Shortly after joining the LSU men’s basketball coaching staff in 2012, David Patrick received a loaded question from first-year head coach Johnny Jones.
Under NCAA rules, schools can take a basketball exhibition tour outside the United States every four years, and Jones was already thinking about taking advantage of the opportunity.
“Coach asked me if we should go to Europe or Australia,” Patrick recalled last week. “I was pretty much adamant we were going to Australia. Before we got here, LSU had been to Italy and Spain, so it made sense to go to Australia.”
Actually, it made a whole lot of sense to Patrick.
He grew up in Australia before coming to Baton Rouge in the mid-1990s to finish his high school basketball career at Chapel Trafton. Later, Patrick played professionally for three years in his adopted country, where some aunts, uncles and cousins still live.
It made even more sense after he recruited center Darcy Malone, a native of Canberra, and got Melbourne-born forward Ben Simmons, his godson who moved to Florida three years ago, to sign with LSU as the nation’s top recruit in the Class of 2015.
So it’ll be a grand homecoming for Patrick, Simmons and Malone when the Tigers embark Tuesday on a 13-day, four-city tour of Australia that includes two games against all-star teams and three with teams from that country’s National Basketball League.
For the past couple of months, Jones and Patrick have extolled the benefits of the trip — much like the one Kentucky took to The Bahamas last August.
The trip will obviously be heavy on basketball, which allows LSU to get a head start on its preparations for the upcoming season.
That’s vital after the loss of All-Southeastern Conference forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey and the addition of three highly-rated freshmen in Simmons, Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson.
But for the players, it will also be an educational trip since most of them have never had an opportunity to venture outside the United States.
Jones said having his players experience a different culture will be another of the advantages of taking the trip.
“I think it can be a learning experience for these guys,” Jones said. “We will take some time to venture out, and hopefully, go on a couple of tours or something. It can be a history lesson as well while we are away.
“We have a couple things the guys plan to hit. With David Patrick being from there, the first day or so we’re there we’ll have an opportunity to share in some different things there.”
That, Patrick said, is a key element of the Down Under adventure — not to mention the potential for future recruiting.
“It’s important that we teach them the culture,” he said. “For us, as coaches, it’s not just about winning basketball games. Most of the players on our team have never been out of the country. So to go to another continent and see the way other people live, you can’t beat them from a learning experience.”
Predictably, Patrick, Simmons and Malone have spent some time preparing the players for what they’ll see. That task included clearing up some preconceived notions.
“I want our team to see where Ben and Darcy are from; that it’s not all Outback and kangaroos,” Patrick said. “There are major cities there, and it’s important to see basketball is a global game. When they see how much star-status Ben and Darcy get when they get off the plane will be an eye-opener for our guys.”
Simmons said earlier this year the question he was asked most about his homeland when he came to the U.S. dealt with kangaroos. Many people, he said, believed that everyone’s front yard was overrun by the marsupials.
“It really depends on where you live,” he said. “If you live far out in the country, there may be some in the back yard. But there are no kangaroos in the city. You don’t even see too many koalas because they camouflage too well.”
Malone agreed, saying many people tell him they don’t want to visit Australia because of deadly creatures. Apparently, some are afraid of being bitten by a snake or eaten by a crocodile, he said.
“There are a few questionable things people ask, like, ‘Do you see the sun down there?’ Or, ‘Do you guys speak English?’ ” Malone said with a smile.
Guard Tim Quarterman said Simmons has been pumping him up about the trip.
“Ben talks about it being just a beautiful place,” Quarterman said. “People are excited about us coming down there, so it’s going to be a fun trip for us.”