Aug. 4, 2013
by Chris Masters (Associate Athletic Media Relations Director)
LONDON -- While they may not look like Christopher Columbus or have arrived by boat, the Notre Dame women's basketball team did its own bit of exploring as the program's third European tour and first since 2009 got underway Sunday when the Fighting Irish travel party touched down at London's Heathrow Airport.
For eight of the 13 Notre Dame players on the Notre Dame roster, this represents their first trip to the "Old Continent," and for some, such as freshman center Diamond Thompson (Wheaton, Ill./Wheaton Warrenville South), this is their initial journey outside the United States.
It started when the team touched down at 7:22 a.m. (local time) Sunday following a nearly eight-hour overnight flight that had many in the travel party fighting a losing battle with jet lag throughout the day. Still, Thompson and her teammates enjoyed an early taste of some important sights around London, including stops at Trafalgar Square and National Museum (not far from Notre Dame's London Centre, home to its academic program offices in the city), as well as the trendy Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Corner districts.
"You really don't know what to expect when you've never been here before, but (Sunday) was really fun," Thompson said. "The architecture around here is amazing and we were able to see a lot of different things in a short time."
The Notre Dame players and staff closed out their abbreviated first day in Europe with a drive past Hyde Park (the largest park in London and prime evidence of why the city's is among the greenest in the world) before winding up at their hotel just a stone's throw from Kensington Gardens, which includes not only Kensington Palace (the home of Prince William and Duchess Catherine, as well as the newest member of the royal family, Prince George) but the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and Gardens and Albert Memorial (across from the Royal Albert Hall, one of the city's most noted concert venues and a regular home for such legendary performers as 2000 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Eric Clapton).
"The first day is always one of the hardest because you're jet-lagged and trying to get settled in an unfamiliar environment, but I thought everyone handled it beautifully," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "This tour is very much about enjoying each's other's company in a relaxed setting and taking in a really amazing cultural experience, and judging by how much fun everyone seems to be having, I'd say we're off to a great start."
Following a full night's rest, the Fighting Irish will enjoy a full guided tour of London on Monday, highlighted by stops at Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The team then will go shopping at some of the city's noted stores, including the famous London department store, Harrod's.
"I'm really looking forward to checking out Buckingham Palace and the clock (Big Ben)," sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey said. "But one of the coolest things about London is that there's so much to see and do around here, so there's something for everybody to have a good time with."
Later on, the Notre Dame travel party will break for High Tea and close out its day with a trip to London's theater districts, with smaller groups of players and staff going to three different plays -- "Wicked", "The Book of Mormon" and "Phantom of the Opera."
Upon arrival in London, the Fighting Irish players and staff were met by their Anthony Travel tour guide, Leo Jenkins, who is a familiar face to many of the Notre Dame folks, as he served in the same role on the team's 2009 tour of France, Monaco and Italy ... navigating London proved to be a bit of a challenge for the team's bus driver, Andy, thanks to the Prudential RideLondon Classic road cycling race that closed down many of the city's main roads for the balance of the afternoon; however, Andy was more than ready for the challenge and even managed to squeeze the oversized motor coach through some narrow cobblestone side streets to reach the team hotel ... another person who had some navigation challenges on Sunday was sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West), who is hobbled with a high left ankle sprain (suffered in practice in one of the team's final pre-tour practices on Friday in South Bend) and she likely will not play in Notre Dame's three games on the tour, although the injury is not expected to linger during the run-up to the 2013-14 regular season ... the Fighting Irish were informed their opponent for both tour games in Spain has changed, with Notre Dame now set to play the French Junior National Team (with a couple of Senior National Team players expected to join the roster as well) this Thursday (Aug. 8; 7 p.m. local/1 p.m. ET) outside of Barcelona, and again next Sunday (Aug. 11; 4 p.m. local/10 a.m. ET) in Madrid.
WORD OF THE DAY
Circus -- in the United States, it refers to a traveling show involving lions, tigers, clowns and acrobats. However, in the United Kingdom, a "circus" is simply a busy open space at the confluence of several major roads, creating a roundabout with numerous shops and stores. The Notre Dame travel party visited two examples of this on Sunday, rolling through Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus on its drive through central London.