China trip a balance of pleasure, business for CU Buffs men’s basketball

Buffs depart for season opener overseas against Arizona State

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Tyler Bey said he has tried to learn some Chinese before the Buffs’ trip to China.

More than 30 years ago, the game of basketball allowed small-town Colorado kid Tad Boyle to leave home for the bright lights of big-time college basketball.

Since then, that basketball journey has led Boyle to locales all over the globe. On Saturday morning, Boyle and his Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball departed for a new and unique destination — Colorado to San Francisco to Shanghai, where next week CU will open the 2019-20 season against Arizona State in the Pac-12’s fifth annual game in China.

In the past four-plus years alone, Boyle has traveled to Toronto as part of the U.S. staff at the 2015 Pan American Games; Italy in 2017 for his CU team’s exhibition tour; and Cairo, Egypt, also in 2017, as part of the staff for the U.S. U19 national team at the FIBA World Cup.

“I love to travel. It’s a great way to expand who you are as a human being,” Boyle said. “To go to a place like China, and Shanghai, to experience all it has to offer, I very much look forward to it. I don’t ever take it for granted. Basketball has been so good to me. It’s taken me all over the world. This is another stop along the way.”

It will be a challenging balance the Buffs hope to strike. On one hand, Boyle has said he wants his club to enjoy every moment on a busy itinerary. On the other, this is a business trip, with a very meaningful season opener against ASU (played as a nonconference game) on Friday (8:30 p.m. MT, ESPN2).

The Buffs have spent equal time preparing for the culture shift (in addition to seminars from the Pac-12, Boyle said a professor from  CU’s Asian Studies program spoke to the squad about what to expect) as a basketball experience that also will features an exhibition game against Peking University of Beijing. The sightseeing excursions are set to include visits to Jade Buddha Temple, Yu Garden, and Shanghai Disney, where the Buffs also will meet with children from the Yao Ming Foundation, which is run by the former NBA star.

“It will nice to see Disneyland. Supposedly it’s the largest one in the world,” CU forward Evan Battey said. “It’s a lot of time management, designating how much time to certain things — exploring, touring. And the basketball-related activities. Getting your shots in, stretching, a little lift here and there. I think we’re going to do a good job of time management and allotting only so much time to each activity.”

The only Buffs player who has set foot in China before is Alex Strating who, as the son of a Dutch diplomat, lived in China for a few years beginning when he was 3. Some of CU’s older players — Strating, Battey, McKinley Wright, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, Dallas Walton, and Lucas Siewert — were part of the program’s tour through Italy two years ago. At CU’s basketball media day a few weeks ago, Bey said he was attempting to learn some Chinese online, but asked this past week how that endeavor was going Bey replied, “It’s not. Chinese is so hard. It’s really, really hard. I’ve got a few things. I’ve got the bathroom part, and that’s it. That’s all I need.”

Boyle and the Buffs certainly would prefer to return to Boulder 1-0 above and beyond everything else. Yet CU’s coach nonetheless has been encouraging his players to soak in the experience.

“I want them to experience it, and then you can come back and you can talk about the differences between the Chinese culture and the American culture,” Boyle said. “You can hear somebody talk about it. You can read a book about it. You can look at pictures about it. But until you’re over there and you see it yourself and you experience it, that’s to me the best way to do it.

“It’s going to be an exciting trip.”