Trip to London provides unique experience for Kentucky basketball team

Published 3:55 pm Thursday, December 1, 2022

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Jacob Toppin has never been overseas. That will change this week when the Wildcats travel across the pond to London, England.

“The farthest I’ve been was probably to Jamaica with my mom,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. A lot of people can’t even leave their state or their hometown. I’m definitely grateful and we’re all grateful that we get the opportunity to go to London and play. We’re all excited, and hopefully we can come back with a win.”

The Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed because of the pandemic. Kentucky will take on Michigan at 1 p.m. Sunday in the second game of a doubleheader. Marist and Maine will play at 10:30 a.m. in the opener.

“It will be a great experience for these kids, really hard game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We better not play how we started (against Bellarmine). They’re really, they’re well-coached and they’re a good team, so it will be a hard game.

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“But it will be a great experience. When you’re doing what I’m doing, you’re trying to put these kids in different situations where they learn and grow. … we’re asked to play in a lot of events. We are. I just want to make sure whatever we play in benefits us the most.”

The contest will be the first collegiate game in the A2 Arena, and Calipari wants the experience to be more than just about basketball.

“You want to put them in all kinds of situations before they leave here, the events we play in,” Calipari said. “This is just one of them. It’s the first college game in that venue, which they say is the No. 1 venue in the world.”

It will be Kentucky’s third regular-season game in school history overseas and the first visit to Europe. Kentucky defeated Cleveland State and Stanford in the Cancun Challenge in 2009 and defeated Arizona State in the Bahamas six years ago.

While at UMass, Calipari took the Minutemen on an overseas trip to France in 1994 and recalled the experience Tuesday night.

“We went up the Eiffel Tower. Imagine none of them will ever do it again — Maybe — but maybe not,” he said. “I made them eat escargot because they didn’t know what it was.

“They took them out of the shells and I had them all taste them. No, well, it’s not bad, and then I showed them the shell that it came out of, and they were spitting it out.”

The Wildcats were scheduled to fly to London on Wednesday, giving the team a chance to tour and explore ahead of Sunday’s contest.

“We’re staying right in London,” Calipari said. “You’re not going to do a whole lot of sightseeing, but we will the first day we’re there and maybe the second day and try to get out. Because of where we’re staying, there’s things they can walk to.”