Siena head basketball coach Jimmy Patsos received an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I’m on the road recruiting, and someone calls me and asks if I would like to serve our troops. How can I refuse?” he asked.
Patsos and several other U.S. college coaches will leave this week for the Persian Gulf as part of “Operation Hardwood,” a United Service Organizations (USO) and Armed Forces Entertainment project. The coaches will tour military bases to help lift the spirits of soldiers through basketball instruction.
“They called me, because someone else pulled out,” Patsos said. “These guys we’re talking about are the real definition of commitment. Plus, it puts everything into perspective. I’m happy to be involved. They’re [the soldiers] the real heroes. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and something I’m really looking forward to. We owe a lot to these guys.”
Patsos said he has no fears of heading to Kuwait.
“I’m going to an Army base. I should be pretty safe,” he said. “People have done it before. I talked to Jay Bilas, who has done this before, and he told me it will be a great experience.”
This will be the 10th Operation Hardwood, which has deployed more than 35 NCAA basketball coaches and sports personalities to Kuwait and Japan. Exact details of the Operation Hardwood tour have not been made available. In the past, coaches have worked with teams of soldiers in Kuwait, participating in combat drills, tank simulations and visiting injured troops in the hospital. Gary Williams, Patsos’ mentor when they were both at Maryland, joined Tom Izzo, Rick Barnes and Kelvin Sampson on the 2006 Operation Hardwood II tour.
“They wanted some guys who could be upbeat and entertaining to the troops,” Patsos said.
Also, Patsos’ top assistant, Greg Manning, will lead another group, a team of college student-athletes, on an eight-day, four-game tour of Croatia. Siena junior point guard Marquis Wright and incoming freshman guard Kenny Wormley will be on Manning’s 10-player roster, which will compete against professional teams.
“It’s going to be a good experience for all the players,” Manning said. “Marquis and Kenny will get a chance to play against professional teams. This is like training camp and exhibition games for them. It’s a very good level over there.”
Games are set for Saturday, Sunday, Monday and next Wednesday.
Manning has coached an 11-player team in Belgium and Germany in 2012, and also a 10-man team that included Siena players Lavon Long and Javion Ogunyemi in Brussels, London, Amsterdam and Paris last summer. Ogunyemi has since transferred.
“Things are good at Siena right now,” said Patsos. “I just got done with our camp today, and then I took off for my plane flight. My trip will be great, because I’m interested in seeing that part of the world and how these guys are doing. Greg’s trip will be great, as well, because he will have two of our players with him, and it will be a great experience for them. They say summer is made for adventure.”
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Categories: College Sports