Twelve years ago newly arrived University of Hawaii football coach June Jones dared us to dream about the Warriors really throwing deep.
Jones’ frequently articulated vision was to play a regular-season game in Japan as a first step toward building a recruiting and TV relationship in Asia for the Warriors in particular and UH sports in general.
It was a good idea then and remains so now, not that the concept has advanced a whole lot in the intervening years. For all the inspired talk about carving a niche in Asia, the reality for UH sports has mostly been, well, hopeful talk.
Which is why the intention of doing an exhibition men’s basketball tour to China and Japan this summer, as announced by coach Gib Arnold this week, is intriguing.
If it comes off — and there are beaucoup bucks that must be outside raised to get it and the Rainbow Warriors off the ground — it will be the biggest step yet toward addressing UH’s interest in Asia.
Football coach Greg McMackin has done some clinics in Japan, athletic director Jim Donovan has done some overseas prospecting and a few coaches have dabbled in Internet, word-of-mouth or third-party recruiting.
Mostly, though, an Asia niche is UH’s untapped dream. One it has shared with anybody who will listen. When the Mountain West Conference agreed to take on UH as a football-only member for 2012, one of the elements that interested the conference about UH was a possible tie-in with Asia. San Diego State President Stephen L. Weber told the Star-Advertiser as much, saying the expectation of “growing relations with Asia” could be one of UH’s most valuable contributions to the league.
But other than two bench-bound seasons by Ji Xiang for the men’s basketball team, to date there has been little real investment or results for UH to show for it.
For the immediate term, Arnold likes the idea of getting a handful of games, a couple weeks of extra practice and the chance for his rebuilding team to bond, all important payoffs from such a trip.
But he also grasps the big picture.
“For the long term, I think the relationships that we build (in China) will be more important than winning a game or two (there),” Arnold said.
The key words here being “long term.” Because he understands that you don’t run an ad in the Peoples’ Daily or show up to play a couple of games overseas, proclaim “Asia, here we are!” and begin reaping immediate benefits.
Constructing bridges to Asia, even more so than in Europe, South America or the other places where UH seeks to connect, is a matter of considerable investment. It requires creating and then patiently nurturing personal relationships.
For China, especially, there is getting to know the relevant national sports associations, directors and government bodies because it is they who decide which players might go overseas, not the athletes themselves. And few of quality have done so.
Someday that might change, and it would behoove UH to position itself accordingly.
Said Arnold: “When their top, top athletes start coming over to (the U.S.) go to college, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the first ones there when the doors open.”
Not when you have been talking about it as long as UH has.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.