Kyle Spencer, sports editor, @kyledspencer
The men’s basketball team began a 15-day tour of China on Aug. 8. The team arrived dreary of travel and hungry from their voyage to the communist nation. Senior guard, Keawe Enos, described the initial assimilation process as an eye opening experience, ripe with stares from bewildered locals and bland cuisine.
“My favorites are the rice, most of the meats, and the fruit,” Enos said. “Other than the food there are many other things that are different. A few examples: the T.V. is obviously in Chinese, they don’t use ice for their drinks so they’re usually warm, the traffic is crazy, our beds are extremely hard, and oh yeah they don’t always have toilet paper. I’ve definitely become more thankful for some of the simple things we have back home.”
Some of the enticing aspects of the trip, which was organized by World Vision Sports Management, were the opportunity to play against professional competition and build team unity.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and a chance to experience the Chinese culture,” said head coach Dick Hunsaker. “We’re looking forward to spending time together as a team. It will be highly competitive basketball in an atmosphere that will help us to grow individually and collectively.”
Enos continued by chronicling what he called the early “highlight of the trip.”
“As each one of our players were announced there was a huge round of applause,” he said. “Then throughout the game each time we made a good play, everyone erupted. After the game fans crowded around the tunnel wanting high fives and autographs.
Basketball popularity has been skyrocketing in Asia, one of the lasting contributions of the former NBA number one overall draft selection Yao Ming, and the unprecedented reception from the public is further proof of its continuous development.
In the first three games, UVU played the Zhejiang Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association at various venues. The majority of the Lions’ roster consists of native Chinese players and also features former NBA player Gary Forbes. The Wolverines dropped the first two, losing 66-60 and falling the following night, 71-58. But the team rebounded and responded with an 81-74 victory over the Lions on day three. Senior point guard Holton Hunsaker led the Wolverines with 24 points and junior forward Mitch Bruneel chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
UVU was rewarded with two days off before their next game, which allowed the players and coaches to take in some of the sites, become familiar with the intense humidity of China, and visit some of the surrounding natural landscape. The Wolverines passed through Hangzhou, Shaoxing and Jinhua during week one.
The next game against Dongguan New Century, also of the CBA, was UVU’s first in a four-team tournament. The Wolverines triumphed, 76-70, thanks to 22 points from Enos and a double-double of 19 points and 11 boards from freshman forward Zach Nelson.
The team maintained its momentum in game two of the tournament, beating the Adelaide 36ers from the Australian National Basketball League, 83-75. Holton Hunsaker led the Wolverines with 21 points, including five three-pointers. Four of Hunsaker’s teammates also tallied double digits in scoring, Bruneel and Nelson finishing with 13 apiece, junior forward Chad Ross adding 11 points and Enos contributing 10 points, all of which came in the second half. The 36ers also employ a former NBA player, Luke Schenscher, who led the opposition with 16 points.
The Wolverines concluded their slate of international exhibitions losing 75-73 to BC Prienai of the Lithuanian Basketball League in the tournament final. Hunsaker once again fueled UVU offensively, leading all scorers with 23 points. However, the Wolverines struggled on the opposite end of the court, allowing Prienai to shoot 48 free throws. The trip ended in defeat but the experience meant much more to the members of the team.
“I don’t think any one on our team, including the coaches, knew the experience China was going to be for us,” said Holton Hunsaker. “Playing in Olympic stadiums every night, competing against teams that we will be telling our kids and families about years from now, and feeling the energy that the Chinese fans bring to every game has all been so much more than what we could have hoped.”
“Most of all we won’t ever forget the friendship and camaraderie that we all feel towards each other,” said senior center Ben Aird.