Fred Hoiberg will repeat it until he's blue in the face. His first Nebraska basketball team has to learn how to compete when times get tough.
Now, going to Italy for 10 days probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of "tough," other than maybe the flight over.
But for a Husker team with 14 new players learning a new system under new coaches, seeing the sights will likely be the only easy part of the trip.
"The thing we’re looking for most with our players is to go out there and compete," Hoiberg said after a recent practice. "It’s as simple as that. If you go out there and play hard — if you make mistakes and you have errors, if you’re out there competing, we’ll live with those. The biggest thing for us as a staff is to see the competitive edge that these guys go out and play with. And again, when things go well, we’re pretty good — we’re out there talking, playing with a swagger and competing and have confidence. And then we go four or five possessions when tough things happen, and then that’s when you see some of the shutdown."
It's uncertain the level of competition NU will face on the trip. Stella Azzura Academy, Nebraska's first opponent, is a third-tier professional team in Italy. Silute BC is a professional club in Lithuania's second division that NU will play twice. Italian Select is Nebraska's final opponent.
But no matter how good NU's opponents are or aren't, what the Huskers do in those games no matter the score is what interests Hoiberg the most.
"Our guys are really good when things are going well out there, but when the tough times hit, that’s when they have a tendency of shutting down, which you see that at all levels. And we’ve just got to continue to battle through those times," Hoiberg said. "And we’re trying to figure out which of our players are mentally tough enough to go out there and perform at a high level 100% of the time."
Nebraska left for Italy on Saturday. The Huskers will take in the sights, including Rome, Vatican City, the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a boat tour of Como, one of the country's top tourist destinations.
Hoiberg did a similar trip at Iowa State in the lead-up to his second season in Ames. Besides the actual act of playing competitive basketball, he said, the biggest challenge will be getting Nebraska's players and coaches to socialize with each other.
"I look back at my time, my second year at Iowa State when we had all those transfers become eligible, it was a great opportunity for our guys to go really spend quality time together. And we need that. We need that in a big way," Hoiberg said. "The funny thing on those trips, our guys, the thing they most look forward to is getting back to the hotel where they have wi-fi so they can get back on their phones. Which is kind of sad, but that’s just the reality of the world that we live in right now."
The only player who won't make the trip is point guard Cam Mack, who recently spent time in the hospital with an undisclosed condition. Incoming French freshman Yvan Ouedraogo will join the team fresh off a trip to Greece, where he played for his country in the FIBA U-18 European Championship. But because he hasn't been cleared medically by Nebraska, he won't be able to participate in any games for the Huskers.
"When you sit at a dinner after you play a game — and I think we’re going to have two very high-level games against a Lithuanian program over there — but you go and you sit around and you talk about it where you don’t have the distraction of that little device that they’ve become so attached to," Hoiberg said. "That’s a huge part of this opportunity in front of us is the chance to build chemistry with each other."