All-star US college hoopsters tour China

Updated: 2014-08-11 12:32

By Jack Freifelder in New York(China Daily USA)

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 All-star US college hoopsters tour China

Members of the Pac-12 Men's Basketball All-Star Team pose for a photo on Aug 9 in San Francisco. Larry Krystkowiak (third row, third from left), head coach of the Pac-12 Men's Basketball All-Star Team, leads a group of 13 players on an eight-day trip to China starting Monday. Provided to China Daily

Summer is usually the time when most college students recharge their batteries before the academic grind starts up again, but for student-athletes the offseason can often be just as busy as the regular school year.

For 13 basketball all-stars from the NCAA's Pacific-12 Conference, a weeklong playing trip to China is not exactly a run-of-the-mill vacation.

"Summers can get a little bit crazy with camps, recruiting and summer school," said Larry Krystkowiak, head coach of the 2014 Pac-12 all-stars.

"It seemed like good timing," Krystkowiak said. "It's going to be good to compete and be in a new environment, and it should be a situation where everybody is put in a position to gain some confidence."

Krystkowiak, who has been head coach of Utah University men's basketball team since 2011, was tapped to lead this year's Pac-12 All-Star Team on an eight-day tour in China starting Monday, a visit that will include coaching clinics, a series of competitive exhibition matches and a number of off-the-court activities hosted by the Federation of University Sports of China (FUSC) under the Ministry of Education.

During the trip - an extension of the Pac-12 Conference Globalization Initiative, an effort started in 2011 to promote goodwill with China through student-athlete exchanges - the team is scheduled to spend time in both Beijing and Shanghai, with exhibition matches against the Jiangsu Dragons and the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, as well as a game against the Chinese University All-Star Team.

The visit marks the first time a Pac-12 all-star team has traveled to Asia since 1996, when the conference sent two teams to Japan.

In addition, the team will be accompanied by an academic delegation that will explore potential areas of collaboration between Pac-12 schools and Chinese universities.

"It's a great opportunity to be able to go over to China, not only for our players but also for our staff that are involved," Krystkowiak said. "There are a couple Pac-12 institutions that due to summer school weren't able to send players, so I asked if we could have [those roster spots]. If our staff is going over, we'd like to be able to help fill the roster and enhance the experience as much as possible."

Three of the 13 players on the all-star team - Jeremy Olsen, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor - play for Krystkowiak at Utah.

Olsen, a junior from Lawrenceville, Georgia, said the opportunity to play in China "means a lot".

"The Pac-12 is one of the greatest conferences in the US, and this will help carry the conference name and brand to the international level," Olsen wrote in an email to China Daily. "It is a huge honor to be on the first all-star team since 1996 to go [to Asia], and having other Utah players and coaches go will be great because we can experience it together."

Loveridge, a sophomore from West Jordan, Utah, said a chance to "participate in this experience is not only an honor, but also a privilege".

"A trip like this is an amazing opportunity not only to travel to a new place, but also to spread the Pac-12 internationally," Loveridge wrote in an email to China Daily. "Since there are teams that are not being represented it's that much more important to go out and give 100 percent for the Pac-12 and all its players," he said.

"It will be great to be able to share our culture with China and to learn about theirs as well," he wrote.

In close to three years of operation, the Pac-12 has already sent a number of groups to China, a list that includes: two men's basketball teams (University of California, Los Angeles and Arizona State University), a women's basketball team (University of California), and a delegation of men's basketball coaches.

And in March the University of Washington in Seattle announced plans to play a regular season game in China in 2015, which will mark the first time a major US sports league has hosted anything other than an exhibition match in the world's second-largest economy.

The game is scheduled for an ESPN broadcast on Nov 14, 2015 (Nov 13 in the US), and the conference hopes that the event will become an annual component of the Pac-12 men's basketball season.

In an August 8 press release, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said: "Pac-12 universities are truly global in terms of their student body and international brands. And beyond expanding our universities' presence in China, these tours are transformative educational experiences for our student-athletes."

Krystkowiak, who played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for more than a decade before his coaching days, said: "What's unique for sports in general is sports seems to be the best opportunity to really be exposed to different cultures and different countries. You can cross a bunch of cultural lines through business, but sports seems to be kind of a unique path where you don't need to speak the same language."

"If you would have told a lot of these young men that they'd have an opportunity to [travel to China], I'm not sure they would have believed you, but basketball opens a lot of doors and opportunities for people," he said.

The group is set to return from China on Aug 18.