There’s nowhere to go but up for the Tulane men’s basketball team after a dismal 6-25 debut under veteran NBA coach Mike Dunleavy.
The Green Wave hopes to jump-start that trajectory with an exhibition trip to Spain that included 10 practices in New Orleans as permitted by the NCAA. The Wave will leave Wednesday for its four-game, 10-day tour of Madrid and Barcelona, returning to campus Aug. 19.
“To get our young guys a chance to play with each other and get this early indoctrination is great,” Dunleavy said Monday after a practice. “Our starting-off point this year will be far greater than it was last year. Probably what we have in right now, it took us until last October to get. We’re that much ahead of the curve.”
Teams can take overseas trips only once every four years, and Dunleavy saw this summer as the perfect opportunity.
Holdover swingmen Cameron Reynolds and Melvin Frazier, point guards Ray Ona Embo and Colin Slater and post players Blake Paul and Sammis Reyes are getting an early chance to mesh with UNLV transfer Jordan Cornish and Vanderbilt transfer Samir Sehic, who both practiced with the team last season.
They're joined by four freshman — guard Caleb Daniels of St. Augustine High, Canadian guard Shakwon Barrett and South Sudan big men Buay Koka and Bul Ajang.
The first day of preseason practice is Sept. 29, so Tulane is getting bonus time nearly two months early.
“It’s definitely going to be a positive impact,” said Reynolds, who averaged a team-high 17.0 points last season. “We get to build camaraderie with each other and get to bond as a team to create that chemistry on and off the court.”
In Madrid, Tulane will face professional club teams Alcobendas on Aug. 11 and Madrid Select on Aug. 13. In Barcelona, the Wave will play Barcelona Select on Aug. 16 and the Mataro All-Stars on Aug. 18.
For Cornish, a 6-foot-6 Brother Martin grad who played two years at UNLV before returning to New Orleans, it has been a long wait. His last game was March 10, 2016, before he had to sit out a transfer season.
“It feels like it’s been 10 years,” he said. “It’s been the longest year of my life. I’m just happy to actually be able to play against other guys and other teams and just go out and compete.”
The other advantage of the trip is social. Cornish’s only trip out of the continental United States was with UNLV to the Maui Invitational. Reynolds has never gotten farther than Mexico, where Tulane played in an tournament three years ago.
The cultural experience for him and the five New Orleans-based players on the roster could be once-in-a-lifetime. Dunleavy has set up visits to museums and other sites of interest, insuring the trip will not be all basketball, all the time.
“It’s gong to be a fun experience as well as a great working vacation,” Dunleavy said. “They will have a chance to experience European history.”
One player will make his second trip to Europe in rapid succession.
Ona Embo, a sophomore who averaged 6.6 points and 2.2 assists last year, earned a bronze medal with France in the FIBA U20 European Championships this July in Greece. The French team went 6-1 in the competition, going undefeated in pool play before losing to Israel 74-52 in the semifinals.
They rebounded to beat Spain for the bronze. Ona Embo averaged 2.7 points in 11.7 minutes during the tournament.
“(The experience) helped me a whole lot,” he said. “It’s a different kind of basketball, a different style of play. I liked everything about the environment. When you play for your national team, there’s always a little pride.”
The competition forced him to miss Tulane’s first several practices in preparation for the Spain trip, but he said he doesn't feel like he's behind.
“We’ve got the same plays as last year,” he said. “I know the system already.”