Trip to China will jump-start UCLA's season

May, 3, 2012
05/03/12
10:47
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UCLA has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, and the Bruins are giving themselves every chance to be successful by going on the Pac-12's inaugural tour of China in August.

With the diverse student body of a number of his member schools, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has made Asia a priority, hiring Shanghai native Carrie Xu to be a senior manager for the conference. Xu is the creator of ChinaSportsBiz.com and has an MBA from USC.

Scott, who traveled to China in December, said the summer tour of the country is the first event in the initiative and something "we've been working on."

"Basketball is the most popular sport in China," Scott said from this week's Pac-12 meetings in Phoenix. "We're working on having UCLA play the equivalent of NCAA competition in China, as well as this being a goodwill and diplomatic tour.

"UCLA will represent the Pac-12 and plant a flag for the conference. We expect this to be an annual basketball trip by our schools, playing future collegiate teams and the Chinese national team."

Placing the Pac-12 brand in Asia -- and ultimately Pac-12 games -- is a priority, and what better way to show off the conference than displaying the most recognizable brand in the league, UCLA basketball.

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Ben Howland
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireIt's a crucial season for Ben Howland. His Bruins will get a head start with a summer trip to China.

"This is a big deal," Scott said. "This is part of our plan to get the Pac-12 Network out there. There's no better way to kick this off than with UCLA basketball."

The timing couldn't be better for the Bruins.

UCLA desperately needed a head start on the season after finishing a disappointing 19-14 (11-7 in the league) and missing the postseason. Ben Howland's program was also the subject of an extensive Sports Illustrated story, detailing the management of enigmatic former Bruin Reeves Nelson.

The program saved face this spring with the signing of 6-foot-6 Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas) and 6-9 Tony Parker (Lithonia, Ga.) to go along with 6-7 Kyle Anderson (Fairview, N.J.) and 6-5 Jordan Adams (Lawrenceville, Ga.). All are ESPNU 100 recruits, and Muhammad and Anderson are in the top five.

The Bruins also will have former North Carolina guard Larry Drew II eligible, and the newcomers can make the trip -- the freshmen just need to pass a first-session summer school class.

The only question mark is Anderson, who had surgery Monday to repair a thumb injury.

"It was less than what was anticipated," Howland said. "He didn't have to have ligaments repaired. It was a tissue of his ligament. They originally thought he would have to take a ligament from his wrist and attach it to his thumb. They didn't have to do that."

The Bruins will need returning center Josh Smith to be in shape and need major contributions from Tyler Lamb, Anthony Stover and Travis and David Wear.

Howland said his team will take full advantage of the NCAA rule that allows 10 practices prior to the trip. He said the Bruins will practice five times spread out over the first two weeks of August and five days leading up to the Aug. 21 departure. UCLA is scheduled to return Aug. 29.

Going on this trip could catapult the Bruins to a strong start to the season.

A year ago, Georgetown and Duke both went to China and benefited greatly from the experience. The Hoyas even brawled with the Chinese, which was unfortunate but ended up being a bonding moment for the team.

In addition, Howland said the Asian, and more specifically the Chinese, population at UCLA and other California schools makes it even more sensible to go on the trip to foster interest in the programs.

"We're promoting our brand, basketball and the conference," Howland said.

The Bruins won't slow down when the season starts. UCLA is in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., with top-ranked Indiana along with Georgetown and Georgia and plays Texas in Houston and San Diego State in Anaheim, Calif. There are also home games against teams such as Fresno State and Long Beach State -- and the Bruins haven't exactly been unbeatable against mid-majors at home in recent years.

"It's going to be a difficult schedule," Howland said. "We've got to win those games. That's been tough for us."

Going to China in August will help prepare the Bruins for the long haul before a season that is crucial to both the team and its embattled coach.

"This should be a great cultural thing for our players," Howland said, "and a great thing for us basketball-wise."

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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