led the Buffs in most statistical categories during her career, Lappe loses captain Meagan Malcolm Peck. To foster the development of a new leader(s), Lappe has tried a new approach this summer – delegating responsibilities to all of her players.
For example, senior Ashley Wilson is responsible for coordinating the team’s pickup games. Sophomore Jamee Swan is coordinating the team’s book needs for the summer sessions.  Senior Rachel Hargis is Lappe’s “general communicator” and responsible for delivering any news from the head coach to the squad. The list of responsibilities runs on through the roster.
Said Lappe: “We want everybody to lead in a certain way. Maybe they lead in how great they follow. I want Brittany (Wilson) to be a great leader in how we follow. You only have one (leader), then everyone has to be great followers. It’s going to be fun to watch that and see who’s ready to take a step forward. When you lead you understand how important it is to have people follow you.”
As for plugging a player in at point guard, the first look will go to “B-Wil.” She’s a senior who played the position as a freshman and has backed up Jeffery for the past two seasons. But she also has excelled as a shooting guard and Lappe concedes that “our team is going to be better when she’s a ‘two’ guard.” But for now Wilson is “the most ready” to play the point, Lappe said.
Lappe’s hope is that during the course of non-conference play or early into the Pac-12 schedule either sophomore Kyleesha Weston or freshman Desiree Harris show enough promise to take over and allow “B-Wil” to return to the off guard spot.
“She (Wilson) is a senior, she understands what we’re trying to do and what I expect,” Lappe said. “She’s somebody I feel confident could step in right away (but) we’ve talked to her about helping Kyleesha or Desiree start to fill that (PG) role by some point in the season. It’s not going to happen right away.”
Wilson, noted Lappe, has “done a great job in mentoring Desiree and Desiree did a great job of watching, asking questions . . . she’s a learner in every sense of the word.”
The 5-8 Harris, of Oakland, Calif., is one of four incoming freshmen. The others: 6-2 forward Zoe Beard-Fails, of Herndon, Va.; 6-2 center Briana Watts, of Fresno, Calif.; and 6-0 wing Haley Smith, of Sammamish, Wash.
With Jeffery’s abundant talent absent from the roster for the first time in four seasons and Malcolm Peck’s steadying influence gone, Lappe says this “will be such a different team than we’ve had the past couple of years . . . it’s probably the most perfect time to go (to Europe) in terms of our team and being on the basketball court.
“It’ll be a unique experience for us. We get to see very early on in the team’s formation, what are we missing? What do we miss most from our seniors? Who’s going to fill those voids? Who isn’t ready and how can we get them ready through September and October? A lot of times as coach you don’t know exactly what you have until you start official practices and a lot of times that’s not until the beginning of October.
“Maybe there’s a leadership quality missing, maybe a level of toughness, a skill set . . . we’re going to know those things early on, maybe even this week. As we play games (in Italy) we’ll come back as a staff and be able to plan our preseason in a different way than we’ve ever been able to do.”
Lappe’s third CU team finished 25-7 and earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2004. With Jeffery gone, Season No. 4 offers a different challenge, but Lappe and her staff’s recruiting has established a foundation that can go beyond coping.
The European trip, which Lappe calls “unbelievable for our staff and players,” does indeed come at an opportune time.
Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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