Wayland athletes play on mission field

PLAINVIEW - Todd Thurman is glad to be home.

Not that his latest excursion wasn't rewarding, but a whirlwind trip to Spain in order to play and coach in an international basketball tournament can be somewhat tiring.

Thurman, the men's basketball coach at Wayland Baptist University, led a group including student assistant coach Jeff Caha, seniors Ty Harrelson and Amin Norris, sophomores Matt Garnett and Jody Harvey as well a player from Arizona State, two high school players from Detroit, a pair of Portuguese athletes and a former Cameron University basketball player to compete at a basketball tournament in Villagarcia, Spain. And while basketball was the focal point, the trip, sponsored by Athletes in Action, provided the group with a chance to spread the gospel.

"We had some opportunities for close witness, but more through our play and our action and people asking who we were," Thurman said. The group also passed out Jesus videos to other teams.

Thurman has been active in Athletes in Action and tries to lead groups on mission trips each summer. Last year, Thurman coached a traveling team that spent several weeks touring Spain. He said the opportunities for interaction and dealing with another cultures are well worth the time abroad.

"(Spain) is such a deep, strong Catholicism-based country," he said. "Mary is the light and Jesus is the wounded Son. He is always seen as someone in pain or agony and Mary is the one with the strength."

While religious views may differ, Thurman said the people of Spain are great, especially when it comes to basketball.

"The fans just love to be entertained and they applaud good basketball," he said. "We played in front of a packed house every night."

As for the basketball itself, the outcome wasn't as great as what Thurman might have hoped. The team lost to Real Madrid and Barcelona before beating Venezuela to finish 1-2 in pool play on Thursday and Friday. The record wasn't good enough to advance to Saturday's final round.

Thurman said adjusting to the travel was his team's biggest challenge as jet lag factored into the equation.

"I actually didn't sleep for nearly 40 hours," he said.

After three plane changes on a flight that began in Dallas and ended in Portugal, Thurman said the group endured a three-hour road trip, arriving in Villagarcia just in time for their two-hour practice which was pared down to one hour due to a scheduling mix-up. The team played its first game at 9 p.m. the next night (3 p.m. Texas time), played twice the next day then had a day off before getting up at 3:30 a.m. in order to make the return trip home.

"It was very interesting," Thurman said.

Even though the team wasn't extremely successful on the basketball court, Thurman said the trip was definitely a success. Not only were they able to witness, but players such as Caha, Harrelson and Norris were able to make contacts which could lead to professional basketball careers overseas.

As for Thurman, he may be at home now wrapping up recruiting duties and preparing for summer basketball camps, but the thought of another trip is never too far from his mind.

"This is something I try to do with the players. I hope to be able to send one or two on these trips every summer," he said. "The experience of trying to share God's word is something they will keep with them forever."