Basketball: DeCuire relishes trip to China

As the Cal women’s team prepares to depart for China on Saturday, men’s associate head coach Travis DeCuire is just settling in after a 10-day trip to the planet’s most populous country, where he conducted clinics for coaches.

Shanghai was home base for DeCuire and travel partners Craig Robinson of Oregon State and former Oregon coach Ernie Kent. But he took a one-day side trip to Beijing, where he walked on the Great Wall and explored the Forbidden City.

“Large, busy, crowded city. I’m talking 29 million people,” he said of Shanghai. “Then you’ve got 22 million in Beijing. The biggest thing for me was how different Shanghai and Beijing are from each other.

“Whereas in Beijing you’ve got more of the tradition, the history, in Shanghai you’ve got more of a modern, up-to-date city. You just see a lot of suits, a lot of traffic. You go to Beijing, it’s a lot slower.”

DeCuire, Robinson and Kent conducted six days of clinics for 150 coaches, most of them from Chinese universities. DeCuire ran four 3-hour sessions, all of them utilizing interpreters.

“I got positive feedback,” DeCuire said. “For me it was a growing experience. For one, just to do a clinic. It’s not often that assistant coaches get asked to do clinics.

“And two, you learn a lot about yourself when you talk about what you do. You kind of re-evaluate the blueprint.”

Among his impressions of basketball in China, DeCuire said the game at the college level won’t improve until the top young players are convinced to attend universities rather than signing with club teams that serve as feeders to professional squads.

“They’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

DeCuire met one familiar face — former Cal center Max Zhang.

“He’s doing well. He signed a five-year deal with the Shanghai Sharks in their top league,” DeCuire said. “It’s a team owned by Yao Ming.”

Perhaps the only thing DeCuire saw in China bigger than the 7-foot-5 Zhang was the Great Wall. “Incredibly large,” he said.

To get there, DeCuire took the 2-year-old “bullet” train 770 miles from Shanghai to Beijing … in five hours, including stops.

A lot of basketball and a nice dose of foreign culture.

“Definitely,” he said, “I think it was worth it.”

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Jeff Faraudo