Yale Bulldogs too tough but Chinese college basketball stars earn Pac-12 side’s respect in Alisports invitational game
- All-Star team impress in narrow loss to American visitors in Suzhou
- Alisports introduce home and away format to Chinese college hoops
“They’ve got good basketball players,” Yale Bulldogs star Blake Reynolds said of the Chinese student athletes he and his teammates had just beaten. “It was great fun. Thank you all for having us.”
The MC at the Suzhou SND Cultural & Sports Centre-Arena in the city’s technological area translated for the crowd and they let out their final cheer to a game that ended with the players hugging after an 93-84 win for the visiting American side.
They had seen the hosts leading at the half and still in it deep into the third quarter before rallying at the end to add some gloss to the scoreline.
No shame in defeat. The Chinese All-Star team has lost all four of the annual China-US Collegiate Basketball Invitational games, which begin a week of cooperation and exchange built around the China-US University Sports and Education Summit before climaxing with the Pac-12 China Game, the keystone of the US college sports conference’s Pac-12 Global initiative.
The local side, made up of students from Beijing’s Peking University and Soochow University in Suzhou, had their moments.
Plenty of three throws, some outstanding play from crowd favourite Wan Shengwei, and some refereeing that took them to the free-throw line a lot more often than the physically dominant Americans.
One member of the Yale coaching staff took to their feet so confounded were they by some of those foul calls. Not everything in cultural exchange is going to come easy.
That was as testy as it got, though, and could have been expected before the game. Reynolds was brought in front of the crowd before the game too, where he was similarly chipper and succinct.
“Very excited to be here,” be said. “Thanks for having us and enjoy the game.” Cue translation and cheers.
The only cheer louder before the game was when the assembled local government and visiting dignitaries were introduced and Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai was called up. The former Yale lacrosse player was greeted with rapturous applause by a crowd of 4,000 in the 5,000 capacity arena.
Alibaba is headquartered in nearby Hangzhou and its Alisports arm is behind this programme of events along with support from the local governments of both host cities, education bodies and colleges taking part.
Some of those local officials might have been forgiven for being baffled by the blasting of rap and hip-hop music that accompanied the game.
However, the tunes, cheerleaders and the MC-led chants were music to the ears of a crowd made up largely of school and university students bused in for the game.
Cheers of “Beida, Sooda”, the Chinese names for the two universities making up the home side, and “Jiayou!” increased as the game neared its end but before it started there was no hiding that the crowd were impressed by Yale in the warm-up. Slam dunks from alley oops will do that.
The game acted as a warm-up for both teams. Nanjing University of Finance & Economics take on Soochow University in the China University Basketball Association 2018-19 season opener in the same arena on Wednesday night.
This is the first year that Alisports have organised the 21-year-old league and the first season that there will be a home and away system, a move to make it closer to the US college format.
There’s no doubt the Chinese players faced a sterner test against the Ivy League side than they will get in the domestic championship.
As for Yale, they take on the University of California, Berkeley in Shanghai on Saturday in their own season opener, their PAC-12 conference is the only US sports league to play regular season games in China.
There’s more to it than that for the American teams as Jim Knowlton, the director of athletics for the Cal Bears side, told the Pac-12 website.
“It’s a great opportunity for our young men to come over and really immerse themselves, get a chance to meet, talk to and learn about Chinese culture.”
Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post