League Staff Writer – 10/22/2009
The Santa Barbara Breakers Professional Basketball Team duplicated their 2008 tour to China with another successful journey to the Asian country this past September, 2009. New faces highlighted the 17 day excursion as Coach Curt Pickering searched the US soil for “new blood” in building the 11 man roster. Pickering visited the rich core of basketball in Los Angeles during the spring months but found himself at various Tryout Camps during the summer in Las Vegas, San Diego, Detroit and Ohio. He also spent a large amounts of time on the phone with NBA, NBDL coach’s as well as Internet Video Services which provide game coverage of players competing in high level games.
When the dust settled, the Breaker roster comprised of 3 players from the 2009 WCBL Championship Season: 6’11 265 forward Jeremy Vague; 6’6 180 point guard Leonard Mosley and 6’3 guard Tim Taylor. In addition, the remaining 8 players were 5’11 point guard Dwuan Rice, Pasadena resident and a graduate of Cal State Bakersfield; 6’4 215 big guard Raheem Moss of Cleveland State and presently on the Cleveland Cavaliers radar; 6’5 sharpshooter Chris Keller of Seattle and a graduate of Northwest University; 6’9 lefty Ivan Harris of Ohio State and also a Cavalier project; 6’7 swingman Terrance Thomas of Baylor University and most recently, a star with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBDL; 6’7 swingman Perrin Johnson of Louisville University; 7’0 shot blocker Kenyon Gamble of Tuskegee University and 6’11 265 pounder Bryce McKenzie of Northern Illinois University and most recently a member of the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks organizations. With players leaving from both Los Angeles or Chicago, the 14 member party met in Shanghai on September 18th at 6pm. Accompanying the players was Head Coach Curt Pickering, Assistant Coach/Trainer Patrick Davis and Breakers Media Relations Director Thomas Ruiz. After a light dinner, players and coaches set out walking the streets of the 13 million populated city, searching for next to nothing priced DVD’s, jewelry peddled on the streets by vendors and the normal people watching as hundreds of individuals walked the streets late into the night.
There was another reason to walk the streets that night. Each Breaker member were coming off a 13 hour plane trip as well as a 1 1/2 hour layover in Seoul, South Korea. The flight was pleasant considering the individual DVD screens that each passenger received at their seats, with over 50 movies available to select from but…….13 hours confined to a small seat? For 7 footers, let alone 6’4 in height? So, the best solution for minds “over wired” and bodies tightly coiled, was simple walking and smelling the fresh air of automobile pollution. Yes, Shanghai, unfortunately, suffers from a lack of emission control of their vehicles racing thru the city, black smoke bellowing out the backside of the many trucks and cars that grace the streets. Yet, we were just happy to be “grounded” and walked late into the night, benefiting from our therapeutic exercising.
The following morning, we were treated to a personal Chef who prepared omelettes and pancakes for each of us at the hotel. Then it was off to a 3.5 hour bus trip to the city of Nantong. This is where we met our brethrens, our opposition, our “Washington Generals”, the Brazilian Universities Club Team. They were the reigning Champions of the prestigious Brazil Professional Basketball League. The BBL currently has 3 of its former players suiting up in the NBA. Their 10 man roster carried 2 7 footer plus players and a 6’9 muscular Utah Jazz Carlos Boozer look-a-like. We would be facing them 4 times during the 11 game schedule. We all began “sizing” each other up in the Hotel lobby. After an early dinner, we were off to the arena for our first practice. Due to Ivan Harris arriving 3 days late, due to his passport being mis-placed by our US Postal
Service and Terrance Thomas still in-flight, due to a mix-up by the travel agent in delivering incorrect flight departure times from Dallas, Texas, we were at 9 players for our first practice. Insert 5’9 guard Thomas Ruiz, our beloved Media Director. Ruiz claim to fame was being a member of the Santa Barbara High School basketball team and a serious baller at local gymnasiums 6 days a week. So, we ably ran a 2 hour practice getting to know each other while implementing some simple offense and defensive schemes for our first game, to be played the following night.
