Airplane mode was as good as any for the men’s basketball team during its seven-hour flight.
The same was true once the Bulls touched down on the Madrid runway to embark on a 10-day foreign tour in August.
Without cellular reception, their phones essentially became standard cameras. They couldn’t even upload their photos to Snapchat without hotel Wi-Fi.
Such an anomaly forced them to look beyond their LED screens and step out onto the streets of Spain.
Sophomores Ruben Guerrero and Jake Bodway walked out of their Barcelona hotel, Le Meridien, and into the hustle and bustle of a city that Guerrero compared to New York.
Barcelona was the second installment of their foreign tour.
The vibrant streets surrounded by Antoni Gaudi architecture had enticed Guerrero and Bodway to wander the narrow roads of Barcelona.
Among the hundreds of people, they spotted a familiar face. To Guerrero’s astonishment, they found forward Chris Perry walking around the city by himself.
“That tells you that he just wanted to see everything,” Guerrero said, reflecting on his time overseas. “He just wanted to look around, wanted to see the people. Like he was by himself just visiting places in a foreign country.”
At that moment, the Marbella, Spain native saw his teammate experiencing what he had experienced when he first arrived in the states to attend Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas.
Just like Guerrero only knew some English when he touched down in 2013, many of his teammates couldn’t say more than a few words in Spanish.
Many players depended on Guerrero to verbally navigate through Spain, but he didn’t mind; he was just happy to see his teammates embracing his home country and trying new things.
Instead of Starbucks and Chipotle, they tested their taste buds with black rice (squid ink on rice), paella (seafood on rice), Spanish ham and octopus. The Bulls also got their hands on escargot, which many didn’t find particularly pleasing.
One by one, they used a toothpick to pop the snail out of its shell before gulping it down.
Coach Orlando Antigua was no exception.
“I couldn’t expect my players to do something that I wouldn’t do myself,” Antigua said. “I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried it.”
Perry and forward Bo Zeigler were the last two to sample the snails.
“I put a lot of salt on it, and I swallowed it whole,” Perry said. “At the end, they brought out baked chicken, so then a lot of us were happy when we saw that. I guess they just had us trying different stuff.”
Even the game they know and love was different overseas.
The Bulls fell to the Spanish and Angola national teams, but beat CB Vic twice to even their record, 2-2.
“It’s like a finesse-type of game over there,” Perry said. “Not the pushing-and-shoving type of stuff, the more traditional-type of game, Tim Duncan-type of stuff.”
The style of play and the structure of the game took some getting used to — all the way down to the shot clock.
In NCAA basketball, the shot clock was 35 seconds last season. It’s been reduced to 30 seconds in hopes of quickening the contest. The idea is that a shorter shot clock will allow for more possessions to create higher-scoring games.
Barcelona’s shot clock mirrored that of the NBA’s with 24 seconds.
The rules and the facilities in which they were enforced were a far cry from what the Bulls are accustomed to.
The players missed the little luxuries of USF. Amenities like air conditioning became a distant memory.
“Over there, it’s hot. The floors are slippery. The hoops are OK. They’re low. They’re bouncy,” Guerrero said. “In Barcelona, they didn’t even have the shot clock, so we didn’t even know when we had 10 seconds left, 5 seconds left.”
Only the coaches knew. The officials held up signs for the coaches to indicate how much time remained.
Not having a shot clock made it tougher on the guards, but when it came down to the wire in the fourth and final game, freshman Jahmal McMurray didn’t seem fazed.
After climbing back from a 22-point deficit against CB Vic, McMurray hit a buzzer-beating three from the corner to send the game into overtime. The Bulls ran away with it, winning 87-75.
Another guard, in particular, plays — and thrives — under timed pressure. Teammates had crowned guard Nehemias Morillo the king of chess.
“Every time you play, you gotta hit the clock,” Morillo said. “So you gotta play really fast. That’s why I like (chess). You gotta think a lot.”
Morillo learned how to play chess when he was 15 from his older brother, Esteban. Years later, he’s pushing that passion onto his teammates.
“Neh will know how to win in like four moves, five moves,” Guerrero said. “He’ll really take it seriously. He’ll argue with anyone about anything. He hates losing.”
Morillo’s competitive edge carries beyond the court, and he carries his chessboard everywhere he goes — airports, hotels, restaurants. He even plans to bring the board with him on the road this season.
“I think (chess) betters your game on the court as well, making good moves and good passes,” Perry said.
Playing chess will let the Bulls connect with each other and disconnect from distractions (i.e. their phones). It’ll allow them to coast on airplane mode — even if just for a game or two.