Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

DU hoopsters were muy bueno on recent Spain tour

DU basketball players in front of cathedral

DU basketball players Blake Foeman, left, and Brian Stafford, right, visited the La Seu Cathedral in Barcelona during the team's recent tour of Spain. The team went 4-2 in competition on the trip.

The University of Denver men’s basketball team posted an impressive 4-2 record during a recent 13-day tour of Spain.

The Pioneers beat a Spanish second division team, Lobe Huesca, a pair of third division teams, C.B. Illescas and Caja de Avila, and a Fourth Division team, Real Canoe N.C. Denver’s only defeats came to Cajasol Sevilla and Lagun Aro GBC, which both play in the AC — Spain’s top professional division.

“If you would have told me a few weeks ago that we would go 4-2 against good professional teams, obviously I would have said I’d take it,” head coach Joe Scott says.

DU guard Brian Stafford, of Walnut Creek, Calif., led the Pioneers during the six games in scoring, averaging 13.5 points per game and recording a tour-high 25 points in a win over Lobe Huesca. Guard Chase Hallam of Mesquite, Texas, averaged 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

“Brian and Chase played well, like we expected them to,” Scott says. “The good thing was that it wasn’t because they shot the ball well, but they played well in other areas — defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball. They did those things really well, and that’s a good sign because I expect that they consistently will shoot well.”

Guard Kyle Lewis of Denver showed tremendous leadership during all six games while adding seven points per outing.

“I thought Kyle may have been our most consistent player during the trip,” Scott says. “He played the way you expect a senior to play. He had a sense of urgency every time he took the court and relished every opportunity he got to play. If that’s a harbinger of the way he’s going to play for 30-plus games year, it would be a huge benefit for us.”

Center Trevor Noonan of Broomfield, Colo., played his first games as a Pioneer, and his 6-foot-9, 225-pound frame added a dimension in the middle Denver has not had in recent years. Noonan practiced with the Pioneers in 2009–10, but could not play due to NCAA rules after transferring from Air Force. Noonan’s presence gives the Pioneers flexibility with fellow 6-foot-9 forwards Andrew Hooper of Lakewood, Colo., and Justin Coughlin of Yuma, Colo., who are both threats from long-range.

“As the trip went along, he showed that he’s going to help us,” Scott says. “He rebounded, he scored in a couple different ways and he threw some good passes, and he did it in a more effective ways as the trip went on.”

After sitting out the first two games of the trip, freshman forward Chris Udofia, of Irving, Texas, made an impact in his first games with the Pioneers. Udofia has an enormous wingspan that allows him to affect plays in ways that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. In the final game, Udofia single-handedly prevented Caja de Avila from scoring in three straight possessions by forcing an altered shot, stealing a pass and blocking a shot.

“(Udofia) is an ingredient that we don’t have,” Scott says. “He has a great sense on defense., he’s very smart, and he uses his athleticism really well. We need rebounding and defense. We need a presence on the backline, and those are his strengths.”

Travis Hallam of Mesquite, Texas, showed improved confidence and maturity, averaging 7.8 points per game and scoring in double digits three times. Forward Rob Lewis of Colorado Springs, Colo., averaged 7.5 points per game, including a team-best 13-point effort against Real Canoe N.C., but was sidelined for the final two games with an injury. Guards Tyler Thalken of Tulsa, Okla., and Blake Foeman of Weston, Fla., provided quality minutes, as Thalken led the team with 12 points against Cajasol Sevilla and Foeman showed consistent improvement throughout the tour.

“Everyone got valuable experience during the trip,” Scott says. “All of them played well at times. Most importantly, everybody got a really good understanding and good taste of what he has to do to contribute this year.”

Overall, the 13-day trip provided an opportunity for the players to improve their games and grow more cohesive as a team, while also experiencing Spain’s culture and sights.

“Hopefully this experience is going to show up in the results this season. It’s been a great trip for us, and our guys have loved it,” Scott says. “When our players say they went to Spain when they were in college, they will truly mean it because when you look where we went, we didn’t just go to Madrid. We went all over from the middle to the northeast to the north and back down. Our guys went to three countries and drove through the Pyrenees.”

“This is an experience that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives, because we covered a lot of the country. You add to that six good basketball games, and a 4-2 record and success, I know it’s going to help us this year.”

The Pioneers will have their first official practice of the season on Oct. 15. 

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