Illini in Rome

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Hello, this is Derrick Burson, Associate Sports Information Director, writing to you from the Gran Cafe Roma here in Italy. The Fighting Illini basketball team arrived in Rome following 21 hours of travel. We left campus on Wednesday at 11:30 am and arrived at Chicago O'Hare Airport at 2 o'clock for our 4:30 departure. An eight-hour flight on a Lufthansa Airbus 333 brought us to Dusseldorf, Germany, where we arrived at 7:30 am local time Thursday. To help adjust to the time change, we were encouraged to sleep as much as possible on the flight. Some were successful and some, like myself, tried countless times to fall asleep with little success. But I did enjoy two movies and learned more than I thought possible about lions and their quest for power and control of the Kenyan wildlife reserves thanks to a National Geographic documentary.


Those that looked at the itinerary ahead of time knew what was in store in Dusseldorf, but for those who did not, the announcement of a four-and-a-half layover was a shock to the system. The players ate breakfast and walked around the shops to pass time. Brandon Paul purchased Internet at a cubicle of computers to read his twitter account, while the resourceful and budget conscious Sam Maniscalco scoured the airport for a free Wi-Fi signal. Coach Weber and his family had breakfast with his nephew David, who lives in Bonn, Germany and drove over to the airport for the visit.


We departed at Noon on a Lufthansa 737 and touched down in Rome at 2 pm. After retrieving our luggage, we met up with Basketball Travelers representative Jason Sarkies and Italian tour guide Sara Bello. A group of Illini fans purchased the travel package and are also on this trip, so we have two busses, one for players and staff and one for the fans. From the airport, we headed straight for the Colosseum. 



Everyone has seen countless pictures and video of the Colosseum, but to see it in person was impressive. Walking around and inside of a structure built 2000 years ago was incredible. The Colosseum provided plenty of photo opportunities, and it didn't take long before we heard our first shouts of "I-L-L!" A gentleman walked up to Nnanna Egwu and introduced himself as an Illini, class of '86 who earned a degree in civil engineering. Coach Weber also met a few Illini grads on the tour.

Photo gallery of Illinois' tour of the Colosseum


Following the Colosseum, we went on a short driving tour and then checked in to our hotel at 6:30 pm. We are staying at the NH Vittorio Veneto, which is a very nice hotel and in a great location. The rooms vary in size, however, and when strength coach Jimmy Price and myself saw our room for the first time, it felt like the scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles when Steve Martin and John Candy check in to their room at the Braidwood Inn. But after a quick rearrangement of the desk and end tables, we were able to come up with a more comfortable layout.


We went to dinner at 7:45 at Il Pomodorino, just a one-block walk from the hotel. The food was outstanding and served very quickly, which was appreciated since everyone was tired and hungry. Pizza was the most popular order, along with the signature dish of Rome -- at least according to a travel manual I read on the plane -- spaghetti carbonara. The players then went to bed, hoping to have their body clocks fully adjusted by Friday morning's wake-up call.

Tomorrow I will write about how the Illini spent Friday in Rome. Remember, the first game is Saturday vs. Roma Selezione (Noon Central Time). Take a look at the trip itinerary for the full schedule of Illinois' visit to Italy.

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