This article was updated Aug. 5 at 6:25 p.m. CET.
According to West Virginia Mountaineers’ assistant coach Billy Hahn, everyone should benefit when two NCAA men’s basketball powers visit Aviano Air Basse on Aug. 17 for a youth clinic, dunk contest and exhibition scrimmage.
The teams, the Illinois Fighting Illini and the West Virginia Mountaineers, will hold the sessions as part of an international tour the NCAA allows member schools to make every four years.
“We look upon it as a three-fold positive,” Hahn said by telephone on Friday about the trip. “First, it’s an educational experience for our players, who probably haven’t been to Europe before. We’ll get to take them on a tour of the Vatican, for example.
“Next, it’s an opportunity to share some time with our military people, to visit their bases and give them something out of the ordinary.”
Third, and probably not least, is the chance to get some practice time denied teams not leaving the country.
“The NCAA allows teams making foreign tours 10 extra practices,” Hahn said. “We’ve been practicing all week.”
The visit to Italy is the first for head coach Bob Huggins in the four years he has guided the Mountaineers, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, Hahn said.
“We had a large recruiting class this year,” Hahn said, “and the extra practice time allows us more time to work with everyone.”
In a press release, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said he relished the chance to show his team’s appreciation to the military.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the Aviano Air Base and thank the great men and women who are serving there,” the release quoted Weber as saying. “Our players will get a first-hand look at the hard work and dedicated service they are providing for our freedom.”
Weber concluded that he believes the event will be the first time that two NCAA basketball teams have scrimmaged against each other on a U.S. military base overseas.
Players and coaches will first take part in a youth camp at the Youth Center on Area 1 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., according to Kristin Dohn, marketing director for the 31st Force Support Squadron. They’ll then head over to the flight line to take part in a series of scrimmages.
West Virginia will take on a military team from Aviano for 10 minutes. The team from Aviano will then play against Illinois for the same amount of time. Dohn said the makeup of the Aviano team is yet to be determined.
Players will then participate in a dunk contest, followed by two 10-minute halves of a scrimmage between the two college programs.
The youth camp is free for those ages 5 to 18 with military identification cards, Dohn said.
Admission to the scrimmages, set to start at 7 p.m., also is free. But attendance will probably be capped at the gym’s capacity of 300 on a first-come, first-serve basis, she said.