NORMAL — The end result of spending 10 days together while playing four exhibition games in Spain might not be known for a while for Illinois State's basketball team.
Yet Redbird coach Dan Muller firmly believes "we got a lot out of it" after returning home Sunday.
"Without a doubt, if you look at the history of these trips across the country, is the benefit you see on the court during the season," said Muller after his team compiled a 3-1 record. "There's only added value if you use the experience in a positive way the next six to eight months.
"You become closer as a team. You can't replicate a trip like that without doing the trip. It's not like you can do anything like that on campus. Hopefully we'll see the benefits during our season."
The weary Redbirds attended the first day of fall semester classes Monday. That included sophomore forward Deontae Hawkins, who was indefinitely suspended for violation of team rules after two games in Madrid. The final two games were in Barcelona.
After being suspended, Muller said Hawkins flew home to Dayton, Ohio, before returning to campus.
"He went to Dayton only because if we sent him to Chicago there's no ride (for him)," said Muller. "There was a lot of speculation (on the Internet), and it's extremely disappointing to me to hear what some people are saying about it."
Leading the Redbirds' effort was DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell. The 6-foot-5 senior guard, who is projected to be a preseason all-Missouri Valley Conference first-team selection, averaged 20.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
"He was spectacular and very efficient," said Muller. "He played really hard and rebounded it and shot it well. He was unstoppable at times. He's had a great summer. He's playing like a senior already."
Freshmen forwards Roland Griffin and Elvis Harvey enjoyed games of 20 and 13 points, respectively. The other three freshmen battled various injury issues.
Point guard Keyshawn Evans missed the final game with a pulled muscle in his hip. Guard Matt Hein sat out the last two games because of a pinky finger injury suffered on campus that he re-aggravated. Center Daouda "David" Ndiaye played only two minutes in the finale because of a foot injury.
"Once we start basketball activities in a couple weeks, I would be surprised if not all of them aren't close to 100 percent," said Muller.
Muller said he was "fine" with the competition the Redbirds faced. The lone defeat, 89-87 to the Madrid All-Stars, was "easily the best team" that ISU faced.
The players weren't able to use their cell phones as much because of added expenses on data plans outside the United States. Muller had no problem with that.
"I think they really got to know each other," he said.
Sports Tours International set up the trip and helped provide the team with a good mix of free time, planned tours and sightseeing, said Muller. The NCAA allows Division I teams an international trip every four years.
"It was everything I hoped it would be and our guys were absolutely terrific on the trip," said the ISU coach. "They embraced the trip and embraced the culture and the tours. They had fun. No one wanted to sit in their room. They had a blast, and we really enjoyed the time with them."
Muller will give the players off this week to rest and get acclimated to their classes before resuming weight training next week. The team gets back on the court in a couple weeks for two hours per week with the coaches until practice officially begins, which Muller said won't be until at least Oct. 5.
ISU plays an exhibition game Nov. 8 against Division II Southern Indiana at Redbird Arena before the Nov. 13 season opener at San Diego State.