Men's Basketball


Pioneers in Spain Blog

Aug. 26, 2017

DENVER - The University of Denver men's basketball team headed overseas to Spain on August 25. The Pioneers will play four games during their 10-day stay in the country and fans can find daily updates from their trip right here.

August 25-26

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Well after smooth 14 hours from start to finish -- 11 being up in the air -- we have officially arrived in Madrid! What started with all of us leaving together at 7:30 am MT in the parking circle at the front of the Ritchie Center, has resulted in a full-day journey across our great country, the Atlantic Ocean and into historic Spain. Overall, all the guys were in good spirts throughout the day, anxious to make the journey across the pond into a new frontier for a chance to play the game that we all fell in love with growing up.

For almost everybody on the team, this is more than just basketball, this is a chance to experience something completely new and different from anything that we've been accustomed to. It is a chance to better understand ourselves and the world around us and just how much variety it offers. Everyone is excited for the opportunity to take in a new culture, visit historic and exotic locations that were thought to only exist in movies or books, see a different way the game of basketball is being played by local professionals from around the area, better ourselves as both a person and a player and form a deeper bond with our fellow teammates, coaches and other members of the staff.



We got things going by checking in to our hotel, the Gran Hotel Colon. Everything was in very nice and organized. We then meet our team who would be with us the whole trip, led by Larry and George, both former players who have played here and know the culture.

After that it was two hours of free time, most people walked to nearby Buen Retiro Park, which was massive and beautiful. Everyone then went on a tour of Madrid. After seeing the sights of it, the highlight was a tour inside the Real Palace and a learning about the history and importance of the building. We capped off the night by eating dinner late as a team before returning to the hotel to get some sleep after a long two days of travelling and seeing the sights.

First friendly game is set for tomorrow at 7 p.m. local time (11 a.m. back home in Colorado). We are all excited for the opportunity to play another team for the first time since March.

August 27

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Another day, another busy schedule for everyone, but one well worth it. We ate breakfast at the hotel and left around 9:30 for an hour bus ride to Toledo for a scheduled tour, both by bus and on foot around the town. It was AMAZING for all players and coaches involved!

We started with the bus part of the tour first. We got to see incredible scenic views for the duration of that portion of the tour, which was highlighted by taking a team photo of the guys by near a ledge that oversaw a portion of the town. It was great to see the guys come together and spend time really starting to get to know each other better. I mean, they were mixing it up with the new players and getting to understand what they like and dislike and are passionate about, both on the court and off it.

After that, we walked all over town with our guide and got to see up close just how beautiful the town truly is. We learned a ton of history from our guide, who was both insightful and hilarious for the duration of the tour. We also got to see the cathedral in town, which took over 200 hundred years to finish. We finished off the tour with a visit to the museum built in the castle.

Finally, we got to do what we came here to do and play some basketball. We took on Real Canoe NC and came up short. We rallied back big late in the second half of the contest, with a couple of guys showing a glimpse of what they could do down the road when the regular season is here. We have a rematch setup with them tomorrow evening so it should be good to see how our guys respond to the challenge.

We closed out the night getting some dinner back at the hotel.

August 28

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Today marked our final full day in the city of Madrid. It was a day for everyone to catch up and rest and go explore on their own. The morning started with everyone being able to sleep in a little, which was really nice. After that, everyone went down to have some breakfast in the hotel.

With that being done, people had the option of going out in the city where they could see some sights or go buy some gifts with their own money. Right before a group of coaches and staff decided to take a tour of the Real Madrid's FC stadium, an out-of-nowhere hail storm hit - kind of like what you would see back in Denver. It came down fast and was pretty good size hail. But like Colorado weather, it was here one minute and gone the next.

A lot of the players decided to stay back at the hotel and just relax, so a group of coaches and staff, which included new Athletic Director Ron Grahame decided to go out and make the tour of the stadium. The stadium may be the greatest sporting venue on Earth. It had everything you could ever ask for and then some. The field was in immaculate shape and the locker room was awesome to behold.

The history of the team was so rich and honored throughout the endless trophies that were displayed near the club level. They truly have done it right with that team and now understand why there is such a great passionate following on a worldwide level.

We capped off the night by playing in a rematch against Real Canoe NC. We lost late by four points but the guys show a much better outing this time around, a sign of growth for a team. Then we proceeded to have dinner at a salad buffet restaurant and took a team picture out in the town before returning to our hotel.

August 29

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Well we said goodbye to Madrid today and made the journey to the northeast coast of Spain. After a five-hour train ride, we arrived in San Sebastian, a gorgeous coastal town. All the players were a little drained after having an early wake up to make it to the bus by 7 am. Once we got to the town though, everybody seemed to come alive and feel rejuvenated.

We immediately checked in to our new hotel, the Hotel Zenit, and had lunch as a team. After that it was off to do a few hours of a tour of San Sebastian. We walked all over the town during that time, from taking scenic ocean-view pictures as a team on the ledge overlooking the beach, to the close quarters of the downtown area. All in all, it was a fun and exciting day for everyone. The guys were able to get away for a little and make their way through town and take in the sights.

Dinner was a little different than anything that we have done so far on the trip, this time we hopped to two different places to try some seafood meals, which were delicious. After that we walked back to our hotel and called it a day.

August 30

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Today was a fantastic day. Everyone had the day to themselves to do whatever they pleased. Everybody essentially took that as a day at the beach, which was really relaxing. But before all of that, Coach Billups had all of the players join him in an early run at 8 am. Coach had all of the guys go for three miles during the run and made guys challenge themselves during the whole process.

