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Eastern Washington University Basketball

With plenty of newcomers, Eastern Washington basketball ready for ‘bonding’ experience during trip abroad

Eastern Washington teammates help up Ethan Price during a game against Northern Arizona on March 3 in Cheney.  (Courtesy EWU Athletics)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

After playing the last two basketball seasons in many cities he’d never been before, Ethan Price gets to play the part of local and travel guide this week, when Eastern Washington’s men’s basketball team travels to England and Spain.

“I’m super excited,” said the Englishman Price. “It’s been a long time coming.”

The trip abroad, which the NCAA allows Division I teams to take once every four years, was planned by EWU assistant coach Pedro Garcia Rosado. A native of the coastal city of Malaga, Spain, Rosado previously coached in both Spain and England, the two countries on the team’s 11-day itinerary. They leave for England on Wednesday.

“Basketball’s not going to be the most important thing,” Rosado said. “What’s going to be very important is the team bonding, getting to know each other.”

The Eagles certainly have reason to focus on that, with just six returners from last year’s team that won the Big Sky regular season title: senior Ellis Magnuson; juniors Cedric Coward, Casey Jones, Dane Erikstrup and Price; plus sophomore LeJuan Watts.

Every other player – plus assistant coaches Jerry Brown and Donald Brady – is new.

“We have a lot of new players,” Magunson said. “We’ve got to know what each other likes on and off the court, and gain chemistry so we can trust each other.”

They have been doing that all summer by other means: regular cook-outs, a rafting trip to Montana, trips to a couple cabins. But this will be their longest stretch entirely with each other, and in a couple foreign countries, no less.

Putting them in new situations, then, and seeing how they react, is another part of the trip that translates onto the basketball court, Rosado said.

“A lot. When you look at the eyes of your teammate, you know what he wants, you know what he needs,” Rosado said when asked of the basketball value of the trip. “Also, (it helps) us coaches. We get to know, OK, can we push them a little bit more or not? We get to know their limits. We’re going to find those things out (in Europe).”

There are, of course, basketball games to be played. They’ll play three of them, starting on Friday at the University of Essex in England. They will play their second on Monday in Fuengirola, about 20 miles southwest of Malaga, and their final contest will be on Aug. 25 in Madrid.

“It’s an early opportunity to play games against different people,” Price said. “When you practice every day you’re kind of playing against the same guys, which is good. But to be able to play against completely new people and not have any clue what they’re like – we’re not really going to have much of a scout on them – and just be able to figure it out as a team as we go along, I think will be really valuable.”

Those extra practices – they’ve had 10 more than usual this summer because of the trip – are valuable as well, head coach David Riley said. The last time Eastern made such a trip was in 2016 when the Eagles went to Australia.

And while this trip wasn’t on the team’s radar when Riley recruited Price to come to Cheney a couple years ago, it made sense to make England part of this one.

“When we started looking at the opportunities to do a foreign trip,” Riley said, “it was a no-brainer to try to get Ethan back home in front of his family and Pedro in front of his family and to get to see where they grew up.”

An added bonus? Home-cooked meals in Malaga.

“It’s amazing,” Rosado said. “They’re going to get to know my family, my family is going to cook for them, (they get to see) my culture, where I was raised, all the history of Malaga … it’s amazing.”