Competing against guys old enough to be your father sounds bizarre but it may be a reality for Tennessee's basketball players on their upcoming exhibition tour of Italy.
Some of the veteran pro and club players providing opposition for the Vols likely will be in their 30s. It's entirely possible that 17-year-old sophomore post Jarnell Stokes will be facing someone twice his age.
"I think it will be a great experience for us," Stokes said. "They definitely should have guys our size, if not bigger. It'll be a great experience, something for us to overcome."
The older Italian players may not have the same energy level as Tennessee but they'll have a level of experience and savvy the Vols can only imagine.
"When you're talking about professional guys, that's part of it," said Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, who played professionally in Italy. "They're tough. They're physical. They know how to play basketball. They're experienced. Most of those guys have been together for seven, eight or more years. They're professional and they have mouths to feed, so it won't be easy but it will be great competition for us."
Sophomore wing Josh Richardson learned that lesson earlier this summer. Representing Athletes in Action, he faced several opponents in their late 20s and 30s while touring Poland and Germany. The biggest difference he noticed was in their physical maturity.
"Everybody was so strong," Richardson recalled. "Everybody was so much more developed with their strength. It was real tough getting into the lane and guarding bigger men but I think it helped me a lot."
Senior guard Skylar McBee learned the same lesson in the summer of 2011. Touring China with the USA Sports Reach squad, he routinely faced Chinese pros who were considerably older. He found them hardnosed, and he expects the same from the Italian pros the Vols are about to face.
"I guarantee the more veteran players are going to be more physical," McBee said. "It's going to be a different style of basketball but I think that'll be good for us — going against competition where it's going to really be physical, a lot like the SEC. The freshmen coming in don't know how the SEC plays, so I think this will be a good warmup for us."
Younger players may have more stamina but the old guys generally have more tricks up their sleeves. Basically, the Vols could be schooled by some of their more experienced Italian foes.
"I guarantee it," McBee said. "Every older player I've ever faced knows one trick or another."
Junior wing Jordan McRae represented the U.S. in France as a 16-year-old high schooler. Playing against 20-year-old Frenchmen taught him the value of experience, so he's convinced facing 30-year-old Italians will prove most interesting.
"It'll be a great learning experience for us," McRae said. "Me and Trae (Golden) were on the 2K All-America team going into our junior year that played in France. International ball is different. The 1 through 5 can shoot, and it's different rules.
"You gain a lot, learning how the game is played overseas. And it's a good experience, playing against older people. We were 16 and we were playing 19- and 20-year-olds."
After battling some grizzled veterans in Poland and Germany, Richardson believes the Vols will face some imposing challenges during their four-game tour of Italy.
"It's going to be rough," he said, "but I think we'll be ready for it."