Coming off a season that featured its first NCAA tournament appearance in three years, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is set to get some extra work in before the next campaign.
OSU, which went 24-11 and earned a No. 5 seed in last year’s tournament, is scheduled to travel to Brazil from Aug. 6-16 for three exhibition games in Sao Paulo, Americana and Rio de Janeiro.
“A lot of people don’t get this opportunity, so I think we’ll embrace it and do what we’re supposed to do as a team and as people in general,” sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell said. “I think we should have a lot of fun and learn a lot about one another.”
OSU coach Kevin McGuff said the destination of Brazil was chosen for a variety of reasons.
“We picked Brazil because, I think a lot of our players will have an opportunity to one day play in Europe, Asia, but kids don’t get a chance to go to South America a whole lot,” McGuff said. “And I think it’s an amazing country. Look at what’s going on there, they just had the World Cup, they have the Olympics, so it’s really a place that a lot of people are going to right now, so I thought it would be a great place to take our players.”
Per NCAA rules, teams are allowed a foreign trip once every four years. Last August, the OSU men’s basketball team utilized a similar trip to the Bahamas.
McGuff said that while he is eager to see the team work on fundamentals and game plans on the court, he is more excited to have the players gain life experience on the trip.
“As much as anything, I just want to have a chance for our kids to spend some time together,” he said. “It’ll be an amazing cultural experience for our players, and hopefully something they’ll remember for a lifetime. That’s what we want to do here at Ohio State, is give them experiences they wouldn’t otherwise get at other places.”
Another bonus of the trip is being allowed 10 summer practices in preparation, something that the team would not have been allowed otherwise.
“It’s a very big deal,” senior guard Cait Craft said about the extra practices. “Especially because there are a lot of things we need to teach the new girls and the girls that didn’t get to play with us last year, so this is a good opportunity to teach them.”
McGuff said that he hopes the team will be “a little bit ahead of schedule” for the season preparation due to the exhibitions and extra practices.
Last year’s season was marred in the preseason by a flood of injuries that led to OSU playing most of the season with just seven active players. McGuff said the four players coming back from injuries are close to returning to full health but will not play on the trip.
“With the kids that were hurt last year, they’re out here doing some stuff, but not going full speed,” McGuff said. “If we really wanted to rush them back we could, but we’re not going to do that just yet.”
McGuff added that he fully expects each of the players being full-go when fall practice begins in September.
Craft said the number of healthy players, which nearly doubled from last season, could be overwhelming but is ultimately a positive that can allow the Buckeyes to play at a faster offensive and defensive pace throughout the season.
The extra preseason work could prove vital for OSU, as it boasts one of the toughest schedules in the country — including each of the four teams in last season’s Final Four: South Carolina, Notre Dame, Maryland and two-time defending national champion Connecticut.
“I think our schedule is a great schedule, actually,” Mitchell said. “I think playing teams like UConn will help us as people, as players, as a team, and I think we step up and take the challenge, because they’re an awesome team, I think they’ll teach us a lot about ourselves.”
After the three exhibition games in Brazil, OSU is set to play one more exhibition at home against Ursuline College on Nov. 1 before traveling to Columbia, S.C., to face South Carolina on Nov. 13.