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The Battalion

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Familiar faces, foreign tour: Aggie basketball aims to grow in Bahamas

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When Zach Walker, Class of 2022, first heard that Texas A&M men’s basketball would be taking a foreign tour to Costa Rica, his expectations were the same as every other college kid getting to take a beach trip to a foreign country with their friends.
“It was, ‘Man, I’m going to enjoy this, this is like a party trip,’” Walker said.
But when Walker looks back on the 2019 trip, the former Aggie guard focuses on the work the team did while partnering with local charities. He describes his favorite photo from the trip, a group of Aggie players celebrating with a child at a Special Olympics event after he hit a basket. He says his pinned Tweet — “The things we complain about are the things some people pray for” — was something that he first heard while in Costa Rica.

“Those kids will put more joy in your life than I ever did in theirs,” Walker said. “If we ever saw those kids again, I don’t think they’d remember me. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget those kids. It was an amazing experience to go out, serve those kids and give back to that community.”
Four years later, A&M’s program is set to make another foreign tour. This year, it’ll be in the Bahamas, where the Aggies will compete in the Bahamas Basketball Federation’s Summer of Thunder showcase.
The NCAA allows schools to make a foreign tour every four years, complete with exhibition games and a valuable extra 10 practices. In 2019 — Buzz Williams’ first season as head coach — the tour was an opportunity for a brand new team to gel and work together for the first time.
This year, they’ll work on offseason development and incorporating new arrivals into the program, associate head coach Devin Johnson said.
“Our returners, from an offensive and defensive standpoint, they’re kind of in grad school,” Johnson said. “The challenge will be our new guys understanding what’s going on and speaking our language at a fast pace because we’re going to be playing real games and real teams over there, which is going to be amazing for us.”
At least, that’s what they’ll focus on on the court.
“We have the opportunity to go to the Bahamas because we coach and play basketball,” Johnson said. “And we’re very appreciative of that. But what we’re looking forward to most is the opportunity to go and learn and serve.”
Service is a key part of the philosophy of Williams’ and the Aggies’ program, Johnson said.
“That’s going to help the guys more than on the floor,” Johnson said. “It’s going to allow us to appreciate the things that we have and the opportunities we have. And also, it’s going to give us the opportunity to help somebody else. Our program is built on being a servant leader and helping others.”
Walker said he can attest to the benefits of the service-oriented dynamic Williams brought to the program.
“We were closer than any team in the nation based on what we went through there,” Walker said. “The service aspect of what we got to do for those kids and spending all that time together, it was amazing.”
While that 2019-20 team did overachieve relative to expectations that season — Williams won his first of two SEC Coach of the Year awards — Johnson says the goal of the tour is to grow and make memories.
“Basketball, that’s going to come because that’s what we do,” Johnson said. “That’s what we do every day. But the other things are going to excite me more than the basketball because the lifelong memories of guys hanging out in the Bahamas [are] going to last longer than ‘Hey we won this game, we lost this game.’”
The opportunity for growth on this trip isn’t exclusive to the Aggies. For the Bahamas, that’s what the Summer of Thunder is for.
When A&M takes the court abroad, they won’t be facing Bahamian NBA stars like Buddy Hield and Deandre Ayton. That NBA-led national team roster will be preparing for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina.
Instead, they’ll be one of an eclectic mix of NCAA programs, foreign professional teams and national teams facing local Bahamian talent looking to get called up to the senior national team in the future.
“We’re not going to throw out some bums,” Bahamas national team assistant coach Mikhail McLean said. “[With] some of the younger guys who might not be in the rotation, it’s going to give us a chance to see ‘Is this kid good enough to make the rotation when we have our full team?’”
The Bahamian youngsters will likely be taking inspiration from players like Ayton, whose 18 points playing for a local club team in an exhibition against North Carolina when he was 16 sent the future Phoenix Suns star’s recruitment into overdrive.
“Our younger guys have gotten to play against Kentucky [and others], and it’s actually helped them with their recruitment,” McLean said. “[Ayton] was one of the best players on the court at 16. That’s when his recruitment began to blow up.”
But the focus isn’t solely on the court for the Bahamas, either. The chance for the Aggies to experience a new culture is a chance for the Bahamians to share theirs. For McLean, that comes in the form of Bay Street’s cuisine — which he insists anyone traveling must try.
“Get out of the hotel and try some traditional Bahamian food,” McLean said. “You will not regret it. You’ll have a great time.”
And for their part, the Aggies are excited to learn about another culture as much as they are Williams’ latest defensive scheme.
“We’re looking forward to learning everything that we could possibly learn not just from the Bahamas team, but our time there,” Johnson said. “Everything we can possibly learn from anybody. The workers in the hotel, the workers in the restaurant, the scorekeepers at the game — we want to learn from everybody possible.”
For all involved, the Bahamas tour is about growth, both on and off the court. Whether that’s the kind that helps a Bahamian teenager make it to the NBA, or the kind that shifts a college kid’s focus from beach parties to charity work.
“We’re going over there to get better at basketball and build relations as a team,” Walker said. “But we’re also going over there to serve the people of that country and do whatever we can while we’re there to make them have a great time while we’re there with them.”

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About the Contributor
Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis, Sports Reporter
Ian Curtis is a journalism freshman from College Station, Texas. Ian has written about football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, hockey, gymnastics, volleyball and more for The Battalion. Ian's work has also appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle and over the airwaves on WTAW and BCSball.com. 
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