Cal Poly Mustangs Unforgettable Experience in London

Posted by on Sep 17, 2019 in Uncategorized | No Comments

In September ‘19 we were lucky enough to host the Cal Poly Mustangs Men’s Basketball program in London, where they would face high-level professional teams and experience some of the very best that Britain’s capital has to offer.

The group featured 14 players, 5 coaches, 2 staff and 8 family members, who would stay in a 5* hotel in Central London and spend each day either on court or taking part in a variety of exciting cultural and leisure activities in the city.

The Cal Poly roster featured 8 new faces, so the trip would provide the perfect opportunity for them to get to know each other both on and off the court. They approached every practice, game and excursion with the utmost professionalism and positivity, a testament to the culture being built in this team from San Luis Obispo, California.

Day 1

The group gathered at a hotel local to LAX on Sunday 1st September, before heading collectively to the airport to check-in for their flight. After going through the necessary check-in and security procedures they were ready to board their flight to London Heathrow airport for the trip of a lifetime.

After more than 10 hours on the plane they finally touched down in the UK, where they were met by BTM representatives Mark and Tom who escorted them to their luxury bus that would be transporting them throughout the tour. A journey through London ensued, and they briefly took in the sights of Westminster, Kensington and other key city locations on their way to the hotel, located next to the incredible Tower Bridge.

By the time they arrived back they were very hungry, so they swiftly dropped off their bags and headed to the hotel restaurant where they were served burgers, fries and drinks before stepping out into the crisp London air for a walk around the local area. Sights included the Tower of London, HMS Belfast and the Tower Bridge, and the team marvelled at the rich history right on their doorstep.

They headed back to the hotel, where they had pizzas delivered which were taken up to their rooms as a late night snack before bed.

Day 2

An 8.30 am wake-up was followed by a delicious hotel buffet breakfast, which featured a variety of amazing food from smoked salmon, eggs and sausages to freshly made pancakes and fruit.

After filling up the team boarded the bus for UEL’s SportsDock, the facility that hosted Team USA practices during the London 2012 Olympics. Upon arrival the team ran through a variety of scoring drills to give the Guards and Forwards lots of reps, as well as some 5 v 0 offensive execution in prep for their evening game versus the BBL’s Surrey Scorchers.

Once the staff were satisfied that everything had been covered, the team jumped back on the bus to the hotel where they showered up and grabbed some local lunch from one of the numerous sandwich shops, cafes and restaurants. It was then time to relax and get off their feet for a while, before the bus departed at 3.30 pm for Surrey Sports Park.

The Scorchers would be missing 2 American imports, who were stuck in the US due to Hurricane Dorian, and a key British forward who was out sick, but would still have a strong and highly experienced line-up to face the Mustangs. The crowd took their seats and an excited buzz filled the arena for both the Scorchers and Mustangs first respective games of the season.

In a tightly contested first-half the home team and visitors exchanged baskets, as the Mustangs scored freely on the inside and the Scorchers knocked down some tough outside shots. However in the second half the Mustangs tightened up defensively and put more pressure on the Scorchers guards, while extending much of their scoring to the 3-point line offensively. Ultimately the Mustangs intensity was too much, and they ran away 81-69 winners.

Head Coach John Smith said “I really liked our guys resiliency, which is one of the things we talked about when implementing this system and the culture we are trying to create. Every time we play and every time we practice we need a resilient attitude, a competitive attitude and a collaborative attitude, and they brought that tonight.”

After the game the team had a Chinese buffet delivered to the arena, which they devoured and then hopped back on the bus for the drive back into central London and some much-needed rest and sleep.

Day 3

The team arose for breakfast and some free time at the hotel, which featured a beautiful pool, spa and gym on the ground floor that hotel residents could take advantage of. The players made the most of this time, many opting to chill out in their rooms and stay off their feet as they would be playing Game 2 of the tour later that evening.

At around 11 am the bus picked up the group and drove them to Shoreditch Town Hall, where they were met by a tour guide who would give them the famous Shoreditch “Street Art Tour.” The tour is ranked #2 on a list of 781 London tours, and features work from street artists from London’s East End and the UK, as well as international artists from all over Europe and the rest of the World. The Mustangs thoroughly enjoyed their street art experience, and took advantage of the numerous photo opportunities throughout the tour.

The group headed to the famous Old Spitalfields Market food court for lunch, which has a diverse range of dining options including Jamaican, Japanese, Modern British, Italian, Chinese and much more. The market is open seven days a week and has a variety of stalls outside of the food, such as vintage hats, vinyl records and eyewear. The Mustangs ate heartily before exploring the markets quirky stalls and getting a good feel for life in Shoreditch.

After relaxing back at the hotel the Mustangs were back on the bus, this time heading for Barking & Dagenham in East London to take on Barking Abbey Basketball Academy, the UK’s top junior program that routinely sends both male and female players to NCAA D1, D2, NAIA and JUCO on a yearly basis. Recent Men’s graduates from the Academy include Ade Adebayo (UC Davis), Caleb Fuller (UC Davis), Daniel Akin (UMBC), RJ Eytle-Rock (UMBC) and Akwasi Yeboah (Rutgers), and their current roster features several NCAA prospects.

