Cal Men’s Basketball brings Berkeley approach to fourth annual Pac-12 China Game
SHANGHAI, China – The California men’s basketball program wasted little time thrusting itself into its transformative educational and cultural experience as part of this week’s fourth annual Pac-12 China Game.
Less than 12 hours after arrival on Saturday night, Cal tipped off its weeklong programming in China on Sunday with a morning practice followed by an afternoon touring and immersing itself in Shanghai and Chinese culture at Yu Garden, Yuyuan Tourist Mart and the Jade Buddha Temple. To finish the day, the team then went to class.
The Golden Bears are taking a three-pronged approach – educational, cultural, and competitive – to their participation in the annual centerpiece of the Pac-12 Global initiative.
“One of the neat things for our students who are being educated at Cal is they really are getting a global education – their instructors are global, their opportunities are global,” said Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton. “For us it’s a great opportunity for our young men to come over and really immerse themselves, get a chance to meet, talk to and learn about Chinese culture.”
As part of the Golden Bears’ travel party, Dr. Derek Van Rheenen is leading the team in a for-credit course titled One Week in China: Travel Writing, Cultural Exploration and Self-Discovery. Dr. Van Rheenen serves as Faculty Director, Cultural Studies of Sport in Education at Cal Berkeley, teaches courses on sport, culture and education, and is a published author on the topic in Out of Bounds: When Scholarship Athletes Become Academic Scholars.
“We’re using the trip as a means for the guys on the team to reflect on their experience,” said Dr. Van Rheenen, a three-time graduate of UC Berkeley and an Academic All-American as a men’s soccer student-athlete for the Golden Bears. “I think it’s a great opportunity for them to be more aware.”
According to its syllabus, the focus of the course is to “connect, discover, engage and reflect,” doing so through a series of related readings and eight daily journal entries - through Cal’s visits to Hangzhou, home to presenting sponsor Alibaba HQ, and Shanghai Disney among others - aimed at providing a recount and individual perspective to the weeklong Pac-12 China Game experience.
“At the end of the day, what they’ll take home from this trip ultimately won’t be the game against Yale - that’s good because it’s not just about the sport, it’s about more,” added Dr. Van Rheenen.
The Golden Bears aren’t just learning from tours, sightseeing and Dr. Van Rheenen - James Zhao, a freshman walk-on and Under-17 Chinese National Team member from Beijing, is serving as teaching assistant for the course and offering his first-hand experience and insight into his native country.
“It’s definitely an honor to be able to take part as a TA and to lead this group at such a young age,” said Zhao. “Coming back to China is very exciting, especially with this team - to bring them to my home and to show them a different culture is humbling.” Zhao spent much of Sunday serving as a translator and answering questions during visits to Yu Garden and the Jade Buddha Temple. He also taught his teammates common and useful Mandarin phrases as part of the post-tour class session.
Later this week, Zhao will join Cal women’s basketball senior Chen Yue as participants on a panel discussion at the annual China - U.S. University Sports and Education Summit, which Dr. Van Rheenen says “demonstrates the global aspects of basketball and also the global nature of Berkeley.”
“The University of California, Berkeley is global – everything we do we’re thinking about global initiatives, solving the world’s problems,” said Knowlton. “For our student-athletes to also be able to participate in that – on a national and international stage – is really an important part of their education and development.”
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.