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KU women's overseas tour a chance for bonding & basketball

3 min read
Kansas guard Zakiyah Franklin gets into a drill during a summer workout at KU. [Chance Parker photo] 

Kansas women’s basketball player Holly Kersgieter had never been out of the country before this summer, when she traveled to Italy for her brother’s wedding.

By the end of the year, thanks to the family milestone and a couple of foreign basketball trips, Kersgieter will have been to three different countries and spent nearly a month abroad.

“Not bad,” she said with a smile.

Barely back from her family trip in Italy, Kersgieter and the Jayhawks left for a 10-day, two-country summer hoops tour on Sunday. They’ll play two games in that time and visit parts of Italy and Greece.

After that, the countdown to the Cayman Islands will begin. Kersgieter and the Jayhawks will visit paradise in late November for the Cayman Islands Classic, where they will play two games against a field that includes power programs UConn, LSU, UCLA, Virginia, Virginia Tech and others.

The KU senior who has been a cornerstone of the Jayhawks’ recent turnaround admitted that the 2023-24 schedule played a small role in her decision to return for her final season of eligibility. But the basketball element has always been the most important part for Kersgieter.

Funny enough, now, as the Jayhawks prepare to soak up the sights and scenes of Italy and Greece, Kersgieter said basketball is actually only a small part of the equation.

“I think the main thing I’m excited about is just being able to go with the team. This is something you just don’t get to experience that often. We come from all different places of the world and we’re going to such a cool place together.”

“I don’t think it’s necessarily about basketball or the team,” she added. “I think this should be something where you have one point in this trip where you just get really inspired by something you see or something you learn. We play basketball all the time; we can play basketball wherever, whenever. But the things you can take away from this trip are not something that you can find on just any basketball trip.”

KU center Taiyanna Jackson, who admitted that she was nervous about the long flight over the Atlantic Ocean — but also wasn’t caving to the suggestions of taking a Benadryl to get through it — agreed with her teammate about the things being beyond basketball being the most important part of the adventure.

“We’re in another country, so we’ve got to stick together,” Jackson said. “I’m really excited about it because I think it’s going to bring us closer as a team. Yes, I want to play basketball and that’ll be fun, but I’m just looking forward to the bonding part.”

With three players on KU’s roster being international players, the 10-day tour will hardly be new territory for them.

“We’ll be in their neck of the woods,” Jackson joked, noting that junior center Danai Papadopoulou is actually from Greece.

During a recent team Zoom call to talk about the trip, Kersgieter caught incoming guard Laia Conesa, of Barcelona, Spain, laughing when the Americans were fretting about the trip. That made Kersgieter laugh, too.

“She was just kind of going, ‘You guys just have no idea about anything,” the KU veteran recalled.

But even Kersgieter said her recent trip to Lake Como in Italy for her brother’s wedding helped make her a little more confident about how things operate in another part of the world.

“Just like the little things, like knowing what to order and how to order it or understanding a train station sign or euros and how you have to pay to use a public restroom. And I’m definitely packing lighter. I was excited the first time I went, but I’m a little less anxious with this one.”

The Jayhawks will visit Rome and Sorrento in Italy, wth their first game slated for Wednesday in Rome. After that, they’ll travel to Athens, Greece, for the second game of the trip, which will take place next Sunday.

Among the sites that Kansas will visit on the trip are the Colosseum, Spanish Steps and Vatican in Rome, and the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Olympic Museum in Athens.

“This is an experience where you’re together experiencing things that are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” Kersgieter said.

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