St. Olaf Magazine | Fall 2019

Basketball, Italian Style

The Ole Men’s Basketball team (L-R): Carter Uphus ’22, Nathan Hendler ’22, Dominic Bledsoe ’21, Noah Beck ’20, Travis Fauchald ’20, Nate Albers ’22, Troy Diggins Jr. ’20, Niko Polydoru ’22, and Brendan Connolly ’21, photographed in the northern Italian village of Monterosso al Mare

There are numerous advantages to playing basketball at St. Olaf and one disadvantage: it conflicts with the college’s study abroad programs. The men’s basketball season starts during fall semester, runs through Interim, and concludes in the spring, preventing team members from participating in St. Olaf’s traditional International and Off-Campus experiences.

Basketball Coach Dan Kosmoski has created a unique opportunity for his team to travel abroad once during their time on the Hill. Every three years, the men’s team has gone to Italy or Greece for a week, where they soak up European history and culture while playing basketball with their Italian or Greek counterparts.

“Travel is an education,” says Kosmoski, who has been offering these trips to players and their families for 12 years. “In the course of seven or eight days, they gain a different perspective and learn something that might connect to their coursework or themselves.”

This year, the team played two games against Italian semi-pro teams in Tuscany, the Prachta Dragons and the Erutska Kangaroos. It was fascinating for point guard Dominic Bledsoe ’21 to play European-style basketball while meeting fellow competitors and bonding with his teammates.

“Going abroad for a week as a team was really great for building chemistry and getting to know each other better,” says Bledsoe, who is majoring in mathematics. “Having that shared experience and being able to trust that your teammates have your back is an incredibly important part of any team sport.”

After the game in Tuscany, the Oles, the Prato Dragons and their youth teams memorialized their time together with this photo.

Though the trip to Italy was not his first time abroad, Bledsoe appreciated having the chance to travel as a college student and see sites like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

His teammate Noah Beck, a senior guard, agrees, noting that most of his classmates have great stories from their global travels with St. Olaf. “It’s tough, because you really can’t have that experience. That’s why Coach does this — so every class gets one trip to experience a bit of study abroad,” says Beck, a biology and economics major.

The team covered a lot of ground. Leaving after the end of the academic year in May, they spent time in Milan, Florence, Cinque Terra, Lucca, and Rome. They took in many famous places, including the Vatican, the Colosseum, museums, cathedrals, and a Tuscan farm. Kosmoski always hires a tour guide who shares his or her knowledge and detail about the culture and sites.

Sightseeing in Pisa
Men’s basketball in Italy 2019, Florence

For Beck, the trip allowed him to learn more about the art he’d see in his art history class, and it brought to life many places his father, who once lived in Italy, described. “The trip was special because we were able to experience another country and culture in a really immersive way, and it was also a ton of fun to play [basketball] there,” Beck adds.

The trip expanded the players’ view of the world while whetting their appetites to see more. “I think it’s a very important part of their experience at St. Olaf,” Kosmoski says. “They come here to get a great education, prepare themselves for careers, and play a game they love. Through the trip we’re able to give them something that makes that experience complete.”

The Ole men defeated the Dragons 91-81
The Ole men practiced rebounding with Prato’s youth teams.

The St. Olaf College men’s basketball team embarked on a memorable week-long trip to Italy in late May. The trip mixed basketball with Italian history and culture, as the Oles visited Milan, Florence, Pisa, Rome, and several Mediterranean port cities and towns, and also competed against the semi-pro Prato Dragons and the San Miniato Etruscans. “Meeting the European teams, and interacting with the youth of Prato during halftime in the Dragons game, were among the best experiences of the trips,” says coach Dan Kosmoski.