POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 22, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
Gib Arnold loves it when a plan comes together.
A journey that once seemed half a world away is rapidly approaching for the Hawaii men's basketball team, which in short order conjured a travel slogan, sponsors and most of the privately raised $100,000-plus needed for its August international tour to China and Japan.
Branded "Warriors to Asia," the two-week trip is hailed as a ground-breaking move for the Rainbow Warriors program and the university as a whole. Starting this week, fans with cash and time to spare will have a chance to place travel orders to accompany the team most of the way (Aug. 9-21) through Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Osaka.
The Rainbow Warriors will play eight games over a slightly longer period against a mix of international university teams, Chinese and Japanese professional teams, and a Chinese national team. The NCAA allows its teams to take a foreign tour once every four years and play such competition.
"It's been a lot of work. I'm not going to lie, it's not easy," said Arnold, the second-year UH coach. "You're dealing with a lot of (logistical) things. It's not done, but it went from an idea, to it's going to happen. ... The fact that we've got these corporations behind us is huge, the fact that we've got people who want to join us is huge."
Arnold exhaled when he reflected on the scope of the offseason project, which started in earnest once he and the team were offered an official invitation by China in March. Some funds must still be raised, but he estimated that the team is "past halfway."
It helps that he has a new "Starting Five."
David Uchiyama, the vice president of brand management with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, assisted the team in contacting Japan Airlines for travel aid, and four other sponsors — Bank of Hawaii, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, BEI Hawaii and Oceanic Time Warner Cable — soon fell into place to partially cover other aspects of the trip.
"Developing China is something that Hawaii Tourism Authority has been working on, and having exposure for Hawaii through the ... tour and making it come together by networking them with industry partners made sense," Uchiyama wrote in an email.
Beyond the valuable game experience for his team, including incoming players, Arnold hopes to make Manoa an appealing destination for future top-tier Chinese athletes, who, to this point, rarely leave their oft-closed society for American college athletics.
"Quite honestly, when I started thinking about this, I'd like to get the next Yao Ming," Arnold said with a chuckle. "It's become bigger than that, if you can become bigger than Yao Ming."
Contacts in Asia made by assistant coach Brandyn Akana and Arnold — he knows Chinese men's and women's Olympic coaches Guo Shiqiang and Xue Cuilan — upgraded a potential logistical nightmare from impossible to merely difficult.
The total price tag was higher than initially projected because the whole team must be enrolled in the second summer session starting July 5, bringing the estimated cost perhaps past $150,000. Still, Arnold was steadfast in not asking the university or state for funding.
Private interest has made up for it. The team has fielded a large number of calls and now has a new website, warriorstoasia.com, to direct would-be travelers or donators for information. Individual donations have also come in.
"With the excitement around men's basketball right now with the (19-13) season we just had, we'll probably have more fans interested in going with the team than we've ever had before on some of the other foreign tours," UH athletic director Jim Donovan said.
Manoa chancellor Virginia Hinshaw is expected to join the team on at least part of the trip, as might Donovan. There will be a size cap for the private travel party, but no number has yet been set, nor has Panda Travel's price point been established for the full-length trip. One estimate is $3,000 to $4,000.
There is a possibility that UH's games could be streamed live back to Hawaii on the Internet, but that is one of several aspects still to be worked out.
Most of the opponents are in place, however. UH will scrimmage Team Brazil, led by UH associate coach Walter Roese, prior to the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, on Aug. 8. UH may also play the Australian and Serbian teams before the booster travel party arrives on Aug. 10.
UH will then play the Chinese Basketball Association champion Guangdong Tigers twice near Hong Kong, followed by the CBA's Shanghai Sharks on Aug. 15 in Shanghai. In Beijing on Aug. 18, UH will play one of the Chinese national teams.
On the way home, UH meets the Panasonic Trians of the Japan Basketball League in a 10,000-seat arena in Osaka on Aug. 20. Arnold said he was told to expect large crowds at each venue on the trip.
Cultural days in each city to visit landmarks like the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square have been set aside.
"It's the first time we've done it, so there's going to be some glitches and whatnot," Arnold said. "But it's the first step to, I believe, something that could be great, special in the years to come. Nobody knows how soon that is, but it takes the first step before you can take the second, third and fourth."