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Road trips like no others

Eastern Washington University basketball coach Jim Hayford has recruited foreign players into his inner circle. (Dan Pelle)
Eastern Washington University basketball coach Jim Hayford has recruited foreign players into his inner circle. (Dan Pelle)

Coaches bring home stories, not just recruits

Eastern Washington basketball coach Jim Hayford was on a recruiting trip in Germany and feeling a bit jet-lagged from a long flight.

“We’re on an express train and if you miss your stop on one of those, like I did, the next thing you know you’re an hour down the road,” Hayford cracked. “After that happened I made sure the phone alarm was very loud.”

One can imagine the potential for Clark Griswold-like travel misadventures when a coach visits a foreign country on a recruiting trip.

Idaho coach Don Verlin was an assistant at Utah State when he went to Japan to check out several prospective players. In his spare time, he watched Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka pitch in a Seibu Lions game, but getting to the stadium probably reminded him of a rebounding drill.

“One of the first trains I get on, people are bumping me, running into me and elbowing me,” he said. “That’s just the way of life. One of the coaches took us out to dinner and it was almost like a Mardi Gras situation, a ton of people on the street. I asked through our interpreter if there’s a lot of crime and he said, ‘No crime. We have none of that.’ ”

Verlin’s advice: “Take a business card from the hotel in case you get lost. My first time I went over there without a phone. I’ll never do that again, but it was a really good trip.”

Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd compared traveling overseas to a TV show: “It’s a version of the Amazing Race. That’s how I approach it.”

An amazing thing happened when Lloyd was 35,000 feet in the air. The pilot told passengers that the plane was being diverted because of volcanic activity in Iceland. The eruption stalled air travel in Europe for days.

“I landed in Paris, went to get my rental car and these guys from Norway were negotiating with the lady from Avis, willing to pay 2,000 euros (roughly $2,600) to take a car,” he said.

Lloyd had a car reservation and drove to Germany. From there, he traveled by train.

“They were so full it was unbelievable,” he said. “I was so tired. I remember these three Swedish guys were on their way back from Scotland and a golf trip. I just remember looking at these guys and telling them, ‘I know you’re going to think I’m crazy but do you mind moving your legs a bit so I can lay down under this bench with my backpack.’ ”

Lloyd managed to make his visits and returned home, just one day later than originally scheduled.

Head coach Mark Few went with Lloyd to visit Przemek Karnowski in Poland and another recruit in France. Both stops produced memories.

“I’m not in Tommy’s league on those trips. It’s 12 hours on the plane and hitting the ground running,” Few said. “We found a great pizza joint right in Prezemek’s hometown (Torun). Poland was pretty incident-free. We stopped in Paris on the way back and that wasn’t quite incident-free. The hotel was like a hostel. It was like Tommy Lloyd on his college day trip. Anybody could kind of wander into your room; he thought it was great.

“I don’t mind camping and sleeping on the dirt. I do that all the time, but that was a little different.”