From Tobacco Road to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the women of Duke basketball are going global with their skills on the court.
The Blue Devils will be taking a break from their typical summer training for a 10-day tour of France in August. Although the team is scheduled to play three exhibition games, the true purpose of this trip is to honor the Blue Devils’ lone senior, France-native Allison Vernerey, and give the team a break before officially starting practice in early August.
“We don’t even have the exact itinerary yet,” Vernerey said. “The team will be playing three games, but I don’t know against whom exactly. We’ll also be visiting the north of France—Alsace—which is where I’m from. I think my dad will probably have the team over for dinner, so it should be a lot of fun.”
The trip also serves as an important transitioning period for the Blue Devils, head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. Despite returning four starters, the team is young and will be welcoming freshmen Alexis Jones, Sierra Moore and Katie Heckman.
“We kind of get to start all over again,” McCallie said. “With three new freshmen, this trip will give us a chance to bring them on board. They’ll be travelling with us, and the team will have a chance to get to know each other a little better.”
The Blue Devils hope these talented freshmen will help their team improve on last season’s performance. Despite the team winning its 11th ACC regular season championship and making its third consecutive Elite Eight appearance, many Duke fans were left wanting more after the team’s loss to Stanford last March.
Duke is determined to make an even deeper run in the tournament this time around—players already started preparing for the coming season, though many of them are not on campus for the conditioning sessions.
“We have about half of the team here right now,” Vernerey said. “There are morning workouts, along with some shootarounds. A lot of teammates have been working out on their own, so it’ll be exciting to play with each other again and get back into the rhythm of things.”
While Vernerey is looking forward to playing as a squad, she admitted there may not be as much fanfare for them in France.
“To be honest, I don’t actually think that there’s going to be much of a crowd,” said Vernerey. “Women’s basketball isn’t that popular in France. I can’t wait though. It’ll be great to have my friends and family there.”
Although Vernerey is often outshined statistically by her partner in the blocks, rising sophomore Elizabeth Williams, she has earned her leadership role as the lone senior on this year’s squad. She hustles on both sides of the court and has an oft-praised work ethic. As one of the team’s best defenders, she uses her 6-foot-5 frame to block passing lanes in McCallie’s zone and to trap defenses.
Although much of the focus of this year’s team will be on the team’s four returning starters—Williams, Chelsea Gray, Haley Peters and Tricia Liston—the team will need her experience and energy if they are to compete with the likes of Baylor and Connecticut.
McCallie has faith in her veteran and said the trip to France this summer is a great way to give back to Vernerey.
“Allison is our only senior but a very special one,” McCallie said. “The tour back to her home is meant to give us all a chance to share in her life and learn more about her culture while developing the team. She’s come an awful long way to play for Duke and we are very excited to share in her life back home.”