MSU to play Olympic hopefuls on trip to Italy

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Denzel Valentine

East Lansing – Fresh off a trip to the Final Four, Michigan State's basketball team announced Thursday it will be traveling to Italy in late August and will play four games against international teams prepping for a shot in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The trip will run Aug. 21 through Sept. 1 and will include stops in Rome, Florence, Maranello, Verona, Trieste, and Venice. Tour highlights include the Roman Forum, Roman Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Sistine Chapel, Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, St. Mark's Square, and the Grand Canal. In addition, MSU will visit the U.S. Army Base in Vicenza.

On the court, the Spartans will play one game on Aug. 25 in Florence before taking part in a three-game tournament Aug. 28-30 in Trieste against senior men's national teams from Italy, Russia, and Georgia. The international teams will use the tournament as a final tune-up for Eurobasket 2015, where they will attempt to earn a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

"This trip will provide an excellent early measuring stick for our team, in addition to being a great bonding experience for a new group of guys," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. "We'll be facing terrific opponents -- teams with Olympic aspirations. Our motto has always been 'Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime' and we're just taking that to the next level."

Michigan State loses three seniors from its Final Four team, including Travis Trice, Branden Dawson and Keenan Wetzel. But several key players return, including Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Lourawls Nairn, Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling, Marvin Clark and Javon Bess, as well as transfer Eron Harris, who sat out last season.

The Spartans bring in a highly-touted freshman class made up of five-star big men Deyonta Davis and Caleb Swanigan, as well as four-star wing players Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens.

"It was important for me for this opportunity to be more than just a foreign tour, but one that would allow our student-athletes to have a study-abroad type experience with cultural and educational opportunities," athletics director Mark Hollis said.