It is a 25 day excursion that I will never forget. It all started back on June 19, 2008. My friend, Terry Layton of Colorado was viewing the Breakers website and noticed that we were 16-0 and heading into the West Coast Basketball League Championship later that week. He called me and said, “Do you want to go to China”? My immediate response was, “Sure”.
Terry had taken a team over in March of 2008 and knew that the basketball sponsors were looking for a team for September/October of 2008 to play games in China. He made contact via email later that day with them. We proceeded to win the League Championship on Saturday, June 21. Two days later, I got an email from China stating that they had viewed our website and was inviting us to come over for a 17 tour to play games against their professional teams that participate in the China Basketball Association (CBA).
From that moment on, I began planning out our Dream Trip to China. I had coached in Asia previously; in Kuwait, Bahrain, United Emirates and the Philippines. But, China really captured my attention as it has become the New Frontier for basketball since the marriage of Yao Ming and the NBA in 2002. Many, many emails were to follow over the next 12 weeks as both I, the owner/coach of the Santa Barbara Breakers and Han Yulin, Promoter for Chinese Basketball began a relationship that would eventually bring us face to face in the enormously rich and spacious Republic of China. Initially, I had to build a roster that would impress not only the Chinese media but also the basketball critics who are always expecting Michael Jordan and Larry Bird to make a comeback and grace their arenas. Not a chance for that but I felt that I could at least assemble a group of individuals who would demonstrate athleticism, basketball skill and team play. That would not be an easy task as most star players would either be on NBA rosters in September/October or already playing overseas. Such was the case of Breaker stars Tyler Newton and Adam Zahn in Japan; point guard Shantay Legans in Holland and 7’1 center Rashid Byrd in Mexico. Josh Merrill, MVP of the WCBL, was expecting his first child so he too, was not available for the tour.
Since I did not provide a big bonus or championship ring for my players who had accomplished an unprecedented 18-0 record during our 2008 spring season in the WCBL, I decided the most loyal gesture I could demonstrate was to offer this great trip to China to our remaining 5 players who was part of the undefeated season. Four of the five quickly accepted when I gave them the official news the last week of June.Mark Peters, Tim Taylor, Justin Johnson and Allan Purnell while Jeremy Vague declined due to personal reasons. I then chose to honor our new WCBL league cast of stars. Armand Thomas, 6’9, 265 pounder was the leading rebounder in the league. He had previously played overseas in Cyprus. He was anxious to return to employment internationally so he gave me a quick thumbs up.
Tree Small, leading scorer in the WCBL for the Ventura Jets, gave an affirmative as did First Team All-Defensive Mark Dawson of the Carlsbad BeachDawgs. Filling out the remaining 3 positions was former Los Angeles Clippers center, Keith Closs, who now stands at 7’5, just one inch shy of Yao Ming. Also committing was Kareem Abdul Jabbar, son of the Lakers legendary center. The final participant to fill out the 10 man squad was ABA All-Star Lemar Gayle, who had torched the Breakers in 2007 for 47 points when he played for the Seattle Mountaineers.