Final Game/Lake Como: Fri-Sat., Aug. 22-23
At this point our trip had gone incredibly smoothly heading into our last couple days. Everything had gone according to plan and exactly on schedule. Unfortunately, that impressive track record was about to come to a screeching halt. But more on that later.
Friday was a major travel day as we began to make the trek from Verona, our home base for the majority of the trip, to Lake Como, where we would spend the final days of the trip. We had a long way to travel, but the organizers of the trip decided to break the day up by stopping a couple places along the way to sightsee. This ended up being a great idea because it didn't seem like we were just traveling the entire day, and we also got to see even more beautiful places. Our first stop was at Lake Garda. We walked up a short peninsula that was almost surrounded by the lake and had a castle at its tip. The lake made for a relaxing break from the bus and also provided a great view. After lunch, we took off for an hour-and-a-half ride to Mantova for our last game.
Our opponent, the Mantova Stings, were recently promoted to Division 2 in Italy and would be tough test. They had a revamped roster with more size and were also playing in their home arena for the last time. They would be moving to a bigger arena in downtown Mantova due to their recent promotion and were looking to bid their home farewell with a win. Their fans were out in force to get a look at the new team and also watch their final game in this arena. Right away we could tell this was going to be a different environment than our previous games. The Stings had a loyal and passionate fan base that created a much more raucous environment than our games against all-star teams. We found this out from the get go as their fans clapped along and belted out the Italian national anthem right before tip off. It actually reminded me a lot of the fans singing national anthems before this summer's World Cup games.
Early on, the Stings were moving the ball quickly and getting open jump shots, luckily for us they weren't falling. This was not a good sign for Mantova because we were able to get out in transition off misses. If there's one thing you don't want to let this team do, it's run. Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert were leading the Michigan break, creating a 15-point lead in the second quarter. However, late in the second quarter the Mantova jumpers started to fall, and they came surging back. Cutting the lead to just five at the half and then taking over the lead 64-63 early in the third quarter. The crowd was doing their part as they exploded after back-to-back threes to put the hometown Sting in front. But they were quickly silenced again after a two-handed tip slam by Aubrey Dawkins (this kid can jump) and a couple of slow to quick threes by Caris LeVert. We were truly tested for the first time on the trip and responded with a 20-point win.
Next, it was time to make the three-hour journey to Lake Como. We left the gym at around nine o'clock and were expecting a midnight arrival with plenty of time to rest after a long day of travel. I wish that would have been the case. About an hour outside of Como, we heard a sound that sounded like a flat tire and pulled over to the side of the road. Shortly after, we were told the bus had a problem with its suspension and wouldn't be moving again any time soon. This presented an interesting challenge as there aren't normally buses waiting around to rescue people at midnight on a Friday night. But instead of complaining, our guys decided to make the best of it by playing cards and joking around for the two-and-a-half hour delay. Thanks to our guide Leo and bus driver Salvatori working the phones, a bus arrived to pick us up and bring us the rest of the way. We made it to Lake Como around 3 a.m. and went straight to bed. But even with this late arrival there was no complaining or whining about the circumstances. Everyone embraced the sudden change and decided to make the best of it.
Our final day arrived, and it was truly one for the books. A relaxing boat tour of Lake Como was exactly what everyone needed after the night before and the beauty of this area did not disappoint. We boarded our ferry bound for Bellagio, a two-hour trip, and stayed outside on the deck of the ship to fully take in what we were seeing. The lake is surrounded by the Alps making the view of the mountains on all sides from the lake incredible. There is a reason people like George Clooney have houses facing the water. I think I might have taken more pictures here than the rest of the trip combined.
When we arrived in Bellagio, everyone ate lunch separately by the water and then headed up the mountains to shop. The shopping areas were at the top of hundreds of steps winding through narrow passages between buildings. It was pretty tiring to get up there, but the view from the top made you realize why this was such prime real estate. Most people bought clothes from this region as silk is the specialty, and Austin Hatch took full advantage by working on his scarf game. Ann Arbor better be ready for the new look.
Our last night in Italy was capped off with a four-course meal back in Como, including a salad, ravioli, filet mignon and a slice of chocolate and pear cake. Not a bad way to wrap up a great trip. I'll be back with one final entry on the trip as a whole tomorrow. Thanks everyone again for reading and Go Blue!