By the time Darnell Gant and his Washington teammates get to New York City, the background and scouting report they will have on Memphis will be among their most detailed for the entire season.
That would be the Tony Award-winning musical ''Memphis'' playing at the Shubert Theatre, not Memphis the Top 25 basketball program.
''I'm looking forward to playing really,'' Gant said. ''But I'm looking forward to these plays as well.''
When Washington gets to New York on Sunday night - following a game at Nevada on Friday night - the focus will be on the Huskies venturing onto the national stage with games against No. 16 Marquette on Tuesday and No. 6 Duke on Dec. 10, both at Madison Square Garden.
Away from the Garden, the Huskies won't be turning this Christmas time trip into a sightseeing expedition. Instead, they'll be completing a two-credit class arranged through a joint project between Washington's athletic administration and the school's drama department.
It's part of a school athletic department policy that was implemented about five years ago, when the school decided that all overseas trips by any of Washington's athletic programs must have an educational component where students can earn credit while on the road.
The program has only been tried internationally so far. These Huskies are helping to test if the program can work on a domestic trip.
''It was our athletic director who said the experiences on these trips have been life changing and had so much educational value, so let's look at the feasibility to do something on a smaller scale since guys will be in New York,'' said Kim Durand, Washington's associate athletic director for student development.
With that charge from Washington athletic director Scott Woodward, the school began piecing together an educational program for its athletes and Gant, the Huskies' 6-foot-8 senior forward, became the hook.
Gant majored in drama at Washington and gained some notoriety around campus for appearing in student-produced stage productions. He has an interest in the stage and music, and his experience, along with the ease of attending Broadway productions while in New York, made drama the avenue the athletic department decided to use for the educational part of the trip.
These aren't easy credits.
Partnering with Washington's school of drama and executive director Sarah Nash Gates, the Huskies basketball team has taken three classes on the background of ''Memphis,'' and ''The Lion King,'' the two productions the players will see. The players have already completed written assignments, will conduct a debriefing with Gates after seeing the shows and will be required to complete a final paper within a few days of returning to the Pacific Northwest.
''Memphis'' actually debuted at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre before moving to Broadway.
''It's been so fun putting it together. The guys have totally embraced this,'' Durand said. ''... It's been fun working on it, but we've literally been working on it for nine months.''
And it's come with a few logistical challenges for Durand, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and director of basketball operations Lance LaVetter. The schedule itself is crammed with players preparing to play the games, fulfilling the academic requirements related to the plays and seeing some other landmarks.
''They have done a good job. They've been on top of it,'' Romar said. ''They've kind of done the leg work and we just kind of work with the scheduling and the timing of all of it.
There were also the unforeseen issues - like getting adequate seating for extremely tall basketball players in older, cramped New York theaters. Durand spent time arranging with the Shubert Theater and the Minskoff Theater - where ''The Lion King'' is showing - for as many aisle seats as possible for some of the taller Huskies. Washington's roster includes 12 players 6-foot-5 or taller. Washington also had to clear ticket purchases and backstage meet-and-greets with the NCAA to make sure no extra benefits were being given.
''There was a lot of give-and-take and sending supporting documentation to the NCAA to make sure it was all on the up and up,'' Durand said.
Gant said his teammates have embraced the off-court opportunity they are receiving, along with the chance to play on one of the largest basketball stages in the world and against two storied programs. He's also hoping to make some connections that could open up future opportunities considering his background.
''I think everybody is liking it. Some of the guys might not like it as much. Especially (the) Lion King and Memphis, they're musical and I'm a music guy,'' Gant said. ''They really draw my attention and when we go out there they say we get to meet the actors and the musicians so that could really open up another field for me. That's what I'm looking forward to.''
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