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Courtesy: UTSA Athletics

Roadrunners Down Under: The Australia Chronicles (Day 6)

Courtesy: UTSA Athletics Communications
Release: 08/19/2011
Courtesy UTSA Athletics Communications
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CAIRNS, Australia — UTSA Assistant Athletics Director and men's basketball SID Kyle Stephens will be writing a journal during the Roadrunners' nine-day trip to Australia. Check back with throughout the trip for updates to his chronicles and photo galleries.

Just a reminder that UTSA will play five games against the Gold Coast Blaze (Saturday. Aug. 13), Brisbane Spartans (Sunday, Aug. 14), Cairns Taipans (Wednesday, Aug. 17), Maitland Mustangs (Friday, Aug. 19) and Hornsby Spiders (Saturday, Aug. 20) during the exhibition tour of the Land Down Under.

Wednesday, Aug. 17 — "Crocs and Hoops"
Today was our third day in Cairns, the hometown of sophomore forward Jeromie Hill. Before I get into Wednesday's activities, I want share a piece of local trivia with you all.

Parts of the classic 1998 movie "The Thin Red Line" were filmed in Cairns, in the tropical rain forests of nearby Daintree and in Bramston Beach, which is 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) south.

After three consecutive days of waking up early, the group finally got to sleep in a bit. The free breakfast buffet ran until 10 a.m., so no one missed that and nobody missed the bus to Cairns Tropical Zoo, which departed at 11:15 a.m. However, no one was up before 8 a.m. to my knowledge, which was a welcome relief from the past few mornings.

The zoo is located about about 15 miles northwest of the city center. On the ride over, it was apparently obvious that Australians prefer roundabouts over traffic lights on the local highways, and I can't say I blame them. We didn't have to stop one time on the 15-minute commute once we reached the outskirts of town. Could this be the solution to the traffic problems on Highway 281 and Loop 1604 west of Braun Road?

Cairns Tropical Zoo is not very large in size, but it makes up for it in presentation. It is set in a tropical garden that is only about 15 acres, which makes it very easy to walk. Visitors can see many of the famous animals native to Australia, such as koalas, kangaroos and crocodiles. The difference from larger zoos is the hands-on interaction. There are aviary cages you can walk through if you wish to be buzzed or possibly pecked by tropical birds. There are open areas for kangaroos and wallabies to roam right next to humans. You even can have your photo taken while holding a koala. It's a very unique place.

The kangaroo feeding area was a hit for the players. Guests can purchase bags of feed for $1 at the front gate, and after a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts to get the kangaroos to eat the food, it became painfully obvious to the group that the animals simply get fed too much. They just laid in their resting area and looked at us like we were a nuisance. One younger kangaroo did find comfort in eating out of sophomore Iggy Nujic's and Pat Clynes' hands, but when assistant coach Robert Guster tried the same thing, it turned its head away. Maybe it is a St. Louis Cardinals fan (Coach Guster is a diehard Chicago Cubs fan).

The group visited the marsupial exhibit, where a keeper displayed two wombats and a koala, holding the latter in her arms so that all the guests watching could pet it. Then, a few players and head coach Brooks Thompson headed over to have their picture taken while holding a koala.

Finally, it was time for the crocodile feeding before we had to head back to the hotel. Everyone in the zoo gathered around an enclosure to watch a wildlife keeper feed dead animals to one large female and one gigantic male. Seeing her dangle half of a raw chicken in front of a 15-foot long croc was well worth the wait.

With two-and-a-half days off, it's almost easy to forget the reason we are Down Under. That is to play basketball games.

The third game on the fixture was an evening affair with the Cairns Taipans of the National Basketball League (NBL), Australia's top level.

From the outside, Bendigo Bank Basketball Complex is the unassuming home of Cairns Basketball and Brian Vincent Stadium located inside the facility is the alternate home court and practice gym for the Taipans.

However, inside is a different story.

It was only 45 minutes before tipoff when it became apparent tonight would be a great basketball atmosphere. The arena is small and 1,000 fans possibly could be squeezed inside. The hometown crowd gradually poured in well before game time and that included a large contingent of Hill's family, who found their seats right behind the UTSA bench.

In the Australian leagues, they play music loudly and even while the ball is in play. The sound system was cranking tonight. With hardly an empty seat to be found, the two teams were introduced (Hill was called out last and to a rousing applause), exchanged gifts (the Roadrunners handed over UTSA T-shirts) and stood on the free throw lines extended for both national anthems (each Australian in the crowd sang their entire song).

Speaking of music, the person running the Clik-FX laptop successfully found the "Beep-Beep" sound byte from that famous Warner Brothers cartoon (or someone from Texas State sent it over). It was played more than once.

The atmosphere was very similar to the UTSA Convocation Center for the annual I-35 Rivalry game against Texas State, which is packed, loud and fans on the edge of their seats for every play. The majority, obviously, were behind the Taipans, who took a 24-14 lead after the first 10 minutes of play.

UTSA closed the gap to three points early in the second quarter, but Cairns continued to answer each challenge and claimed a 43-33 advantage at the half.

The experienced hometown squad began to pull away after intermission.

Dusty Rychart, who was one of two Taipans with a double-double, helped control the paint and give Cairns a 63-44 lead entering the final stanza. UTSA would get no closer than 16 down the stretch, as the Taipans scored an 84-58 victory in front of the loyal fan base.

Hill led the Roadrunners with 16 points behind a 6-for-11 night shooting, while junior transfer Kannon Burrage posted his third straight double-digit outing with a dozen.

Rychart had a game-high 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds, while Jeffrey Dowdell also registered a double-double with 10 and 10. Brad Hill scored 18 and Aaron Grabau (14) and Jackson Hussey (11) also reached double figures.

Have I mentioned that everyone in Australia is nice? After the game, a local photographer spotted me waiting for a printout of the box score and introduced himself. Gordon Greaves told me he really enjoyed the Australia Chronicles and offered UTSA use of some of the photos he took at tonight's game (click here to view the photo gallery).

After the game, the Hill family reunited on the floor with the proud grandparents sporting UTSA T-shirts that designated their relationship to UTSA's 6-foot-8 forward. Then, as is tradition, both teams and staffs enjoyed a delicious barbie on the pavilion where everyone had a chance to mingle.

Nujic got to catch up with his best mate, Hussey. The pair played hoops together in their hometown of Perth and were roommates and teammates with the Australian Institute for Sport before Nujic made his way to the Alamo City.

The Hill family also got to spend more time with the UTSA bunch, and despite the result of the game, it was a great night in Cairns.

Another early wake-up call awaits the group in the morning, as we board a bus at 8 a.m. to catch our flight to Sydney. Cairns has been a wonderful host to our group and the city and surrounding sights are must-sees for anyone traveling to Australia.

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