Director's Blog: Men's Basketball Bids Farewell to China

Men's basketball in China

“I hired you, but I can fire you … this is my gym,” the Sharks head coach yelled at the official, who gave him a technical foul five minutes into the game. That statement was probably true and as a matter of fact, the Dragons did not get many calls after that. But they played hard and showed a lot of poise against the best team they will face this season.

The Shanghai Sharks are a professional team with a starting center standing 7’4” tall. Drexel lost the game with a very respectable score, 65-56, and leaves farewell China today with a record of 3-1.

The Sharks are pros, meaning that they get paid to play. Friendlies are not in their vocabulary. Our game was all business, intense and physical from the tip-off. Drexel’s team is playing for PT (playing time); the Sharks are playing for employment. The entire Sharks team looks like … well, they look like a professional basketball team … massive. But this is what a foreign tour is all about. The Dragons came together as a team with each successive contest and played their best basketball during their get-away game.

“You are a traitor!” the Sharks coach yelled at the official during the second half, as if the game needed any more intensity. In fact, the first native Chinese head coach in the history of the Sharks makes our Bruiser Flint look like an ambient pill.

I was told the Sharks have 6-hour daily practices and that they live in dorms on the grounds of the Olympic training center. At first, and understandably so, the Drexel Dragons were a bit intimidated with the Sharks, not being used to the pace and intensity of the game. But the Dragons found their stride mid-way through the second quarter and made some nice scoring runs during the game. Most impressive was how strong we finished in the fourth quarter. The team left everything they had in China, so to speak. I am very proud of the performance the Dragons put on display. After the game the Sharks were all smiles, impressed with our team and thankful that we gave them a good, competitive game.

A note about the scorekeeping: I think the scorekeeper was using an Abacus to keep score. At one point we were down by 18 points, the next moment I look at the scoreboard we are only down seven points, how is this possible? Then, we score seven straight points, but we are now trailing by 14! At one point during the game, everyone stopped playing and argued about the score, just like we do during lunchtime hoops at the DAC. We all laughed about it after the game and certainly the score was not the most important ingredient of this match-up, it was whether the Dragons could match the intensity, speed of play and toughness of the opponent … which they did.

Farewell to China
Drexel men’s basketball went on a 10-day foreign tour to China to play four friendlies with three college basketball teams and one professional team, to stage a basketball clinic for over 200 coaches, and to help grow the game of basketball in China.

Off the floor the Dragons were Drexel ambassadors for alums living or working in China, and for over 35 entering Chinese freshman that we met during our receptions in Beijing and Shanghai.

Thank You
We received incredible support from many Drexel stakeholders and Dragon basketball fans including, David Bassion, John Daskalakis, Leo Leonetti Jr., Leo and Laura Leonnetti, the JCP Group, Unified Door and Hardware, P. Agnes, Mayfield Site Contractors, GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, Gilbane Building Company, Carr & Duff, All Risk, Inc., Alvin H. Butz, Palomino Roofing Company, Intech Construction, E.P. Guidi, and A.T. Chadwick Co. Simply put, without this remarkable support the 2014 China Tour would not have been possible. I want to thank Cindy Leesman, Interim Director of Alumni Relations, as well as the entire Alumni Association and the Freeman Foundation, for organizing and sponsoring two very successful and enthusiastic China-Drexel receptions.

I also want to thank Senior VP Jim Tucker for his support of the trip. Jim has always understood how sports can play an important role in higher education and he has, in the past, experienced first-hand how Drexel sports teams can be Dragon ambassadors on an international stage.

I also want thank Drexel’s Julie Mostov, vice provost for Global Initiatives and professor of Political Sciences, and her team, for taking time to prepare us for our trip, and President John Fry for giving us the green light on 2014 China.

Also kudos to Han the owner of Han Dynasty, for bring his delicious food to the DAC and for teaching us about Chinese food and customs. We made many friends in China that enriched our experience. Zhen Shen, director of the Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges, was key in assisting us with anything basketball-related in China. He arranged the coaches’ clinic and our two well-attended games in Beijing. He was always there and has a keen interest in USA basketball and its potential in China.

Lixin Zhang, executive vice chairman of the Yunnan Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, arranged our two games in Shanghai and we are very grateful to him for accompanying us to the games and for this incredible basketball experience.

Our trusted guide George Geng, deputy general manager for Topline Travel International Co., was an excellent and well-liked daily fixture on our trip to Beijing and the Great Wall of China. George was good enough to be Henry Kissinger’s guide in the past, and he is certainly qualified to be Drexel’s.

Finally, I want to thank Tiantian Feng, our stylish and competent Chinese translator, and Nels Hawkins from Basketball Travellers Inc. We all got attached to Tiantian during our trip and we wish her the best of luck in her studies in Paris. Nels organized an unbelievable trip for us. He has a unique skillset having played basketball, he understands the needs of college basketball players (long beds, quiet mornings on game day, pre-meals with a lot of carbs, enough water to stay hydrated and knock-off headphones). He always had the big picture perspective but also paid attention to important details. And, he is a lot of fun to be around. We were very fortunate that he personally “supervised” this trip. Thanks Nels!

The trip was a great success. From an athletic perspective the Dragons became more cohesive and played some pretty good basketball. From a social perspective, we made many, many friends in China. We climbed the Great Wall of China, visited the world’s tallest observatory, strolled Tiananmen Square, played some hoops and shopped ‘til we dropped. No question, China is a global sports power with basketball being the most popular college sport. My final impression is that China is a very sophisticated country with unbelievable potential. The rich culture and

history we all expected, but we were blown away by the friendliness of its elegant people and the sheer scale of China. Beijing, the political center of China was fun and relaxed, while Shanghai, China’s financial center, was popping with self-esteem and ambition.

Travelling back to my flat in Old City, Philadelphia, I dread being bored for the next month having experienced Shanghai for the last four days. But, I will find a way to return to China.

Thank you for all of your support and good luck wishes.

Signing off from Shanghai!

To read blog posts by some of the team’s players, click here.