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MACON, Ga. - The Mercer men's basketball team is set to embark on a 10-day international trip on Friday, partnering with Athletes in Action and Basketball Travelers for an Eastern European tour. A four-pronged objective will have the team focused on service, team building, academics and basketball while visiting Germany and Lithuania.

Head coach Bob Hoffman's design for the overseas trip was spawned two years ago, while discussing options with Mike Sigfrids of Athletes in Action and Nels Hawkinson of Basketball Travelers. With previous experience travelling with Athletes and Action in the region, Hoffman knew he could maximize the experience for his team.

"We could have gone to Italy or France or more exotic places," Hoffman said. "I've been several times to Lithuania and Latvia and I know basketball is really good there - it is the sport. It's an opportunity for us as a program to go places I've already been and get involved with coaches I've worked with."

Mercer's partnership with AiA is unique in the sense that Mercer will travel alongside an AiA select team, comprised of players throughout NCAA Division I. Typically, AiA select teams travel alone to foreign countries, using the unique platform of sport to help people around the world with questions of faith. This time, Mercer tags along with the same goals of reaching out through the vehicle of sport.

"It will be a unique experience to be together with the AiA team so our guys can build relationships with them too," Hoffman said. "We'll get to watch them play, cheer for them and hang out while speaking into each other's lives. There's always strength in numbers, and we're excited about how we can partner together to make a difference in the lives of others."

After a day's stop in Germany and a boat tour of the Rhine river, Mercer flies to Vilnius airport in Lithuania to begin an eight-day stay in the country. Both Mercer and the AiA select team will see plenty of court time, with the Bears' six games scheduled against the region's professional level teams.

"Lithuania is a basketball rich country, so the potential for seeing really good basketball is at a high level," Hoffman said. "Our guys will be tested and all kinds of people will come to the games because basketball is very popular there."

An adjustment to European rules will take his team out of its comfort zone, but Hoffman suggests the opportunity to compete will help his squad learn more about itself.

"The most important thing will be trying to figure out a little about our team, because we have some questions marks about who will step up and take the place of Travis Smith and Chris Smith," Hoffman said. "Several guys will have the opportunity to prove themselves over there."

Off the court, the squad will read two books while studying with Dr. Jeffrey Hugdahl, who joins the trip in a tutorial role. The team will also spend time doing service oriented project in order to learn more about the culture while giving back to the fans.

Complete coverage of the team's foreign tour - including game schedules, game time video streams and video content - can be accessed at http://www.mercerbears.com/sports/mbkb/2013-14/Trip_Central.


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