Since the college basketball season began this week, I thought it would be fun to write about one of my favorite things from my first year in Asia. This is HOW I BECAME AN ASIAN COLLEGE BASKETBALL STAR AT 28!
My entire life, I had dreamed of athletic glory. I had hoped that, at a minimum, I would play college sports. I assumed it would be baseball. There was an outside shot at football; perhaps I had a chance at a strong school with a bad team. I never dreamed I would play college basketball. I didn’t even play at the high school level. The thought of playing with the national champions in Asia was beyond my wildest imagination. However, that is exactly what happened. This is how I backed into playing college basketball in Asia at the best program in the country.
Upon arriving in Asia, the language program I was part of decided we would all participate in some kind of student activity. This would make finding friends and being a part of campus life much easier.
On the first day of class, our language teacher found out that Patrick Ku (my roommate, friend, and fellow Georgia Tech alumni) and I enjoyed playing basketball. She told us to be ready at 4:30pm the next day. She would take us to play. I thought that we would just play on the outdoor courts with random students.
We met our teacher at the main campus building. She walked us past the main outdoor courts. I was curious. She took us into the campus gymnasium. We quickly found out that she had set it up for us to try out for the varsity team of the university.
We had heard the buzz around campus of their recent national championship, but we knew nothing else about them. We showed up and the court was filled with massive dudes running drills, dunking, etc., complete with their whistle blowing coach. Our teacher, a tiny woman of about 65 years old, walked on the court, interrupted practice, and asked the coach to let us play. I felt ridiculous. Felt like my Mom was beating up the school bully, because I couldn’t handle him myself.
The coach seemed glad to have us, which was a relief. I still felt ridiculous. The team stopped practice to watch Pat and I walk on the court.
Again, the team was huge. Their front line was 6’9, 6’9, and 6’10. Not what I expected when I arrived in Asia. I was easily the shortest guy out there. Pat (6’3) was the third shortest guy on the court. Pat was a much better player than I, though, so at least he had that going for him.
Practice continued with us as full participants. We did drills and played in a scrimmage. The coach worked us just like the other players.
At the end of the first practice, the coach informed us that we had made the team. I couldn’t believe it! Three hours earlier, I had assumed I would be playing pick-up with sub-par scrawny Asian college students. All of a sudden, I was a member of the reigning national champion collegiate basketball team.
The second day that Pat and I practiced with the team, coach informed us that the entire team would be on TV that night. He wanted Pat and me to be there. As soon as practice was over, we all showered and got on a bus.
The show was a type of sports interview show. It was nationally televised. The guests for the evening were two players from the national team and their coach. One of the players was a 7 foot giant named Wang Zhizhi. He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and played in the NBA for several years. Seemed like a nice guy. . .
Our team was seated on stage with them since we were the reigning national champions. Our job was to ask the national players and coach questions in an interview format. The audience was filled with students from many of the local colleges.
The taping was late, so we got some good hang time with the players. The show’s director heard about Pat and I being there, so they pulled us aside beforehand. They wanted to ensure that the foreigners would ask a question or two and that the questions were acceptable. I asked for the players to compare the styles of the teams from the east with the teams from the west. Pat translated for me. Though Pat is American and was born in Atlanta (Northside Hospital to be exact), he began his translation for me as “My foreign friend’s question is. . .” Guess he was ashamed to be my friend!
The evening was fun and the entire campus, as well as the city then knew Pat and I by name.
From that point on, Pat and I had no problem making friends on campus. Being known as foreign basketball stars has it’s advantages! Additionally, the players quickly became our best local friends.
Funny how things work out. I came to Asia to learn a language and make a difference. I had no idea that I would be living one of my childhood dreams. Though not exactly what I had dreamed about as a child, it was still pretty incredible being a member of the top college basketball team in the country.
In the following weeks, I will write a few more posts on my experience as an Asian basketball star. In a week or so, I will talk about some of the strange nuances and differences of basketball with my college team in Asia.
(If you liked this post, you might want look at Funny nuances of my Asian college basketball team and My injury, Herculean return to the court, and a press conference.)