A young team often suggests a shaky start to the season. Veterans search for a new groove without last year’s graduates, while the new recruits learn to navigate a college court. All with the hope that when the team comes together, it will pay off for several seasons to come.

But what if an early jumpstart on the season can reduce the learning curve?

Thanks to a few games in Italy over the summer, the University of Richmond men’s basketball team is seeing that a small head start can have a season-long effect when getting new players up to speed.

The trip capitalized on an NCAA regulation that allows teams to travel and compete abroad once every four years and, in advance of the trip, host 10 pre-season practices. A recent change in rules also allows incoming freshmen to join the team for practices and travel.

“It’s a new season and new roles for everybody,” says Chris Mooney, men’s basketball head coach. “To put yourself in that position over the course of two weeks, with hard practices and the demands of what your new role is — which for a freshman is totally new — that was really significant.”

While no one denies the bonus playing and practice time was a major impetus behind the trip, it’s also a chance for the two-semester athletes to have an experience abroad, as a traditional semester abroad isn’t an option for most players. Some teams may focus on the benefits during the coming season, choosing destinations based on competition options and ease of travel. But Mooney and the Spiders coaching staff wanted to make it a true learning experience for the team.

“To have the opportunity to go and learn and see how people have a different kind of lifestyle — a different everything —is the best educational tool there is,” Mooney says. “If you went to Cancun for a weekend and played, I’m sure it would be fun, but it’s not like seeing the Coliseum and the Sistine Chapel.”

The team took advantage of every moment. Whitewater rafting in the Alps. Tours of the Vatican and Roman ruins. Day trips to Milan, Venice, and Florence. Days were packed with excursions, but also down time to experience a different life. “Part of the beauty is just sitting down having a three hour lunch and being part of that,” Mooney says.

And what about that difference on the court? The Spiders (or Ragni, as they were known in Italy) stand assured of a winning season in the demanding A-10 Conference — no small feat for a team with so many new parts. It’s a clear indicator that a few guys who set off to Italy together just seven months ago felt like a team from the very first game.

“We had three guys red shirt last year, and three guys coming in — that’s almost half of our team that hasn’t played with us,” says Cedrick Lindsay, ’14. “We haven’t played together and people don’t know where people are going to be on the floor. Getting that time to get to know each other on and off the court helped us tremendously.

“It was good for them to get out there and get their jitters out before our first game. I think that’s why they were able to help us so much, because they weren’t nervous. They had already played their first game in Italy.”