While most women's basketball coaches use summer foreign trips as a chance to get an early start on the season as well as the opportunity to build team chemistry, Princeton coach Courtney Banghart took it a step further this past year.
She saw it as an opportunity to follow the school's motto of: "In the nation's service and in the service of all nations."
Banghart took her team to Paris and Senegal as the Tigers played one of the top club teams in France as well as the African nation's top two teams. There is no doubt that her team got better on the court by playing these teams. The French team featured a few former WNBA players while Senegal's squad was its national team.
More important than the game play to Banghart was the chance to show her kids a place they normally wouldn't have access to on their own with its trip to Africa.
"Everyone's life was uniquely changed," she said. "The life altering experience was when we went to an orphanage outside Dakar and a former slave island. I'm really, really proud of our kids. We picked up these babies that had nothing. Their diapers were soaked in urine, but we didn't care. We hugged them because these kids needed us and we're going to be there for them."
Banghart admitted that she would have chosen differently had her freshmen class been allowed to come. Unlike other conferences, the Ivy League doesn't allow first-year students to participate on these summer trips that schools are allowed to take every four years.
"I definitely wouldn't have done it if we could have taken a 17- or 18-year-old. It's probably their first trip outside the country and going to a third world country would be difficult."
Geno Auriemma took his UConn team on a more traditional European trip, visiting his birth country of Italy. He wasn't just excited because it was an opportunity to go home, but it also gave him a chance to get in 10 days of practice with the Huskies, giving him an early look at his stellar freshmen class. The NCAA changed the rule two years ago allowing incoming freshmen to take part on these trips if they completed a summer class.
UConn blew through its Italian opponents, winning the four games on the trip by an average of 56 points.
"It's really valuable for us to get a chance to get them some experience before the season starts," Auriemma said. "They get to see stuff now that they wouldn't normal see until the end of November."
Going abroad also gives the freshmen an opportunity to get acclimated with the coaching staff and their system. Not to mention a chance to bond with teammates.
"It definitely got the chemistry of this team going pretty early, so that was a really good thing," UConn freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "And also for the freshmen, we were able to see what the system was like, see how coach Auriemma worked. It actually helped me a lot because like today even I was like, 'Thank God for those practices over the summer.' I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't done those before."
While it's too soon to tell how much his team may have learned, history is on Auriemma's side. Two of the other times that he's taken the Huskies abroad they've ended up winning the national championship.
"We have had success after going abroad in the past," Auriemma said. "We'll see what happens this time."
The Tigers and Huskies weren't the only teams to take advantage of a foreign trip this past summer as numerous schools went abroad, including Iowa, Texas, and Washington.
The Hawkeyes went on a European trip to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and France. Iowa took a similar trip five years earlier and won the Big Ten title that winter. This season the Hawkeyes are trying to meld the four returning starters from last season's NCAA tournament team with a strong freshmen class.
"I'm more confident because of our foreign trip," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I think with that foreign trip, we got those 10 extra practices, which could not have come at a better time. Right now around the country, those freshmen are just trying to figure that out. Ours figured it out this summer and that gives them a big head start."
Texas had a similar itinerary as Iowa, playing games in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria. Coach Gail Goestenkors was happy to finally go abroad again. When she coached at Duke, the team took a summer trip to Australia in 2001. The Blue Devils went to the Final Four that season.
"You get more practices and can work with the young kids and see what they are all about," Goestenkors said. "It's an unbelievable bonding experience since its the first time for a lot of those kids that they are out of the country. There is every reason I would recommend it for everybody."
Taking a trip abroad gave new Washington coach Kevin McGuff a first look at this team. The Huskies went to Scandinavia to play games in Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen.
"The trip was set up before I got here," McGuff said. "It really was a terrific thing for this group since we have five seniors. It was a unique opportunity from a cultural perspective and we got to spend a lot of time with each other and develop team chemistry."
The one drawback was that McGuff lost star Kristi Kingma for the season with a torn ACL. Kingma averaged 15.6 points last season as a junior.
"For the 99 amazing things that happened on that trip that one thing was a significantly bad thing," McGuff said. "That said I wouldn't trade the trip for the world, I just really feel bad for Kristi."
While McGuff never got to take Xavier abroad when he was the coach there, he has really fond memories of his previous trip as an assistant at Notre Dame.
"It's a little known fact, but when I was over in Italy with Notre Dame, Thad Matta was the men's coach at Xavier. We were really good friends back when we were assistants at Miami. The Xavier job opened up when we were in Europe and he called my parents' house and they had the itinerary for our trip. He got in touch with me in Italy and told me to get my resume in. So I emailed them from an Internet cafe and the rest is history."
Associated Press Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.
Follow Doug Feinberg at http://twitter.com/dougfeinberg.