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Arizona basketball: Wildcats to use Spain exhibition tour to build continuity

The trip to Spain gives Arizona additional practice time it wouldn’t otherwise have

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Just four games into the 2017-18 season, the Arizona Wildcats will be in the Bahamas taking part in Battle 4 Atlantis.

It’s one of the most difficult early-season tournaments in college basketball — the second toughest, according to SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford — as it includes Arizona, Villanova, Purdue, and SMU among others, but Arizona has an advantage the other squads don’t.

In August, Arizona will travel to Spain for a three-game exhibition tour. As part of the deal, the Wildcats are allowed to practice 10 times before the first game on Aug. 13.

In a normal year, Arizona would be limited to small group workouts, as per NCAA rules, until September or October when the preseason officially begins.

“We’ll have the opportunity to practice and really try and use that to our advantage in a lot of ways, one of which is that we build familiarity with each other,” head coach Sean Miller said Wednesday in Phoenix.

The Wildcats have four returning starters and three other returning players in Dylan Smith, Keanu Pinder, and Talbott Denny, but also welcome five freshmen, including DeAndre Ayton, who is expected to start alongside Dusan Ristic in the front court.

Plus, Denny sat out last season with a knee injury and Smith did not play because of NCAA transfer rules (though he did practice with the Wildcats).

In other words, Arizona has plenty of new pieces it has to fit into the puzzle, and the trip to Spain should only help expedite the process.

“We’re not a program that has a lot of continuity from one year to the next because we lose a lot of players,” Miller said. “... So having this opportunity I think bolsters the start (of our season), and gives us an advantage.”

Arizona’s first of 10 practices is Sunday, July 30, and it leaves for Spain on Aug. 10.

The Wildcats play Combinado Valenciano on Sunday, Aug. 13 in Valencia, the Mataro All-Stars on Wednesday, Aug. 16 in Barcelona, and then remain in Barcelona to take on Mataro Parc Boet to wrap up the tour on Aug. 18.

“I think the biggest picture is for us to get to know each other and the cultural experience, giving these guys something more than we have in the past, going to a foreign country or a city like Barcelona,” said Miller, whose team will do some sightseeing in Spain, including stops to FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium, 1992 Olympic Games sites, and Old Valencia among other places.

Miller said he doesn’t know what to expect from the teams they’ll face in Spain, and isn’t stressing about beating all three — a much different approach than he’ll have in the Bahamas in November.

“We play three games, and our end game isn’t necessarily to win or lose those three games, it’s just having a chance to play three games,” Miller said. “It does nothing but give us an opportunity to learn more about each other, to improve, and maybe to be more ready at the beginning of the season than we otherwise would have.

“But whether [those teams] are real good or not very good at all, I don’t think that’s the purpose of what we’re really trying to accomplish.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire