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Ute players, coaches gain three wins, countless memories on Pac-12 China tour

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Kory Mortensen | Utah Athletics The Pac-12 All-Star team visits the Forbidden City in Beijing.

By Matthew Piper

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 22 2014 06:25PM
Updated Aug 24, 2014 10:46PM

Upon arriving in Shanghai, the first thing Jordan Loveridge noticed was the decorative lighting, like he was in a super-sized Las Vegas.

And then he saw the people.

So many people.

Loveridge had heard there were 24 million people in Shanghai, but seeing it is another thing, he said. Motorists — many on scooters — navigated busy streets at high speeds while Loveridge wondered how they could possibly avoid crashing. I guess they develop a talent for it, he thought to himself. They have to.

Loveridge — along with teammates Jeremy Olsen and Brandon Taylor and Utah’s coaching staff — has returned to Salt Lake City and is currently shaking off a 14-hour jet lag. The memories of a week-and-a-half in China with the Pac-12 All-Stars won’t be going away anytime soon, however.

More than 300 million people play basketball in China, according to the Chinese Basketball Association, and fans flocked to the All-Stars for photos and autographs after their three wins in Shanghai.

Loveridge said the Chinese fans "mostly wanted to see us dunk and wanted to see us do flashy stuff." If the All-Stars attempted an alley-oop — even if it was unsuccessful — they would cheer. And fans loved the pre-game warmups, where players like Washington State’s DaVonte Lacy obliged them with some All-Star-worthy jams.

The team "really did a nice job of representing ourselves and our league and our country," said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

He implored the All-Stars to "check their egos at the door," and they not only heeded his demand, but seemed to be at ease with each other almost instantly.

"Everybody heard loud and clear that it was a heck of a lot more fun to be part of a team that got along," he said. The All-Stars won their first game against Chinese university players 72-47, then beat two pro teams in Jiangsu (85-63) and Shanghai (71-68).

As he’d hinted he might do prior to the trip, Krystkowiak subbed out all five players each time their opponents scored seven points — a homage to former Arizona coach Lute Olsen.

"I think the guys enjoyed that," he said.

The All-Stars may not have faced the Chinese teams at their peak, because they don’t have many of their Americans during the summer, but they saw their best effort, Krystkowiak said. Loveridge agreed.

"They tried to play us as hard and as well as they could," he said. "You could just see in their eyes that it mattered more to them that it was us."

Olsen scored 12 in the opener and gained confidence after his teammates found him for a few easy baskets. "I saw a little hop in his step," Krystkowiak said.

Taylor didn’t have any breakout games on the stat sheet, but Krystkowiak said he was the on-floor leader of his group, and players gravitated to him as one of the team’s most vocal and energetic players.

And Loveridge — getting accustomed to playing small forward after starting his college career at the four — had one of the best performances of the trip in leading the All-Stars with 16 points and six rebounds against the Shanghai Sharks. Krystkowiak said he’d like to see Loveridge build on that game, "where he was playing with a little bit of reckless abandon."

After his pregame speech against the Sharks, Krystkowiak noticed, "this monster of a man coming in a room that already had low ceilings in it. He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, that’s the thing I probably miss more than anything, is those pre-game talks.’"

That man: Sharks president Yao Ming — whom Loveridge said is "everywhere" on Chinese billboards and media. Yao then told the players that he misses the game, and encouraged them to take advantage of their opportunity to earn a degree.

By coaching a roster of future opponents, Krystkowiak admitted that it’s an advantage — albeit a small one — to get a close-up look at some of their strengths and weaknesses. But what he noticed more than anything was that their respective teams had all selected excellent ambassadors.

There were some times when the officiating was less-than-perfect, he said, and "The guys rose above it."

A scheduled game against the Guangdong Southern Tigers in Shenzhen was canceled because of political unrest, Krystkowiak said, so the team opted to take a bullet train to Beijing and soak in the culture.

They spent the evening at the Silk Market, and the next morning they woke up early and visited the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China.

"The highlight definitely was the Great Wall," Loveridge said. "You never really get the full effect until you go there and experience it."

There, Krystkowiak may have made history by taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (donate at alsa.org) on the Great Wall, and — he jokes — by using the smallest ice bucket: a cold bottle of water.

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