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Friday, October 12, 2007

Chinese Coaches Arrive for Tiger Practice

Chinese coaches arrive for practice
Leaders will observe Tigers' tune-up today
By Dan Wolken
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When Xia Song learned in July that John Calipari wanted to talk with him, his first thought, naturally, was: Why?

Song, a self-described independent consultant who works with the Chinese Basketball Association, had actually met Calipari nine years earlier at a Nike Camp in Italy, but they had not kept in touch.

Now, all of a sudden, Calipari was trying to reach him again. Small world, huh?

Though the world might not have seemed small Tuesday to Song and the 15 Chinese coaches who spent roughly 20 hours traveling to Memphis, the next two weeks could go a long way to bringing two basketball cultures together.

At least, that was the idea Calipari pitched to Song, who helped coordinate a coaches' exchange program that begins today when they will observe Memphis' final offseason workout before the official start of practice at Memphis Madness on Friday night.

"We're very happy and excited that we finally made it to Memphis," Duan Lian, head of the CBA, said through Song's interpretation. "It's a real hard and long trip, but finally when we see everybody here, we're happy. Hopefully we can have a very successful training program here and can really learn something.

"No doubt, this time in Memphis is going to be a very special memory and experience for all our Chinese coaches."

One of the most remarkable aspects of Memphis' five-year agreement with China is that Calipari was able to quickly build relationships to earn the backing of the Chinese government and basketball federation. Calipari's first contact from a basketball standpoint was longtime NBA coach Del Harris, who coached the 2004 Chinese Olympic team.

Harris, in turn, put Calipari in touch with Song, who Calipari described Tuesday as "my partner." Song, according to several published reports, wears numerous hats in Chinese basketball, including agent, national team translator and NBA broadcaster.

In this case, he worked as a conduit between Calipari and the key figures in the Chinese government. Song, who helped select the 15 coaches who are making the inaugural trip, said acquainting Chinese basketball with NCAA basketball was natural since they both are in the business of developing players age 18-22.

"Our coaches, especially the high school or middle school coaches, they don't have a chance to learn from the European countries or American basketball," Song said. "This is going to open the door for all those young coaches to learn.

"If they can learn from college basketball here, how John Calipari and other coaches teach kids from 18 to 22, that will benefit China basketball a lot. When these coaches go back to China, they will know how to use what they've learned from John Calipari to teach the Chinese kids."

Clearly, Song's involvement will also be crucial if Memphis is ever to get games broadcast live in China or, ultimately, is able to get a player from the country. Song said he considers both to be possibilities.

"If that's part of the exchange program, if the players and their club teams or their school is OK with it and the player wants to come and John Calipari feels this is the right player who can get some playing time on this team, that's going to happen and that's going to help china basketball a lot," Song said.

"We focus on 2008 Olympics now, but we still have 2012 Olympics to come. If we do have some players that can come here and play college ball and get developed, no doubt it will help China basketball a lot."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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