In addition to spending countless hours on the basketball court honing his skills, Princeton University men’s hoops star T.J. Bray has been studying Spanish for years.
“I took Spanish in high school and three semesters here,” said Bray, a rising junior guard from New Berlin, Wis. “We have to take a foreign language here so I took Spanish.”
Over the next 10 days, Bray will get the chance to apply his linguistic knowledge firsthand as the Tigers take a trip to Spain.
The squad will depart on August 29 and make stops in Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid during its jaunt. Princeton has four games scheduled against Spanish pro teams and will sample the local culture through such activities as attending an FC Barcelona soccer game, enjoying a night of flamenco dancing, and hitting museums and cathedrals.
Bray has been looking forward to the journey for months, noting that the Tiger players got confirmation in January that the trip was taking place.
“I can’t wait for it,” said a smiling Bray, after finishing a pre-trip practice last Monday at Jadwin Gym.
“This group of guys is so much fun; we have a blast together. It is going to be as much fun off the court as it will be on the court.”
Bray, who is coming off a breakthrough season last winter when he averaged 7.2 points a game and had a team-high 119 assists as the Tigers went 20-12, believes the Princeton players can get a lot out of the trip on the court.
“A lot of the teams are probably going to be more talented than us because they are all pro players,” said the 6’5, 205-pound Bray.
“Just working hard and playing together will be huge things for us. There were a couple of games last year where we started slowly and that is where we got ourselves in trouble. We have to work on being consistent in our intensity from start to finish.”
Getting the chance to see FC Barcelona’s ultra-talented soccer star Lionel Messi in person figures to be a huge highlight of the trip for Bray.
“I am most excited to tell my kids that I saw Lionel Messi play live,” said Bray.
“When that day comes, being able to say that to my kids will be pretty cool. Messi is unbelievable; everything about him is great. He is quick with the ball and makes everything happen.”
For second-year Princeton head coach and former Tiger star Mitch Henderson, the excursion to Spain reminds him of a trip he took during his college career.
“I went on a trip like this the summer before my senior year; it was a very important trip for that team,” said Henderson, reflecting on a trip to Italy which was a prelude to the memorable 27-2 season produced by the 1997-98 Tiger squad.
“It is like traveling with 12 of your best friends. I remember the bus rides; I remember the hotels. I remember the things that we did off the floor. I remember our record over there. We were very good and I think we went 4-5. We played some really good teams, some Italian first division teams. That group of guys still talks about that trip. It is a once in a lifetime type of trip to go with your friends on something like that.”
In Henderson’s view, his current team should likewise benefit from the international journey which the NCAA allows programs to take once every four years. The Friends of Princeton Basketball group is helping to foot the bill for the excursion.
“I think this is a good older group; it is an opportunity for us to work on some things,” said Henderson, noting that the players got into the swing of things with the five pre-trip practices they went through over the last week.
“We felt like that was the right kind of place for this team to go. It makes sense with this group, we have a good group of juniors and seniors. There are good pro teams there, it will be good competition. We are very lucky to be going.”
While Henderson is not planning to do a lot of on-court experimentation in terms of offensive or defensive tactics, he will be mixing and matching players.
“I want to see who is going to step up,” said Henderson. “We have some guys in place but we are losing a lot of scoring and a lot of shooting. Do we replace that with guy ‘A’ and guy ‘B’ or are we going to be a little different. I want to watch and see what we become and who makes it hard for me to take you off the floor. What I love about playing over there is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. You are going to see a guard or a forward and you don’t know anything about that guy, that he drills 3’s or that he is a really good guard. That will be great for our guys.”
Maybe the greatest thing about the trip for the Tigers will be the chance to enhance the camaraderie that already exists between the players.
“I think our ability to be good is going to depend on how close we are, similar to the team two years ago,” maintained Henderson.
“We need a lot of team chemistry because we have some pieces that are significant and then we have some pieces that need a lot of room to grow. We all get to experience something new together as a team and as a staff.”
Bray, for his part, is confident that the experience in Spain will help the Tigers grow even closer.
“The Princeton offense is five guys moving as one, chemistry is so big in the offense,” said Bray.
“It comes pretty easy for us with everyone liking each other and enjoying being around each other. This trip will make it that much better.”