Traveling with the Rockets: Day two

August 10, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is chronicling the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.

My roommate, Tony Zaworski, UT assistant athletic director for finance, and I got an early start to the bright and sunny day, jumping on the treadmills in a very nice fitness center at about 6:45 a.m. local time (11:45 p.m. in Toledo). I can’t lie; it was pretty weird to set the alarm on my phone to get up at 11:30 p.m.

Members of the Toledo women's basketball team posed for a photo in Tel Aviv.

Members of the Toledo women's basketball team posed for a photo in Tel Aviv.

After getting a good training session in, the group made its way to a huge spread for breakfast. We had everything from eggs, fish, potatoes, pancakes, waffles, cheeses, breads, vegetables, fruits, pastries and salads. I am not lying when I say that the spread was at least 25 yards long. I got full just looking at it — it was crazy!

The group then met at 9 a.m. in the lobby and departed for Jaffa. The city is just minutes by charter bus from Tel Aviv. We took a tour of its beautiful, historic landmarks, including St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, the Statue of Faith, the Wishing Bridge, as well as saw some amazing gardens and a historic art museum. Jaffa is located right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and overlooks Tel Aviv, providing a beautiful backdrop for photos on our two-hour tour.

We then got back on the bus and headed to Independence Hall in downtown Tel Aviv. The hall is one of the first homes in the city and that of Meir Dizengoff, the city’s first mayor. A little food for thought: The people’s council gathered here on May 14, 1948, to hear Ben Guirion proclaim the establishment of the state of Israel.

The group then headed to Nachalat Binyamin Outdoor Mall for more sightseeing and lunch. This place was crazy busy; it literally reminded me of SoHo Village. There were shops after shops after shops after restaurants after restaurants. We divided up for about two hours to take in more sights and grab a bite to eat. A majority of the coaches and administrators went to an outside café and had shawarma, an Arab sandwich and a fast-food staple across the Middle East. It consisted of shaved chicken, hummus, lettuce, pickles, French fries, cucumber sauce; probably not the most healthy, but delicious!

The group reconvened at 2:30 p.m. and returned to the hotel for some free time.

Upon returning from the day’s activities, a local reporter that I had been communicating with over the last couple of weeks about the trip met up with Naama Shafir, Courtney Ingersoll, Jessica Williams and Head Coach Tricia Cullop for a story to be published in an upcoming edition of a Jewish paper. The reporter was very nice and communicated with Naama almost exclusively in Hebrew, so I had no idea what they were saying. But in the end both sides seemed happy, which makes my life a whole lot easier.

Following the 45-minute interview, Tricia Cullop, Assistant Coach Katie Griggs, Assistant Coach Todd Mitmesser, Tony Zaworski and myself headed to the beach for a couple hours before dinner. While there, we all took a dip in the extremely warm Mediterranean Sea — very relaxing!

Everybody in the group was on their own for dinner. Pretty much the same group listed above, along with UT Videographer Don Reiber, Team Physician Jacklyn Kiefer, Athletic Trainer Sara Meserth and WTVG Assistant News Director Tony Knopps went to Baba Yaga (just down the street from the hotel) for a fabulous dinner. Most people went with some sort of seafood, while the others had a baked chicken or beef stroganoff — tasty!

Backtracking a little bit, our group had the opportunity to meet one of Naama’s older sisters, brother-in-law and 2-year old nephew in the lobby right before we left for dinner. They were very nice people with a cute little kid.

We then all retired back to the hotel at around 10:30 p.m. local time to begin packing up our stuff. Tomorrow morning we leave for the Jezreel Valley and Nazareth, about a one-and-a-half hour drive from Tel Aviv. The team will practice in the morning, before doing some sightseeing in Tiberias. Later tomorrow evening, the Rockets will play their first of two exhibition games in Nahalal at 7 p.m. local time (noon in Toledo).

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