IOWA CITY — It was never a given that Gabe Olaseni would enjoy a summer homecoming in front of friends and family in London.
Iowa’s original plan this summer was to play basketball exhibitions in France and Spain, not England. But the more Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery weighed the scenarios, the more he decided to alter the trip.
“We started thinking about different possibilities,” McCaffery said Friday. “That (France-Spain) was one recommended by the travel agency that we deal with. We just said let’s look at France and England because we want to bring Gabe home. For his family, to see all the guys, to see him, everybody to meet him, it’s going to be tremendous. They’ve seen him on TV a lot but to see him playing with his team ... I’ll start him both games over there.”
The team leaves Sunday for London as part of a six-game, eight-day tour that few people explore except on milestone anniversaries. Iowa will travel to London on Sunday, then face the London Lions on Tuesday and Wednesday. The second game is open to the public, and the game is on the verge of a sellout in the 7,000-seat arena. McCaffery said 6,000 tickets have been sold.
Iowa then plays in Paris for two games before ending their trip in southern France.
But this trip largely is about Olaseni, a 6-foot-10 junior center who still talks with a heavy British accent. His family has yet to watch him play a game in an Iowa uniform. He finds it almost surreal that his coach would arrange a foreign trip — which a team can make only once every four years — around him.
“It means a lot,” Olaseni said. “Obviously we’re a tight-knit group of guys. This is obviously going to bring us closer together. So I’m just looking forward to it.
“I think that’s another important thing, just me getting a chance to play in front of my family that haven’t seen me. They stayed up late my first two years to watch me play on TV. It’s pretty cool to watch me play in person.”
McCaffery will give Olaseni heavy minutes in London and then trim his time in France. Olaseni is neither nervous nor anxious about the trip. But he is excited.
“When I play with my friends over here, I don’t really look at the crowd,” McCaffery said. “After the game it’s going to be a fun moment and being able to like take pictures of them. It’s a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m just grateful.”
Olaseni plans to guide the team around London, with help from a travel agent. He hopes to show off his home and spend some a little time with his family.
“I know everyone’s family on the team so this will give them a chance to let them know a little bit of where I came from and why I am the way I am,” Olaseni said.
There are a few places he will avoid, however.“I don’t think Coach McCaffery would approve of any clubs,” Olaseni said. “I’m sure I’ll take them to a few landmarks they wouldn’t necessarily see.”