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Monday, September 24, 2007

U of M Coach Starts Exchange Program

U of M coach starts exchange program
By Dan Wolken
Thursday, September 20, 2007

John Calipari's mission, in his first seven years as University of Memphis basketball coach, has been to establish the Tigers as a national program.

Now, Calipari is working to expand the borders.

Calipari was in Beijing, China, on Wednesday for a news conference announcing a five-year partnership between the UofM and the Chinese Basketball Association for a coaches' exchange program. The exchange will begin this fall when 15 Chinese coaches come to Memphis and observe roughly two weeks of practices. Calipari and his staff will travel to China annually to conduct coaching clinics and youth camps.

Additionally, one Chinese coach will stay in Memphis each year and serve as an intern for the Tigers, and Calipari said he's discussed the possibility of bringing his team to China in May for a series of games against its national team.

"They're going to see 10 or 11 practices," Calipari said by phone from Beijing. "We'll let them see the strength program, the video stuff, how we operate, and they're going to do the zoo, Graceland, all those kinds of things. The greatest thing is, with our style of play, and with our system, it translates. I'm hoping they go back to China and it's what they start talking about, what they start teaching and how they start coaching."

Calipari said he was inspired to make the Asian connection after reading an article by New York Times columnist William Rhoden on the popularity of the NBA in China. Though 300 million Chinese watch the NBA, Calipari said, they have not been exposed to NCAA basketball, mainly because their top players have not gone to American colleges.

So what better time to expose the country to Memphis, he said, than when the Tigers are anticipating a No. 1 preseason ranking?

"I was trying to figure out, how do I keep this thing going? Where's the next market, the next thing to break through for us?" Calipari said. "It's hard where we are. We're non-BCS. We're not in one of those leagues, and we're in rarefied air. How do we stay here, what's the next place to explore?

"Would this (relationship) ever get to the point where it includes players? Boy, I hope so. We're trying to build a bridge between the university, our athletic department, our program and China."

Calipari said this initiative fits well with the UofM's goal to build a larger base of Asian students, which is why provost Dr. Ralph Faudree and Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane, as well as two UofM alums from China, Robert Wang and C.J. Liu, accompanied him to the news conference.

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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