Small World Greets UCLA, Georgia Tech at Alibaba Ahead of Pac-12 China Game
HANGZHOU, China – UCLA men’s basketball’s Jaylen Hands had never been to China before this week. The San Diego native had also never heard of Alibaba prior to visiting the company’s Hangzhou headquarters on Monday.
But Joe Tsai, the co-founder and executive vice chairman of the Chinese commerce giant – now in its third year as presenting sponsor of the Pac-12 China Game – knew all about the Bruins’ freshman. He even saw him play in high school.
Tsai, who has a home in San Diego, has children who attend The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, an area rival of Hands’ alma mater Foothills Christian High School in El Cajon. Tsai was in attendance when the two teams met on the hardwood last Valentine’s Day, with eventual McDonald’s All-American Hands scoring 20 points to lead Foothills to an 82-46 victory.
“It was crazy, I almost didn’t believe it,” said Hands of learning one of the world’s most successful businessmen knew his name and game. “To get the opportunity to learn about this and meet someone of that stature it really broadens your view of the world, it’s a really big honor.”
“Here is this guy who is so incredibly successful, helping run a company like this, and you think of how long it took to get here and he says ‘Jaylen Hands’ by name, that tells you just how small the world is,” said UCLA head coach Steve Alford, who is back in China for the first time since visiting Beijing and Hong Kong as a student-athlete at Indiana in the mid-1980s.
That surprising moment of connection between a collegiate student-athlete and world business leader epitomized the start of the weeklong programming for the third annual Pac-12 China Game, the centerpiece of the league’s Pac-12 Global initiative, which will feature UCLA facing Georgia Tech at Baoshan Sports Center in Shanghai this Saturday, Nov. 11. The game will be broadcast live in the U.S. on ESPN this Friday, Nov. 10 at 8:30 p.m. PT.
“This week is about the game, but it’s also about much more,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Sport can play a role to improve the world by having peaceful, friendly exchanges between people. This is an example of how people getting to know one another, especially when they’re young, and having an appreciation for different cultures, societies, systems and ways of thinking can make our world a better place. We’re happy the young men from UCLA and Georgia Tech will have a chance to experience that and I’m sure that will leave an indelible mark.”
Tsai led a roundtable discussion with Commissioner Scott and delegations from the Pac-12, UCLA and Georgia Tech on Monday morning before greeting both teams at Alibaba’s on-campus basketball gym. After posing for selfies and exchanging jerseys from team captains, Tsai challenged some of the Bruins and Yellow Jackets on the court, flashing athleticism from his collegiate career as a lacrosse student-athlete at Yale.
“I truly believe that supporting sports as an integral part of education is very, very important,” said Tsai. “I learned so much from being an athlete, all the values of discipline, teamwork and learning how to win and how to lose. An American-style view of sports as an integral part of education is something that people in China can learn from.”
Tsai also guided both teams through an educational seminar, explaining Alibaba’s vision for the future of business. As apps are the rage with today’s millennial audience, Tsai used his own phone to show off Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, which now allows users to take a picture of any product and immediately shop for it through the app. Tsai demonstrated the feature by scanning some UCLA and Georgia Tech student-athlete footwear, which quickly returned results and answered the question “what are those?”
“I didn’t know a whole lot about Alibaba before I came here, so it’s interesting to learn how integrated it is in the entire society,” said Georgia Tech senior and mechanical engineering major Ben Lammers. “It’s a great experience and I’m thankful for Alibaba to be able to allow us to do this.”
“This will be something 10 years from now our guys will be talking about it. You don’t get these opportunities too often,” said Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner, a 1999 graduate of Pac-12 member Arizona. “We’re very grateful, honored and privileged to be part of this and we’re thankful for the Pac-12 for setting this up.”
More information on the Pac-12 China Game can be found at pac-12.com/chinagame.
About Pac-12 Global
Founded in 2011, Pac-12 Global is an unprecedented effort to harness the passion and spirit of collegiate athletics to showcase the Pac-12 Conference and its member institutions around the world, while giving student-athletes access to transformative life experiences and impactful cultural exchanges. The initiative uses athletics to support the ambitious international strategies that many Pac-12 universities have embarked upon to extend their reach around the world. For more information on the initiative and its history, go to www.pac-12.com/global.