The University of Maine men’s basketball team is in London, England, preparing for a non-conference matchup with Marist College as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame London Showcase at O2 Arena on Sunday.
The Black Bears will face the Red Foxes at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, 3:30 p.m. local time, as the first of a doubleheader that is capped by Michigan and Kentucky.
UMaine and Marist will be the first-ever college basketball game at O2 Arena.
Head coach Chris Markwood wasn’t in charge of the UMaine team when the game was planned, but said it was scheduled with the international influence of the Black Bears in mind.
The trip to London is a homecoming of sorts for UMaine’s Gedi Juozapaitis, who is from the city.
“It’s very special for me being able to practice with the team at my old high school where it all started for me, to tour the city and also to compete with them at the Hall of Fame event,” Juozapaitis said. “This is a business trip for us, and we are here to win, but we’re also going to enjoy the trip.”
Juozapaitis has been having a stellar year for the Black Bears, averaging 15.1 points per game on 53.8 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line, which is ninth in Division I.
The London native has had a winding road to reach Orono.
Juozapaitis started at The City of London Academy Southwark, then played a year at Woodstock Academy in Woodstock, Connecticut, before starting his college career at Division II Flagler College for two seasons.
After Flagler, the sharp shooter transferred to Georgia Southern for two seasons before ending up at UMaine this year.
Juozapaitis is excited to play in front of friends and family on Sunday.
“I’ll have family and friends coming to the event,” Juozapaitis said. “My parents have never seen me play a college game in person before, so this will be special for me. The week has been full of traveling, first to Fordham then to London, but it’s been fun. More opportunities for us to bond as a team, and explore the world too.”
Markwood said that other players have friends and family traveling to the game. Kristians Feierbergs, who is from Latvia, has his brother, father and grandmother coming to the game. Peter Filipovity from Hungary and Ata Turgut from Turkey have friends and family coming, as well.
“I think they’re excited,” Markwood said of his players. “With the makeup of our roster being heavily international, a lot of guys from Europe, them having the chance to be over here and have their families coming to watch will give them a spike in energy. The camaraderie in these trips, there’s no substitute.”
Marist is on a two-game winning streak with victories over Bucknell and Columbia. The Red Foxes also play Stephane Igno, a former forward for UMaine who transferred this past summer.
The Black Bears traveled around London on Saturday before studying film Saturday night.
Kentucky, ranked 19th, is facing off against unranked Michigan right after UMaine’s battle with Marist.
Markwood said he expects the team to probably watch the first half of the game following UMaine’s but also wanted to give his players time with their friends and family before the team flies back to Maine on Monday.
UMaine has had basketball players graduate and play professionally in London and elsewhere in Europe.
Chantel Charles graduated from UMaine in 2016 and after playing for the Black Bears’ women’s basketball team for four years has found herself playing for the London Lions of the British Basketball League.