SYDNEY, Australia — UTSA Assistant Athletics Director and men's basketball SID Kyle Stephens has been writing a journal during the Roadrunners' nine-day trip to Australia. Today, he checks in with his final entry before the team begins its trek back to the Alamo City.
During its excursion to the Land Down Under, UTSA played five games against the Gold Coast Blaze (L, 90-68/Saturday. Aug. 13), Brisbane Spartans (W, 93-52/Sunday, Aug. 14), Cairns Taipans (L, 84-58/Wednesday, Aug. 17), Maitland Mustangs (W, 94-75/Friday, Aug. 19) and Hornsby Spiders (W, 94-52/Saturday, Aug. 20), finishing the trip with a 3-2 record.
Saturday, Aug. 20 — "Farewell to Australia"
Our last full day Down Under began with a short trip to Thornleigh to play the Hornsby Spiders of the Waratah League (part of the ABA). Thornleigh, with a of population 7,505, is actually a suburb of Sydney located next to Hornsby, which with 18,000 residents, is a slightly larger suburb of the nation's largest city.
When we arrived at the Thornleigh Indoor Sports Stadium, nicknamed "The Brick Pit" (it's a close second to my favorite nickname for an arena on our tour here … "The Fishtank" in Cairns takes the cake), senior Sei Paye's aunt, Kou Randall, was there to greet us and watch her nephew play. She lives in Wollongong, which is about 85 kilometers (53 miles) south of Sydney.
There were three other adopted UTSA supporters in the stands. Team Operations Coordinator Shenton Wai's parents, who reside in Melbourne but were visiting Sydney, rode the bus with us, as did Simon Giovannoni, who was an assistant coach at the Australian Institute for Sport while sophomores Jeromie Hill and Iggy Nujic played there a few years ago.
The Spiders qualified for the playoffs in the Waratah League and will play next weekend. Today's contest was put together last Sunday, so we are grateful to Hornsby for agreeing to play on short notice and during the middle of the playoffs.
"The Brick Pit" is the newest of the five gyms we have visited, and much like the previous four, it is a multipurpose facility. The main basketball court has seating on one side, while there are three other courts beyond the bleachers that can be used for indoor soccer or hoops (and many other sports according to a brochure at the front door). It's a very nice place.
Junior Melvin Johnson III, who had a team-high 18 points in last night's victory against Maitland, continued his hot shooting with seven first-quarter points to help give the Roadrunners a 22-15 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Hornsby, which used a player-coach in the form of Matt Williamson, saw its deficit grow to as many as 16 in the second period. Hill took over in the post, as his 15 first-half points along with 11 from Johnson III on the wing helped UTSA take a 42-29 advantage into the locker room.
Sophomore Jordan Sims found his range to start the third, as he drained three straight 3-pointers to help push the lead to 53-31 three minutes into the quarter. The game turned into a runaway later in the third with UTSA owning a 68-41 advantage entering the fourth.
The final stanza was more of the same with the good guys scoring a 94-52 victory to finish their Australian tour with a 3-2 record.
Twelve of the 13 Roadrunners scored, led by Hill's 17. Johnson III had 15, while Sims connected four times from downtown en route to 14 points. Senior Mike White pulled down a game-high eight rebounds to go along with seven points and a pair of blocks.
Davi Bastian led the Spiders with 14 points, while Daryl Pepito added nine points and eight boards.
Our wonderful tour guide, Steve Blackley, made reservations for dinner at Orient Hotel, which is in The Rocks. That's the name of the oldest neighborhood in Sydney and it's located at the south end of the famous Harbour Bridge, a short walk from our hotel. It was a nice meal and a fitting end to the trip, as the entire travel party was able to relax and chat about the entire trip (and get a quick lesson on Australian Rules Football from Hill and Nujic).
We will be up early to catch our flight back to the United States on Sunday (it will be Saturday evening in San Antonio). Our itinerary takes us to Los Angeles, Dallas and then home. It will be a long day of travel — approximately 20 hours when it's all said and done — but that's a small price to pay for what has been the trip of a lifetime.
This experience has been truly amazing and I believe I can speak for the entire group when I write that. Not only have we all had a chance to experience nine days in another country where we have learned how Australians live (it's a very envious life they have here), the players have had time to build chemistry and bond on and off the court. The extra practice time and five exhibition games were invaluable to the team and coaching staff, as they prepare for the upcoming 2011-12 season. It's something you honestly cannot put a price tag on and this will only benefit the entire program when they hit the practice court in October.
We are indebted to Blackley for taking us around this great country and treating us like kings. Everything he planned — from the tour of the Sydney Opera House to the actual games — was rewarding in some way to each and every one of us. He had a great sense of humor and was supremely knowledgeable about every aspect of our trip. Cheers, mate!
Finally, thank you to Australia and her residents. We did not run into one person who was not welcoming or helpful along the way. I read in my research that Australians are this way because their country is not densely populated (except for Sydney). They believe that you should treat everyone politely and with respect, because you never know when you may run into them again. That's something we all should aspire to.
Farewell, Australia. You've been a great host to this group of Roadrunners.