Trojans’ basketball players spend time playing overseas

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 26, 2001

Special to the MESSENGER

Eight hours on a plane and thousands of miles from home, three members of the Troy State men’s basketball program completed a two-week tour of the Czech Republic with Planet Basketball.

Senior Donnie Pemberton, junior Lovell Craig and assistant coach Billy Jefcoat represented the Trojans on the trip, teaming up with players from other universities such as Centenary, Pittsburg State (Kan.) and Henderson State. Jefcoat served as the head coach of the team during the trip.

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"This was an experience that I wanted to take advantage of before I left college," said Pemberton, who was making his first trip outside the United States. "It was an awesome opportunity to get some games in before my senior year."

While in the Czech Republic, the trio was able to take in the sights and landscape of the country. "It was really beautiful," Pemberton said. "The weather was great and it was very scenic. Most of the cities were small and were a lot like Troy."

"They’re only ten years removed from Communism," said Jefcoat. "Even though they haven’t been under Communist rule in ten years, there are still remnants of it everywhere. A lot of the buildings look the same. If you didn’t know better, you would look around and still think they were under Communist rule."

Their visit to the capital city of Prague was one of the most memorable, especially their visit to the Prague Castle, the home of the president of the Czech Republic. "You just don’t see something like this in the United States," said Pemberton. "It was really cool to get a chance to go visit the castle."

"The cathedral inside was beautiful," said Craig. "It was the first Catholic cathedral in the country. It was huge and it was in the castle, which made it even more special."

Along with sightseeing and tours, the trio also got to experience their culture. "Every morning they fixed us breakfast," said Pemberton. "It was always ham and turkey slices and some other meat. We got to eat on our own after breakfast, but after the first couple of days we decided to start skipping the breakfast. I lost a lot of weight over there, especially since I lived on Coke and Snickers the whole trip."

"We were rich," said Craig. "Our dollar was like 35 of their money. So a big meal that would cost like ten bucks over here would end up costing a few dollars over there. It was really great."

The team continued to travel around the country, making stops in Padabice, Nymburk and Decin. Each day, the group would spend three to four hours sightseeing each day and would have be able to rest before playing a game that night.

"It was a really well planned out trip," said Jefcoat. "We had a great schedule and the people were very hospitable. Every place that we went to had some historical value."

The Planet Basketball team played six games while in the Czech Republic, finishing with a 4-2 record. The team lost its first two games before winning their last four.

Its first game was in Prague against their club team. The team was able to go to sightseeing for several hours before getting a couple of hours of rest before the game. They lost their first game, missing a chance late in the game to tie and send to overtime.

Then it was off to Padabice to participate in the Ostacolor Cup against three other teams. Planet Basketball received a reception with mayor at the town hall before their first game. The team lost its first game to the Czech World University team, but bounced back and won its next two games against the town’s club team and the Czech National team.

"It took a while to get used to their style of play," said Pemberton. "Their game is a lot more physical than ours is."

"They were all pretty tall," said Craig. "It was a good experience for me to play against some taller players to help get me ready for this year. I think that getting the playing experience during the trip will help me a lot coming into this season."

After finishing second at the Ostacolor Cup, Planet Basketball moved on to Nymburk, where they defeated the town’s club team there and would leave there to go to Decin, where the finished up the trip with another win.

"For me, it was a great experience, both basketball and educationally," said Jefcoat. "I really appreciated the opportunity to be a head coach for the first time. Coaching is coaching, but there is a difference in being an assistant and being the head guy. A lot of the things that I learned from our program I used, especially staying positive. That really helped the kids after the first two losses to win four in a row."

For the Pemberton and Craig, the experience they gained from playing will pay dividends this upcoming season.

"This was a good trip for Donnie and Lovell to go on," said Jefcoat. "Over the past two years, Lovell hasn’t gotten as much playing experience, so this was really good for him. He averaged 29 minutes a game and improved each time out. His best game was when he scored 19 points and had 16 rebounds along with six blocked shots. It was really good to see what he could do in a game situation against players who were taller than him."

"Donnie had a great tour," Jefcoat said. "With Donnie, what you see is what you get. He’s a hard worker and hustles all the time. Everyone in Troy knows how hard he plays and now everyone in the Czech Republic does as well."