Tigers hope to play game in China
ESPN's Andy Katz Weblog
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Memphis coach John Calipari began his season-long plan for exposure in China this week in Beijing. Next May, the Tigers will play multiple exhibition games in China against the national team and possibly other professional teams.
That's his plan. And even if a few of the Tigers players -- like freshman Derrick Rose, junior Chris Douglas-Roberts or senior Joey Dorsey -- are involved in NBA draft workouts, he's sure they'll accompany the team to China and play in the games.
How certain is he?
"Trust me, they'll want to play; their agents will make them play," Calipari said Thursday morning by phone from Beijing. "LeBron James and Tracy McGrady have almost as much merchandise sold in China as the United States. There are $1.3 billion people here, 300 million watch the NBA."
Calipari called Thursday because he couldn't contain his excitement for this new venture to increase exposure about the Memphis Tigers and college basketball, as evident by Thursday morning's New York Times article on the same subject.
Calipari went to Beijing this week with Memphis provost Dr. Ralph Faudree and Kevin Kane, the CEO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The plan is to bring in a delegation of Chinese coaches, as many as 15 of them, to watch Memphis practice in October and then one of the coaches will stay with the Tigers throughout their attempt to win the national title this season. Calipari will also conduct coaching clinics in China over the next five years.
Ultimately, Calipari wants Memphis games this season, at least a few of them, to be shown on Chinese television. He's also hoping that all of the trade in information can lead him to a player or two to return to Memphis. He said this venture had nothing to do with the Memphis Grizzlies or the NBA.
And then, after the season, he is hoping to take the Tigers to China for a May trip.
"They've never seen an NCAA game here," said Calipari.
Is he surprised that no other coach has thought to do something like this?
"It would have to be someone as crazy as me that would get on a plane for 14 hours in the middle of recruiting and then figure out who to contact in a communist government. Good luck," Calipari said. "A couple of Chinese kids have gone out the back door to prep schools, but they're not the best players."
Given the current climate of the NCAA's stance toward foreign students and the rigorous standards that the athletes have to pass through (they can't be on a team back home that has a pro on it for them to be eligible for college, let alone the paperwork piles that have to be sifted through to get a player eligible). But that's another matter and Calipari will deal with it if it becomes applicable.
"If we can get a Chinese player & oh my gosh," Calipari said. "This will be a great thing for our players in our program to be recognized in China."
So if that's the case, then Calipari has something to hold over Rose, Douglas-Roberts and Dorsey and Co., when he returns, considering he flew halfway around the globe to eventually help their jersey sales.
"Whoever comes here, maybe that coach will someday be the [Chinese] Olympic coach and help teach their young kids," Calipari said. "Our system of play is a European fit with what we're trying to do."
That style is essentially, according to Calipari, a European style with Princeton additions.
"It's a dribble, drive motion instead of five passes before you shoot," said Calipari, who adapted the system from Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg. "We'd like to get three or four dives before we shoot against a good team; one against a bad team."
Calipari and Walberg conducted a clinic in Mississippi a few weeks ago with more than an estimated 400 high school coaches. Calipari also had Larry Brown and Del Harris, who was the Chinese Olympic coach in 2004, at the clinic as well.
Meanwhile, Calipari said Rose still needs to catch up learning the system. The team had its first team practice (under NCAA rules that was allowed for two hours a week beginning last Saturday) and Rose still isn't on the same page as everyone else. But Calipari said, "He's going to be good. He's really, really fast." Calipari also said Willie Kemp's perimeter shooting and Douglas-Roberts' overall play have been the most impressive things of note so far for the possible preseason No. 1 team.
The players should be getting more sleep, too, since Calipari instituted a curfew following the arrests of Shawn Taggart and Jeff Robinson last month for a disorderly conduct and inciting a riot charge at a Memphis nightclub. The players are due in court Sept. 25.
The curfew is set for 11 p.m. weeknights and midnight on the weekend. He said one of the coaches is checking every player's room each night to ensure they're adhering to the rules, which also include no clubbing.
"They know, they don't want to be the first guy to violate that or go into a club," Calipari said.
Calipari will return from China over the weekend. He said once he's back, he has to do one more recruiting task and then it's "all basketball."