PROVO, Utah (Aug. 19) -- After two weeks of practice to prepare for its summer tour, the BYU men's basketball team has departed for a six-game European trip to England, Croatia and Italy.
Coach Steve Cleveland's Cougars started the trip in London, where Cleveland served as an LDS Missionary from 1971-73. After technical problems at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre turned the Cougars' first game with the London Towers into a scrimmage on Tuesday, the two teams tipped off Wednesday in their scheduled second game, with the Towers edging the Cougars by six points in a close contest.
BYU's team for the trip consists of nine players, as only individuals who have played a regular season with the Cougars were eligible to compete during the trip. Seven returning players from last year -- Mekeli Wesley, Silester Rivers, Michael Vranes, Nathan Cooper, Todd Christensen, Bret Jepsen and Mark Michaelis -- are joined by recently returned missionaries Eric Nielsen and Matt Montague, who played a year prior to their missions.
"This European trip is something nice to be able to do every four years -- we are playing some very good teams," Cleveland said. "The most important thing is it allows us to practice and build a foundation for this fall. This is the first year since I've been here that we have a core nucleus of players returning. The trip will help us develop team chemistry and get more game experience while allowing Eric and Matt to learn our system."
Prior to leaving for Europe, the Cougars had 10 practice sessions that included team members from last year who weren't able to go to Europe, such as redshirt freshman David Nielsen.
"The practice sessions prior to the trip were very important," Cleveland added. "The practices allowed us to teach some new things we want to do this fall offensively and stress two areas we must improve -- defense and rebounding. The players have been working out individually all summer. Mekeli (Wesley) is playing very well right now and Silester (Rivers) has picking up where he left off at the end of last season. Physically, Nate (Cooper) has much more spring in his legs and Todd (Christensen) and Michael (Vranes) have bulked up 15-20 pounds each. Nearly everyone is bigger and stronger."
The Cougars left London today for Zadar, Croatia, the hometown of former Cougar great, the late Kresimir Cosic. After two games in Zadar on Friday and Saturday, the trip will conclude in Italy with games on Aug. 24 in Udine and Aug. 26 in Milan. The Cougars are scheduled to return Aug. 27.
BYU MEN'S BASKETBALL
European Tour 1999 Roster
No. Name Ht. Wt. Cl. Pos. Hometown
4 Todd Christensen 6-1 195 Jr. G Salt Lake City, Utah
10 Matt Montague 6-1 180 So. G Louisville, Ken.
13 Michael Vranes 6-3 205 So. G Taylorsville, Utah
15 Mekeli Wesley 6-9 225 Jr. F Provo, Utah
34 Eric Nielsen 6-8 205 So. F Fremont, Calif.
35 Silester Rivers 6-7 230 Sr. F Mesa, Ariz.
42 Nathan Cooper 6-5 205 Jr. G/F Provo, Utah
50 Mark Michaelis 6-10 215 Jr. C Salt Lake City, Utah
55 Bret Jepsen 6-11 250 Sr. C Roswell, N.M.