It would be an interesting match-up for the Mustangs, who would look to rotate a lot and work on various line-ups. Abbey were really pumped for the game, and started off strong with great energy at both ends of the floor, getting tenacious stops and fast-break buckets. However Cal Poly’s experience and ability kept them ahead, presenting them a great opportunity to exercise discipline. While Abbey kept pushing and nipping at the heels of the Mustangs, it was the team from San Luis Obispo that ultimately prevailed, coming away with a 75-61 win.

Assistant Coach Justin Downer said “any time you have a 20-hour turnaround in between games, especially in a foreign country, it’s really tough. We are proud of the guys for getting it done, but we are here to learn what we need to get better at, and I think we found some things tonight that we could definitely do better.”

A triumphant Mustangs group finished the evening at Côte Brasserie, where they indulged in a 3-course meal featuring delights such as calamari, steak, haddock, roasted chicken, chocolate mousse, creme caramel and more. It was then back to the hotel, where they relaxed and spent time enjoying each other’s company before heading to bed.

Day 4

The 4th day of the tour would have a basketball-free agenda, presenting an opportunity for the Mustangs to experience the city of London and some of its incredibly rich history. The group walked down to the local bus stop, a stones throw from the hotel, where they were met by their private open-top bus that would be the catalyst in their discovery of the nation’s capital.

The first stop on the bus tour was St. Paul’s Cathedral, which sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London. The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London, and the second-largest church building in area in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral. The Mustangs captured some great images and then jumped back on the bus to continue the tour.

The route took the group via Strand, Waterloo and Embankment before stopping for lunch at Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar in which Britain was victorious over France and Spain. Some of the players opted for a classic fish and chips selection, while others raced a few blocks to Chipotle for a taste of American/Mexican flavour.

Next up was Buckingham Palace and the chance for the Mustangs to see one of the world’s most famous buildings, residence of the British monarchy and the focal point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and mourning. The team were dazzled by the history of the palace, and snapped some photos both individually and as a group.

The bus tour continued through Mayfair, Paddington, Kensington and Harrods, giving the group a diverse range of London sights, before the final stop at Piccadilly where the Mustangs took a London underground experience back to Tower Hill. The BTM reps delivered Nandos to the hotel conference room, and the team tucked into wings, thighs, rice, mash and chips, before hopping back on the underground to Piccadilly and then a brief walk to the Lyric Theatre.

The evening entertainment would be Thriller Live, a rendition of some of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits including Billie Jean, PYT, Off the Wall, Thriller and Beat It. It was a spectacular show that the coaches enjoyed as thoroughly as the players, and the group left the theatre absolutely buzzing. A quick fast-food stop at Five Guys ensued, and the bus arrived to drive the Mustangs back to their hotel.

Day 5

Friday morning began with a shoot-around at UEL SportsDock, in preparation for the biggest game so far of the tour for the Cal Poly Mustangs versus the reigning BBL League and Cup champions London Lions.

The Lions 2019/20 roster featured returning BBL MVP Justin Robinson, a British point guard with experience in Cyprus, Greece, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovenia and France. Alongside Robinson, they would also showcase new signing Jorge Romero, an incredibly experienced Spanish guard, Americans Brandon Peel, Andre Lockhart, Dii’jon Allen-Jordan and Brits Joe Ikhinmwin and Jordan Campbell.

There was a serious mood among the players and coaches, and they were highly focused for the evening event as the players were put through shooting repetitions and offensive sets by the coaching staff. After shootaround the Mustangs took a trip to the famous Westfield Stratford City, one of the largest shopping centres in Europe with 350 stores and services that opened in 2011. They briefly checked out some shops and grabbed lunch, before being whisked back to the hotel by the team bus to rest and prepare for the big match-up.

After a few hours of recuperation, it was time to travel to the Copper Box arena. The stadium is located in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and has a capacity of 7,500, making it one of the largest basketball venues in the UK with a tremendous atmosphere on game-day.

The Mustangs were out on the court early going through their pre-game routine, while the excited crowd took their seats to enjoy the evening entertainment. After warm-up there was a brief break in on-court activity as both the English and US national anthems were played, before the game finally tipped off and the action commenced.

It was a strong start for the Lions, who showed their veteranship with some savvy individual moves from the likes of Robinson and Peel. The Mustangs moved the ball well and hung in there with the veteran Lions, showing at times why they’ll be a force to be reckoned with this season in the Big West conference. However the Lions experience was evident, as they took a 46-30 lead going into half-time, much to the delight of the roaring home crowd.

In the 2nd half both teams traded baskets, with both the Lions and Mustangs unable to come up with defensive answers for each other, but the Americans were unable to close the gap on the British teams established lead. In a hard-fought and gutsy performance by the Cal Poly Mustangs, the home team ran away 89-71 winners.

Associate Head Coach Rodney Tention said “I think we went up against a really good team and learned a lot about ourselves despite the score, and we are still a work in progress. This was a great learning experience for us, where there were a lot of good things but also a lot of things we need to clean up.”

