UTRGV men’s basketball set for trip to Costa Rica

EDINBURG — Looking ahead to the UTRGV men’s basketball team’s trip to Costa Rica this week, sophomore Javon Levi said his No. 1 expectation is to win.

Beyond that, Levi said he is also looking forward to some of the other items on the itinerary, which include community service, time at the beach and Levi’s most anticipated, zip lining.

“I never did that, but I’ve always seen people doing it,” Levi said. “It looks good. … We’re ready to get on the road, take care of business first, and then have some fun together.”

The NCAA allows programs to play games on a foreign tour once every four years, and UTRGV coach Lew Hill said he thought this year would be the right time to exercise that option.

The Vaqueros depart for Costa Rica on Friday, having used 10 extra practices in recent weeks to prepare for matchups against the Costa Rica national team and club team Coopenae San Ramon ARBA.

“Really what I want to see is how they transfer what we’ve been doing into the game,” Hill said. “You always want to win, but that’s not what I did this trip for. I did this trip to bring camaraderie, togetherness, and to get a head start on this year, because I think we have a chance to be good. I like our team.”

The NCAA typically limits programs to just a few hours of individual skill work each week during the summer, but committing to a foreign tour opens the door for a team to hold 10 full team practices similar to those conducted during the regular season.

“We have that extra step on everybody else, because they’re going to start when they get back in the fall,” UTRGV senior Terry Winn said. “That’s stuff that we won’t have to re-go over, as far as plays, sets, defense. We can just hop right back into it and flow right back into it. Coach won’t have to do any of that stopping and teaching.”

Hill has had plenty of teaching to do with a roster heavy on newcomers. UTRGV graduated five seniors at the end of last season, including Nick Dixon and his team-leading 20.3 points per game. Also not returning from last year’s team are Xavier McDaniel Jr. (9.2 points, 4.3 rebounds per game) and Lew Stallworth (5.7 points, 3.2 assists per game).

“I just wanted to bring some unity, and to their credit, I think they’re a very close-knit group now,” Hill said of his team’s recent growth. “Some of these guys have never left Texas. Some of these guys never left wherever they came from except when they came to school. So getting out and going to a different country, those are the benefits of playing basketball in college.”

Hill, Winn and Levi all said they know very little about the level of competition they will face in Costa Rica. The group has, however, been preparing for FIBA rules, scrimmaging under those conditions with referees on Thursday.

Instead, the focus is on implementing what the Vaqueros have practiced and giving the newcomers their first taste of action with the group.

“They all have had their moments,” Hill said of his new arrivals. “They all have showed you some ‘Wow’ stuff. But not the consistency yet, because they haven’t been here to learn enough.”