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St. Louis U. basketball in full swing with upcoming European tour

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SLU vs. UMass Minutemen

St. Louis guard Gibson Jimerson (24) attempts to drive to the rim while being guarded by Massachusetts guard Javohn Garcia (1) in front of Billikens forward Marten Linssen (12) during first-half action on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis.

The inner workings of a college basketball team in late July are usually kept from public scrutiny for good reason.

The limited practice afforded by the NCAA in the summer is a time for conditioning, skill development and a lot of learning. Rust generally is more prominent than polish.

St. Louis University opened the doors at Chaifetz Arena on Sunday for fans to not only get a look at a team that has high hopes for a season that starts in three months but to see a group that has to be ready to play in two weeks.

When the Billikens leave for a 10-day tour of Europe on Aug. 12, they’ll be bonding and competing with six players who know each other well and six who still are learning their teammates and the way things work under coach Travis Ford.

“We have a lot of really old guys who are bored with the drills already because they know it all,” Ford said. “And we have six who have no clue what we’re doing. So it’s a balance.”

Summer practices are closed to outsiders as dictated by NCAA rules. But the Billikens received 10 extra practices to prepare for their tour, and those can be viewed by fans and media.

Ford opted to open two workouts, including one Friday, when the Billikens are expected to scrimmage to some extent.

“It’s like a head start, especially for the new guys because we have a decent amount of newcomers — more than since I’ve been here,” guard Gibson Jimerson said. “They get to know our system. For some, it’s the first time they’ve played at this level, so they can get used to everybody and the terminology and it will carry over to the fall.”

Jimerson is one of the experienced players along with Yuri Collins, Fred Thatch Jr., Javonte Perkins, Francis Okoro and Terrence Hargrove Jr. Combined, they have 18 seasons in the program.

They are joined by three transfers and three freshmen who have been worked into the system this month. All are likely to get playing time in Spain and Italy during a minimum of three games.

“We scrimmaged (last week), and I can say I thought it was better than what it would have looked like last year in the fall,” Thatch said. “We’re already clicking. Everyone was flowing, so we’re way ahead of where we were last year.”

Ford said three games are planned but has told the trip representative not to be surprised if he asks for one more to be scheduled.

The first will be played in Valencia, Spain, where the Billikens will travel from Madrid via high-speed train. Ford also has seen the plan for the team’s first meal in Spain, which will involve players helping in the preparation.

The team and others who will travel will spend time prior to departure learning about Madrid; Florence, Italy; and Rome and places they will visit when not playing basketball.

“This is a lifetime experience,” Ford said. “Some have never traveled internationally and some might not again — who knows?”

College programs are allowed to take one international tour every four years, and this will be the first for SLU in Ford’s seven years on the job.

Aside from the cultural aspect, Ford will certainly be paying close attention to on-court performances as he incorporates the new players into the mix. At the forefront of that group will be Javon Pickett, a transfer from Missouri; Jake Forrester (Temple); and Sincere Parker (Moberly Area College).

“They’ll have a very good impact,” Collins said. “The scoring they could add for us is going to be very good. We’ll be playing fast and be very athletic as well.”

Okoro missed Sunday’s workout due to illness and Forrester was out of town. SLU has one available scholarship, and Ford said it is possible he still might fill that spot.

“We’re looking at a couple of options right now,” he said. “I wanted to go through camp and see what we might need to add that could help.”

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