For the Cougars, a trip to China was about more than basketball
“What a great opportunity for our program,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson.
Not only did the team get a head start on the season with 10 extra practices and four games under their belt, they will also have the opportunity to sightsee and receive three credit hours towards a Sociology course.
Sampson said the trip to China is most importantly about forming a culture and bonding as a team, which is something he did not quite have in his first season at Houston.
“When we start practice in October it’s not going to be like starting practice last year in October when we didn’t even know each other,” Sampson said. “They’ve already built some good relationships, but this gives them a chance deepen some things and strengthen some relationships that normally we wouldn’t be able to, and also to form some relationships and do it in China.”
LeRon Barnes, one of last year’s team captains and a senior, sees the trip to China as a chance for team bonding, but also give the team an edge going into the upcoming season.
“I think it is going to give us an advantage,” Barnes said. “I think we’re going to be very comfortable with each other, and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Sampson will also be able to see each player compete in a game before the start of the season, which he had not been able to do last year.
Redshirt junior guard Ronnie Johnson, who sat out last season after transferring from Purdue, looks at the trip to China as an opportunity to finally get his feet wet.
“I’ll be able to show what I can do,” Johnson said. “Be a leader for the team out there, get guys on board and just make us better.”
“We’ve got a couple of things that were excited about within basketball itself,” Sampson said. “Ronnie Johnson hasn’t played in a game in a long time. Same with Damyean Dotson who transferred from Oregon, who sat out last year. Seeing those kids in a formal practice setting and watching them play games, I am excited about that.”
With an unknown starting lineup, Sampson is anxious to see the development and progress of each individual player, especially the newcomers.
“Kyle (Meyer), Galen (Robinson), Xavier Dupree and all the new guys, it’s going to be interesting to watch them,” Sampson said. “I’m anxious to see how we handle this.”
Another area he looks to tackle is observing the growth made by players from the previous season.
“I want to see the progress that (Danrad) Chicken Knowles has made,” Sampson said. “That’s important. Also Devonta Pollard. Bert Nkali, who we had projected to be our starting center last year, who ended up getting hurt and ended up sitting out the year. I’m anxious to see it all.”
Pollard, who says he never imagined having the opportunity to visit a place like China, says he looks forward to finding out what it is like to play against teams of a completely different culture.
“I think it’s going to be true competition just because most of the guys who play in the D-League or who come from overseas are mostly from China and places like that, so I think the competition is going to be good and I like that,” Pollard said.
As part of the trip, the team will be required to write papers and complete assignments for the Sociology department, but will also have the opportunity to sightsee, with scheduled visits to churches, museums and different areas throughout the duration of the visit.
Returning to Houston just in time for class, the Cougars will do so having won three of four games to win the series against the Qingdao Doublestars.
New signees Rob Gray and Damyean Dotson were team standouts, Dotson recording two 20-point games, including three 3-pointers in game one, while Gray added a 20-point game of his own in the finale, with a total of three double digit performances.
LeRon Barnes, Ronnie Johnson, Bertrand Nkali, Galen Robinson and Devonta Pollard each enjoyed double digit games in front of the Doublestars home crowd of more than 5, 000 fans.
“This is something that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Sampson said. “When someone talks about China they can now say ‘I went to China’ and be able to talk about it.”