Game One proved to be quite interesting as rain was pouring down in sheets as we made our way from the bus into the arena. What we did not expect is for leaks in the roof to spatter directly onto the floor. The arena was a fairly new facility, maybe 20 years in age. Fortunately, with towels spread out on the floor, the downpour ceased 4-5 minutes before tipoff and the towels were removed from the floor. Despite playing against a true team who have been together for many years; some players in their early 30’s and being very, very familiar with their offensive system, the Breakers played like a well-oiled machine of many years and took a 22-19 lead to the bench after one quarter of play. Although the Breakers would build a 16 point lead in the second quarter, Brazil marched their way back to within 3 points but defense was a mainstay for the squad from Santa Barbara and Game One of the 2009 China Tour was a victory, 73-63. Players felt very good about their efforts and the ability to combine their skills, trust their newfound teammates and get showered with fan appreciation after the game. Some 9,000 fans poured onto the floor after the game for autographs and pictures with the USA team. Players happily obliged.
Over the course of the following week, the Breakers were treated to traveling on a Night Train, a 9 hour journey from Nantong to Xinyi. Witnessing 7 footers in bunkbeds designed for Asian 5’5 footers (Muggsy Bogues-esque) was a sight to behold. Yes, we have pictures capturing this Ripley’s Believe it or Not episode. Actually, it was a great bonding time as several players began card games, several watched video’s on laptops while others sipped on beer or orange juice talking about their past basketball experiences. The following afternoon, Breaker members also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, a treasured museum of art buried deep in the ground only to be discovered by a farmer back in the 1970’s and now coined by Chinese officials as the “8th Wonder of the World”!
Having experienced two tours back in 2008, Pickering and Tim Taylor could not help but compare the diet on this trip in 2009 to the previous ones. Once again, not to be denied, when staying in a 4 star hotel, catered to tourists, a chef was always on hand to personally prepare each members dishes. But……when staying in a 3 star hotels in smaller, remote cities, breakfast was always an experience with toast being the closest item to typical American early morning meals. All other dishes were your basic dinner entrees with cabbage, rice, soup and wings of chicken being served. Adjust, we did. You know the line, when in Rome………….. We also hit the KFC’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway and amazingly, 7/11 stores. So, food-wise, we survived and once again, Coach Pickering kept his streak alive by not losing any weight on tours to foreign soil.
GAME TWO VS CHINESE Qingdao Hawks
Breakers won this game 83-74 despite 18 points and 14 rebounds from Oklahoma State graduate and opponent Franz Steinz. Steinz stood a mere 7’2 and tipped the scales at 290. With no body fat present, he was every bit of a “Paul Bunyan” effect on the floor for his team but the Breakers fastbreak offense helped fend off effective half court play by Franz and his Chinese teammates.
GAME THREE vs. Brazil
Facing our brethrens again, in the 3 team/3 day tournament, the Breakers once again held off the Universities Club 82-77, despite trailing 12-3 early in the game. A great second quarter of defense (11 points) by the Breakers generated a 35-28 lead and there was no looking back.
GAME FOUR vs. Bayi Chinese Army Team
Remember Wang Zhi Zhi, who played for the Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers and Miami Heat for 5 years in the NBA? He is now back with the Red Chinese Army Team. They are the Club Team in the CBA, Chinese Professional Basketball League, who has an unlimited budget and obtains the best players money can buy. Boasting 4 National players on the squad and practicing full-time, 12 months a year, Bayi unleashed precisioned basketball at both ends of the floor. It did not hurt that they start a lineup of 7’2, 7’1, 6’10, 6’8 and 6’6. Although the Breakers cut the lead down to 59-55 in the third quarter, this is where the game became 7 on 5 (if you can read between the lines) and the onslaught began. When the rice settled, Bayi had captured an 81-62 victory. Leonard Mosley, point guard for the Breakers, was named to the Tournament All-Star Team and the Breakers finished 2-1 in the Tourney Play.
Chinese officials are still learning the rules and nuances of the game, let alone, experienced players trickery’s (getting away with illegal holding, etc). They are also reserved, shy individuals who will ignore aggressive players and coaches during the game. The exception is referee’s who have already pre-determined who shall be getting the benefits of calls. Yes, this happens in China also. Sorry, USA youth, high school, college, minor leagues and NBA basketball Leagues, it is a global epidemic. When playing the Brazilian Brethrens, officiating was mildly consistent but when facing local Chinese teams, not different them good ole American, get ready for some HOME COOKING. We have now played 27 games in China. One thing is consistent; don’t expect any calls when you face the Chinese teams. But, is that any different than games in the USA? No! So, contradictory speaking, Chinese officiating IS catching up in how to govern basketball games.