The Lions game was followed by a local buffet dinner featuring copious amounts of salad, pasta, chicken and potato wedges, and a tired group of Mustangs were driven back to the hotel to regroup for tomorrow’s big day on the South Coast.

Day 6

The Mustangs woke up for a big buffet breakfast at the hotel, before boarding the coach that would drive through the beautiful counties of Kent and Sussex on the journey to Brighton, the jewel of the South Coast.

The group were dropped at the Palace Pier, one of Brighton’s most famous landmarks featuring multiple rollercoasters & rides, as well as arcade games, restaurants and bars. Some of the players and coaches decided to take on the “Booster” ride, an outrageously tall thriller from which incredible views across the sea can be witnessed. Unfortunately some of the Mustangs “Forwards” were a little too tall for the rides, and were restricted to enjoying the fun from the safety of the pier’s wooden walkway.

The Mustangs took a leisurely stroll down to Brighton beach basketball court, one of Europe’s most famous outdoor courts that has featured on the NBA Street Volume 3 video game. While there weren’t any games going on that afternoon, it was a nice opportunity for the players to hoist up a few shots against the wind and take some great photos together.

Hunger had finally struck, and the team headed to one of Brighton’s best-known restaurants Donatellos for a two-course Italian meal. Some of the Mustangs chose pizzas while others took the pasta route, and the lunch culminated with some incredible “coppa” ice creams, such as the popular Coppa Rustica with meringue, vanilla ice-cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

A brief stroll back down to the Palace Pier ensued, giving the group a chance to walk-off their meal and meet the bus for the journey West to Southampton.

The evening game would be against the Solent Kestrels, the reigning NBL 1 League and Playoff champions who were coached by Matt Guymon, one of the UK’s most esteemed young coaches. The Kestrels would be a tremendous final opponent for the Mustangs, playing a well-drilled and tough style of basketball with key players Travis Charles (ex-UAlbany), Elliot Sentance (ex-pro in Germany), Luke Busumbru (ex-Montverde Academy) and Brendan Okoronkwo (ex-Worthing Thunder).

Solent University’s newly renovated sports complex would play host to the game, and a lively and excited crowd filled the stands in preparation for the thrilling contest that would ensue. The teams exchanged baskets to start the game, as Cal Poly played some magnificent inside-outside basketball while Solent drove aggressively and drew multiple fouls on the Mustang defense.

At the half the Mustangs trailed the tough Kestrels 38-44, who were showing their NBL champion caliber with a gritty and hard-nosed defensive approach. Despite the lead opening up in the 3rd in favour of the Kestrels, the Mustangs refused to give in and fought all the way back in the 4th to tie the game at 80-80 as the final buzzer sounded!

In overtime it was anyone’s contest, however Solent’s Travis Charles hit a big mid-range jumper in the dying moments to give Kestrels a 93-90 advantage. A Cal Poly 3-point attempt rimmed out, and the game was over. It had been an incredible fight in the face of adversity by the team from San Luis Obispo, who showed a lot of positives as a collective group.

Assistant Coach David Hanson said “the guys really fought with resiliency, which is one of our core values. At one point we were down 17 and we ended up fighting right back and pushing for overtime, so couldn’t be more pleased with the efforts today from our team.”

Day 7

The final full day of the tour was a “free day” for the players, staff and supporters, which began with a Thames river boat trip from Tower to the London Eye. Upon arrival the group split, with the players heading to the thrilling London Dungeon which shares the grimmer side of London’s history in an entertaining and humorous style. The staff and supporters opted for a more peaceful experience on the London Eye, Britain’s most popular tourist attraction with over 3.75 million visitors annually.

The group then dispersed across various parts of the city, taking on activities such as shopping at Harrods, experiencing an extended river boat trip, visiting the National Gallery and more. It was a great opportunity for individuals to travel through London independently, and a relaxing way to spend the final day in Britain’s capital.

Later that evening the Mustangs re-grouped for the end of tour dinner, which would be held at the incredible OXO Tower found in the east of London’s South Bank cultural area. The 8th floor features fine dining and incredible views across the city, the perfect location for the Mustangs to enjoy their last evening in the city.

A delicious 3-course meal was served, with such dishes as grilled king prawns, cured salmon, lamb rump, roasted cod and corn-fed chicken, as well as desserts including blackcurrant tart and honey & raspberry brûlée. The spirit within the group was very high after an amazing 7 days of basketball, culture and leisure in the heart of Britain’s capital.

Day 8

For the first time on the tour the heavens opened and rain fell heavily on the city, as the Mustangs packed their bags onto the bus for the final drive to Gatwick airport. A swift and easy check-in was followed by goodbyes to BTM Reps Mark and Tom, before heading through security to the departure lounge and the flight back to LAX.

It was an absolute pleasure to host this incredible group of players, coaches, staff and family members, who were energetic, grateful, positive and highly respectful throughout the entire trip. We at BTM Basketball wish the Cal Poly Mustangs the very best of luck this season, and cannot wait to see their progress in the Big West conference throughout this and the coming years.

To learn more about our US College tours click here