Illini Basketball

Varese, Day 1

The Italian Tour has been misrepresented in the media, likely because no one thought it would matter. The DIA gave only vague details until this weekend, when they found out.

So no one knew where the games would be played. Even the guy on the TrenNord from Malpensa, who wore a black Brooklyn jersey, number 8, with the name “Williams” on the back.

For example, did you know the next Illini basketball game is in Varese? It’s 25 miles from Milano, the first city on the posted itinerary, in which Illinois basketball will play zero games.

Milan is not known for its historical architecture or ancient cultural significance. It’s known for the banking and fashion industries. But that’s where the team is sleeping tonight. Would Varese have been more enriching? Well, it’s certainly diverse. So maybe not?

Groceries from Varese. Just the staples.

Or, at least, it wouldn’t have shown the lads a niche of quaint ethnocentrism, such as you might find in any of the Cinque Terre. Half the people milling the streets of downtown Varese are distinctly not of northern Italian origin. The odor of ancient urine could be found in any centre-ville. Local homeless haul their lives from park to park in the same backpacks you’d see in Seattle.

Cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and grandfathered not-to-code construction remind the visitor that he’s not in Orange County. The weather wouldn’t.

Still, I feel like they’re missing something by not staying in the small towns where they’ll be balling. Milan and Florence are international cities, packed with tourists. Varese, Gazzada and Livorno might be just as 21st Century as … everywhere, now that the world is flat. But I’ll tell you this: There’s no English-language TV in Varese. (Diamonds Are Forever is on right now, and Shady Tree dubbed as Sicilian tough guy unsettles the purist.)

If the DIA had (as it did when Illini sports were relevant) pitched this European vacation to tourists, these smaller towns would be an easier sell. My apartment in Varese is huge, with high ceilings, French windows, a full kitchen, five minutes from the center of town by foot … and $28/night.

At least the parents will save money. Lali Bezhanishvili will, according to Giorgi, know exactly where the games are played. She’ll be on hand. Quam Dosunmu isn’t making the trip, but his wife and a lot of family are already here in Tuscany. Like me, they got a great deal on AirBnB. He showed me the video on his phone Saturday afternoon, while we were both at Ubben. Jamall Walker jumped in to ask how I’d be getting to Italy (The Groce administration was fascinated by tales of dollar fares on Megabus, and $20 deals on Spirit and Frontier. ) And the truth is you could have got here just as cheap as I (and Derek Piper) did, on the same planes, with the same stopover at Gatwick.

If only you’d known.

Tuscan Illini hoping to catch the action can probably just show up tomorrow night at the CUS Insubria gym. tomorrow at 19:00.

Wednesday night’s game is in Gazzada, one stop down the rail line from Varese. Unless it’s not. The address provided to the DIA shows a walled alley leaving the train station. We’ll see who can find that gym.

The Livorno game site can be found on a map. Same with Rome, where the game is on the south end of town, in a tennis complex.

C-U there.