About midway through the jog, Coach stopped and talked to everyone about the importance of competing and working hard. After that, we ran all the way back to the hotel. In all, it was about three miles of jogging that we did as a team.

From there, it was breakfast at the hotel and then everyone could go do what they wanted to do. As stated before, almost everyone went to the beach. Once there, everyone went out to the beach and hung out with each other, helping the continued process of bonding with each other as teammates. Players and coaches were really active in going out and swimming and having some fun. Coach Billups took in paddle boarding for the first time and picked it up fast while others on the staff struggled to adjust and fell in the water on more than one occasion.

A late afternoon rain storm forced everyone indoors where most players caught a nap while it poured outside of their room. When the rain finally did subside, everyone met up for dinner down in the hotel lobby. A variation of hamburger was grilled and followed up with a fruit platter. From there, everyone headed off the bed to call it a day.

August 31

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Today marked the last day in San Sebastian for us as a team. Everyone once again had the day to do as they please. Several people took advantage of it by going on a hike up to a local fort that overlooked the town. Quite simply: it was one of the most incredible views you will find in the world.

Everyone was taken back by the beauty of the entire hike. At the very top of the mountain, was a statue of Christ that was incredible to witness in person. It was just one of many breath-taking views that the city offers. Coaches and staff took some photos at the very top with the statue.

After that, everyone hit the beach for one last hurrah in the town. Guys were out swimming and enjoying the last of their free time in this great city. A rowing race was also about to take place as we came back from the afternoon hike. Let me tell you, they take their rowing races seriously out here in Spain. People just flocked from everywhere to get near the docks and watch the riders put their boats in the water. They had a broadcast tent setup, complete with broadcasters and all. It was pretty amazing to see it happening.

Finally, we walked around after to grab some ice cream when we stumbled into some type of war reenactment march going on in the main square. It was two main armies that were marching and playing drums on different sides of town and they came together right where we were. Eventually, they fired of the canon, which was loud and but cool to see in person. We closed out the night by having dinner in the hotel before getting on the bus for a long ride to Barcelona.

September 1

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The first day in Barcelona turned out to be one of the best on the trip. It was a great because we finally got to get back to some playing ball and take in a new city, which is always amazing to see the first time. We got the morning going by grabbing a quick bite to eat in the hotel before heading out on a tour of the town.

We toured around the downtown portion of the city, which had some incredible architecture all over the place. It truly can make you realize how different Spain is from back home, but how both are great in their own ways. Each so unique and different, but both amazing places to live. Our guide was very energetic and it rubbed off on our players while she toured everyone all over town.

After the tour ended, we got back on the bus and headed back for a big lunch at the hotel. From there, it was all business getting ready for the game. We had not played in a few days and it would be a good test to see where the guys would be mentally. They responded and then some, turning in their best performance so far out here, resulting in a 15-point victory against Europrobasket Academy. Numerous players had some big moments in the game but the key was a dominant third quarter on the defensive end where we held them to just nine points in the quarter, which was outstanding.

After that we met up with our tour guide from the morning and took a stroll through the town at night. We got the see the famous water fountain show near city hall, which was something. We then capped off the night by going to a restaurant that covered old rock bands from earlier decades. There was a singer who blew everyone away with his Frank Sinatra covers. The man literally sounded just like him! After that, we returned to the hotel to call it a night.

September 2

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Another day, another big schedule for us. We started the morning off by taking a tour of Barcelona FC's stadium. Needless to say, another world-class venue that was on par with the Real Madrid's from a few days earlier. This one though was a little older than Real Madrid's but still impressive. To see the home of the two most dominating soccer teams on the planet in a week's time is truly special.

After the tour, we went back to the hotel to grab some lunch and then get ready for our final game. The contest was once again against Europrobasket Academy, but at their place this time, a 90-minute bus ride up the road in Girona. It was a much nicer facility than from the previous day's game. We came up just short this time, but this was due to the fact they had a few different players join them for today's meeting.

We stuck around after to tour around the town and take photos. No surprise, but it was once again filled with some very scenic views -- a common theme for this country's cities. We had dinner at a local restaurant in the town that made some of the best pasta you have ever tasted. Seriously, it was crazy delicious! Finally, after dinner we all climbed back on the bus for a drive back to the hotel that didn't get in till after midnight, bringing an end to a long day.

September 3

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The last day for us in Spain. It was a much relaxing day so everyone could get caught up on packing or resting up for the long trip back to the states tomorrow. The big thing we did as a group was go tour the Barcelona Cathedral, which was one of the most impressive sights you will ever see in person. The mere planning of that masterpiece is beyond anything to comprehend. How one person could of thought of this is unreal.

On the inside, it was one of the most beautiful sights that you will ever lay your eyes on. Pictures DO NOT do the inside of that structure justice. It is so large and exotic, with so much color, creativity and detail. It still hasn't been finished to this day! The plans are to finish it within the next nine years by the 100-year anniversary mark.

After the tour was over, we all headed back to the hotel and people were given the option of going to the beach or going around town. A few people went to the beach, which was not as nice as the one in San Sebastian but still impressive. The water was much more cold and dirty, due to it being just a sea beach instead of ocean. In the water was a little weird once you swam out a way. There were a few jellyfish out there, which made a couple people turn back and swim towards land instantly, which was funny to see from the shore.

We closed out the night with dinner as a team in the hotel, wrapping up all the activities that were planned for the trip. The only thing left to do now is make the long return trip back home early tomorrow morning. Thanks so much to all of you that have kept up with the daily blog throughout our journey through Spain. Hope to see you back in Colorado very soon!



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