Build a program and the recruits will come. Plan a trip and they will go … to Asia.
Though the funds aren’t yet in place, the Hawaii men’s basketball team is going full speed ahead with an ambitious trip to China and likely also to Japan in late August.
"I’m figuring it’s maybe one of those things where you get it lined up first, and you hustle and do whatever it takes to get the money to do it."
Hawaii basketball coach
The primary goals are to increase UH’s appeal in the largely untapped Asia talent pool and give UH players — including the new incoming class — game experience they wouldn’t otherwise get before the 2011-12 season.
The trip, currently dated Aug. 12 to 22, would feature about five exhibition games and allow the players to return just before the start of the fall semester.
UH coach Gib Arnold said he is trying to work out sponsorships for air and ground travel and lodging. Without any sponsors, he estimated the trip would run about $75,000, but he was optimistic some sponsors will step up.
Arnold, who is entering the second year of his three-year contract, led UH to a 19-13 record and its first postseason appearance since 2004 in the recently completed season.
Under NCAA rules, basketball teams can take a foreign tour once every four years during the offseason, an allowance popular among some elite programs. For example, UH won’t be alone in China; Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils announced a trip there in August.
“This is going to be entirely fundraised privately,” Arnold said. “We don’t have (tour money) in the budget, in fact, I don’t have it right now. But I’m figuring it’s maybe one of those things where you get it lined up first, and you hustle and you do whatever it takes to get the money to do it. If we wait until the money’s all completely secured, it’d probably be too late by then, anyway.”
While Arnold takes the lead on fundraising this summer, the point man for the tour itinerary is UH assistant coach Brandyn Akana, who has numerous contacts in the region. Akana regularly helps at basketball camps in China and went on a similar tour with his previous team, Brigham Young-Hawaii, several years ago.
UH has agreed in principle to play exhibitions against teams in the Chinese Basketball Association in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. There is no restriction against playing a pro team in the tour format.
“I’ve been to those areas and have been well-connected to professional teams in those areas, so that’s how it all came about,” Akana said. “We wanted to get the players to do some sightseeing in those big cities and also play some good basketball … since I’ve done it before, I’m really comfortable doing it.”
UH is also allotted 10 practices as a full team prior to the trip, a boon in addition to the team’s exposure in an often-closed market.
“Number one, even from the beginning when I interviewed for the job, I still do believe that the Asian market, in time, could be huge for us,” Arnold said. “Basketball’s become so popular … in China in particular, if and when those gates ever really do open, when the top college-age student-athletes are able to leave, then I think we need to be at the forefront of that. So this is as much of a building-relationships tour as anything else.”
To help entice UH boosters to get involved with funding the trip, Arnold plans to offer a package where they could accompany the team.
A leg of the trip through Tokyo is an option. One possibility is three or four games in China over seven days and one game in Japan over three days on the way back.
“Obviously with the recent problems in Japan, that’s still up in the air a little bit,” Arnold said.
Once all arrangements are final, the team must submit all the itinerary details to the university and NCAA for approval.