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Pitt basketball kicks off three-game series in Italy

On Thursday, the Panthers will face the Netherlands National B Team

The Pitt men’s basketball team traveled to Italy on Monday, and since touching down, the Panthers have toured Rome, making stops at the Colosseum, Spanish Steps and St. Peter’s Basilica. They also have stops scheduled in Bologna, Florence, Vicenza and Venice. But on Thursday, the team will take the court for an exhibition game against the Netherlands National B Team in its first of three games.

Pitt and the Netherlands are scheduled to tip off at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, and that game will be followed by a day of rest on Friday. The team will then face the Florence All-Stars at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday and the Vicenza All-Stars at 2 p.m. ET on Monday before heading back to the United States next Wednesday.

The trip, which is permitted by NCAA rules once every four years, serves a number of purposes for the Pitt coaching staff and players. It not only presents them with a rare opportunity to travel abroad, but it also created an opportunity for the team to hold 10 practices prior to their trip. Without it, the team would have been limited to four hours of practice per week. It also provides Pitt head coach Jeff Capel with a chance to evaluate his team's recent progress.

”To me, it gives us an opportunity as a coaching staff to see if the things we’ve tried to work on with our returning guys since April, where are we with those things?” Capel told Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“How can we incorporate those into real, live game situations?" the coach continued. "With our new guys, since they’ve been here, the things we’ve been working with them individually on, how does that fit? What does the team look like right now? Who are we right now? What are the strengths? What are the things we’re not so good at? Then when we get back, we have a chance to evaluate where we are after playing three games.”

This is Pitt’s first trip abroad since 2014, when then-Panthers coach Jamie Dixon took the team to the Bahamas to face four teams over a seven-day period. Pitt also traveled to Ireland in 2010, playing six games over 12 days, including a matchup with the Melboourne Tigers — a team now known as Melbourne United — of Australia’s National Basketball League.

As for Capel, this is his first trip abroad with one of his teams since 2007, when he took his Oklahoma team to Vancouver. Prior to that, he traveled overseas to London with his VCU team. Capel also took domestic trips to Washington, D.C., and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as an assistant coach at Duke.

The Panthers are expected to return to Pittsburgh next Wednesday, leaving just under three months until their season opener against Florida State, which is scheduled for Nov. 6.