Day 5 Vicenza Military Base: Wednesday, Aug. 20
After another good night's sleep, the team traveled back to Vicenza where we had played the night before. Today we would be visiting the Del Din military base, specifically the 173rd Airborne Division based in Vicenza. This group has seen a great deal of combat in the past and many were due to be deployed in the next week. When we arrived Sgt. Major Stitzel, a huge Michigan fan himself, spoke to their combat experience, telling us that there are only nine living Medal of Honor recipients in the US military and three of them belong to the 173rd.
Being on a military base was an entirely new experience for our coaching staff, players and staff except for our video analyst Will Vergollo. Will was born in Germany and spent many years living there because his father was a 30-year military man. As a result of this experience, he was able to answer any general questions we had about living on a base and explained the general structure of military ranks and operations.
After introductions with Sgt. Major, we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. At lunch our veteran players, Caris, Spike, and Max served lunch to the troops while the rest of us spread out amongst the soldiers eating. A couple of us would sit and eat at each table with some of the men and women already eating in order to get to know them vice versa. I went with Andrew Dakich and Mark Donnal and we had about a thirty-minute conversation with Lt. Nguyen who was originally from Vietnam, and two other Lieutenants from southern Georgia. We asked about their typical days and being away from home and their answers were somewhat surprising to me. Lt. Nguyen said she doesn't go back to the states at all, she takes her off days to travel around Europe on the weekends and would rather see the world then see a place she already knows. All three said they love to travel and with their immediate family on the base with them, a longing for home doesn't come up too often. They all seemed to really like what they were doing and it was really interesting to hear their specific stories.
Next, we were given a tour of the entire base by Sgt. Watkins. He showed us the armory and all of the equipment that they carry when they're out in the field. Sgt. Watkins said he has more than 100 pounds of gear with him normally since he is the leader of his squadron. The best part of this was being able to look through a brand new thermal sight that costs over 16,000 just for one of them. With this we were able to look through it and see people that were in the room next to us. Before we had not even known they were there. We were then shown a couple army support vehicles outside that were a million dollars each on our way to the gym for an afternoon walk through. Coach Beilein explained to about 100 troops who came to watch about how we practice and then walked through some of our sets and actions we needed to improve. He used some of the service men and women to come on the court to defend our guys as they ran through their sets and even gave them a shot on the offensive end.
Interacting with these troops on the floor was a great experience for our players and the troops themselves seemed to really enjoy it as well. After the walk through we handed out a ton of Maize Rage T-shirts to everyone that came and at the end it looked like we made a few new fans.
After a short rest we headed to the same gym as last night for our next game. There was a slightly smaller crowd but the Michigan faithful was once again out in force. Led by Mrs. Beilein and the rest of the coaches' wives like always. This was the best team we played since we arrived and we went down 7-2 early including two early, uncontested layups by our opponent's crafty guards. However from that point on, it really got out of hand fast. With the increased emphasis on defensive intensity and the offense still firing on all cylinders, the final ended up being 116-52. Mark Donnal finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Zak led the way once again in scoring with 22.
Back in Verona we treated ourselves to a little postgame Gelato, which is basically an Italian addiction at this point, and headed to bed. Everyone is really looking forward to a new experience in Venice tomorrow!