The Rocket men’s basketball team wrapped up its four-game exhibition tour of Italy with a 99-45 victory over a Vicenza all-star team on a U.S. military base. UT went 4-0 after defeating a Spanish all-star team in Florence and KK Kolubara, a Serbian club team, twice while they were in Rome.
"Our program has so much respect for the U.S. military and to spend some time on the base was a really neat thing," head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "It was great to see how the soldiers live over here and protect our freedom.”
Toledo was led by a trio of first-year players in their trip finale. James Gordon IV scored 13 points to pace the Rockets, while Logan Hill and Dwayne Rose Jr. added twelve and eleven, respectively. It was a very balanced scoring effort by UT.
"This was a special night for us," Hill said. "To be able to play on a U.S. military base in front of people who serve our country was a great experience. Our entire trip has really helped us come together as team and given us a chance to get to know each other on and off the court."
The Rockets took control of the game midway through the first half and left no doubts after that.
Some other standouts for the Rockets on their Italian adventure included a couple of transfers: fifth-year guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher and second-year forward Willie Jackson.
"I thought we had two guys who really carried us tonight with Tre'Shaun Fletcher and Willie Jackson stepping up for us,” Kowalczyk said after the team’s 72-66 victory over a Spanish all-star team in their third game.
Fletcher recorded 21 points and eight rebounds, and Jackson added 16 points and 10 rebounds in the game. Fletcher transferred to UT two years ago after playing three years at Colorado University. He is a big guard who has excellent range and shooting touch. He shot 40 percent on threes during conference games in his last season with Colorado, where he started 31 games in his career.
Jackson came to UT after just eleven games in his first season at Missouri University. Jackson is a 6-foot-6-inch physical forward. He is from Garfield Heights High School in Cleveland, so he isn’t too far from home.
"A game like this shows us we still have a lot of work to do, but it's good that we played well down the stretch and got the win,” Jackson said after the game.
The Rockets will need all of these players to make a difference this year, as they lost their top two scorers from a season ago, Jonathan Williams and Steve Taylor Jr., as well as team leader Zach Garber.
They will also need big contributions from their top returning players, guard Jaelan Sanford and forward Nate Navigato. Big men Taylor Adway and Luke Knapke will also be looking to take a step forward to try and replace almost 35 points per game from Taylor Jr. and Williams.
This is nothing new for Coach Kowalczyk, however. He has some experience replacing quality players. He has lost two of his three top scorers each of the past three seasons, losing the likes of J.D. Weatherspoon, Julius Brown and Nathan Boothe.
He will return his point guard Sanford for a third consecutive season. Sanford will be the leader of the Rocket offense this season. Last season, he raised his scoring average from eight up to 13.6. Kowalczyk should be looking for him to take another step this year.
It appeared the entire Rocket team got some valuable experience on their journey through Italy. They had large margins of victory in every game except one, which is always good for confidence. It wasn’t all business, however, as the team enjoyed activities like zip lining and a trip to the world famous Vatican.
The team returned to the United States on Aug. 19 to prepare for the fall semester at UT, which began Aug. 28.