Butler coach Thad Matta during the final game of the Bulldogs’ European trip
Butler’s basketball coach Thad Matta wraps up the Bulldogs’ final exhibition game in Athens.
Courtesy of Butler Athletics, Indianapolis Star
Editor’s note: John-Michael Mulloy of Carmel submitted diary entries for IndyStar during the Butler Bulldogs’ tour of Italy and Greece. It’s his last.
Day trip to Greece
It was time to move on as we embarked on our seventh day abroad. Destination: Athens.
While some of our coaches and teammates had already been to Italy, Greece was going to be new for everyone. We were delighted to have another look at life in a different country. Many of us wondered if there was going to be another culture shock, and many of us wondered if the food was going to be good.
We started the day with a three hour drive from Rome to Sorrento. Walking through the airport in the United States can be tough, but walking through an airport in a foreign country is a different ball game.
Many of us tried to use our new refined Italian when speaking. Many friendly Italians laughed and then spoke perfect English, directing us where to go. . . but at least we tried! Luckily we arrived at our door on time and caught our flight to Athens. My highlight was getting an exit seat for this two hour flight so I could comfortably fly the whole way and get a good nap.
Once we arrived, we had to go through customs. Surprisingly enough, no stamps for our passports given by aggravated workers were needed. We basically jumped out of the plane and were ready to go.
Welcome to Greece.
As we waited in a long line of Americans, Canadians, and UK citizens, our only non-American teammate, Simas Lukosius, showed us why foreigners are superior at airports. The Lithuanian made his own line with around three people in it; he was very excited about it.
Once everyone had passed, we met our bus driver and headed to the hotel to get some sleep. Travel days really sap your energy.
Match 3 (in Athens)
Day 8 was game day again and we were excited to see different opponents. We were also excited to learn that the game would be streamed live for our friends and family to watch.
While the game was at 3pm in Athens, our friends and family saw a morning game. Luckily this time the gymnasium was air conditioned and we were able to catch the ball without it slipping out of our hands due to sweat.
Before tipping, Coach Matta had the same mission and challenge for us: play Butler basketball, play for each other, go have fun.
We quickly learned that the Greek team was much better than the Italian team. Most of these players were older, stronger and, quite frankly, better than our previous opponents.
Our team was excited for this challenge and knew we had to play better. The score was tied at half-time, and we walked into the locker room knowing we had to step up. The coach was happy with the way we were playing, but he said the other team was more physical and made us play their game, not ours.
We took his words to heart and dictated the rest of the game, winning by 15. The coach was proud of how we handled criticism and our business in the second half. It was promising to see how we faced adversity for the first time, as we will many times throughout the season.
We ended the day watching the Greek national team play against Spain. The four Antetokounmpo brothers were there. It was amazing to see how much the Antetokounmpo family meant to the Greek people.
Every time Giannis came in or was substituted he received a standing ovation and the atmosphere was truly amazing. We could see how passionate the Greeks are about basketball and obviously saw one of the best players in the world.
It was yet another moment on this trip that we will all remember for the rest of our lives.
Better than a day at the beach? The food
Day 9 was another day of rest and relaxation. We gathered on the bus and spent most of the day on the beach. Of course, I had to find the nearest stand that sold sunscreen because my red hair and pale skin don’t handle the Mediterranean sun well.
Some of us sunbathed and others got into the crystal clear water – some by choice and some by force. We ended up with a 2v2 team tournament of sand volleyball and found that we should all stick to our first sport.
That evening we were alone for dinner. Myself, Ali Ali and Myles Wilmoth walked about 20 minutes into town looking for some authentic Mediterranean food. We were delighted to find a nice place and told our waiter we didn’t care what he brought us, but to make sure it was Greek and tasted good.
Our server smiled from ear to ear and said he was going to hook us up with his best Souvlaki. He explained to us what it was, and we didn’t even have to see a picture. We have been sold.
Ham, chicken and gyro with lettuce, tomatoes, tzatziki sauce and even fries, peppered and spiced and wrapped in warm pita bread, were presented to us soon after. Few words were spoken at that dinner table. We were completely immersed in our food and consumed it quickly. We all looked at each other after eating and agreed that it was the best meal we’ve had so far, and also wondered if we thought it was ok to ask for another.
Game 4 and the Acropolis
We started the day by visiting one of the monuments of Greece, the Acropolis. Not only were the stories and structures amazing to see up close and in person, but the views they offered of the city of Athens were breathtaking. These things we have only seen in movies, and having the opportunity to see them in person is something we will never take for granted.
After seeing the Acropolis, we headed back to prepare for our last match of the tour. Same nap, same film study, same music. We were ready to finish strong collectively.
While Coach had the same type of motivation and task for us before the game, he ended by telling us that this was the last opponent we will see until it was the real deal with 9,000 fans crammed into Hinkle Fieldhouse. It dug deep inside us as we knew we had a lot of improvements to make but we wouldn’t see any other type of team other than ourselves for a while.
The game had its ups and downs but again we ended up winning by 15. Although it wasn’t perfect, we were 4-0 on the trip and learned what we needed to improve. The coach was essential in what we needed to do to be ready for the upcoming season. The last four games have given us a good overview of strengths and weaknesses.
We ended our trip with a team dinner and a view of the Acropolis. It was great to see our whole team – coaches, managers, trainers – around a long table laughing and enjoying each other’s company, not just as a team, but as a family. It’s an even stronger family thanks to this trip.
Back to Indy
It was finally time to go home. While we all enjoyed this trip, many were willing to sleep in our own beds and eat Americanized food.
We sailed through the airport again, this time not even given the chance to speak Greek and hoping someone spoke English. This 11 hour flight was not fun, but at the same time provided an opportunity to reflect on the past 10 days.
It was amazing how every one of my teammates and coaches had to step out of their comfort zone at some point and be vulnerable, strictly because of the unknown. It allowed us to help each other, to encourage each other and to get closer. The opportunity presented to our team was something we will forever cherish and appreciate. It will be an everlasting memory, just like Coach told us.
Thanks to IndyStar and John Dedman, Associate Athletic Director/Communications, for the opportunity to document my team’s experiences. This diary will be something to keep all my life.
It is always an honor to represent not just Butler Basketball, but the entire university and community. It really is defined by the Butler Way. To the fans, I hope you enjoyed reading about our team’s experiences, and we look forward to seeing you all again in November.
This trip provided insight into our team and our capabilities. We can’t wait to introduce them and put the Butler basketball back in its place. Go Dawgs!