WILMINGTON, Ohio - Andrew Russell, soon-to-be senior on the Wilmington College men's basketball team, spent three weeks with the USA Eagles on a tour of East Asia earlier this summer.
The team, compromised of a dozen collegiate basketball players from 11 colleges/universities across the country, attended a five-day training camp in Los Angeles, California to train for games and prepare for their cross-cultural experience. The group was in East Asia from May 12 through June 3, and competed against university teams, pro/clubs teams and province teams. The team also conducted youth camps/clinics and got to experience the local culture and saw some of the most beautiful places on earth.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
"My favorite part of the trip was experiencing a new culture unlike any other. This was my first time out of the country, and what better place to go to than China. Interacting with the locals everyday, trying new foods, bringing happiness to others, and meeting government officials was an unreal opportunity on this trip. Working the clinics and teaching the kids basketball and seeing how happy they were and how happy we made them was so fulfilling."
Describe experiencing a different culture/part of the world. How was it similar/different to the Midwestern United States?
"Experiencing a different culture gave me a new perspective for what I have in the United States. In China, everything is not as we imagine it to be. They are one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, but yet have issues with constant water sanitation. Living in that life two-and-a-half weeks makes me appreciate what I have here at home. I will never take any of that for granite anymore, and I will be much more appreciative of the things I have."
Talk about the training experience in Los Angeles. How did it prepare you for the trip?
"The training we did in Los Angeles was intense and competitive. We only had 4-5 days of practice before we left for our tour which meant we had to get a lot done. As competitive and intense as practice was, it was a lot of fun as to grow with my teammates. We practiced at Sports Academy in Los Angeles. They made us a highlight video from one day which was unexpected but very nice of them."
How was the competition in China? What teams did you play?
"We played a crazy schedule of nine games in 14 days. All of the games were played against the university teams, club teams, and a local all-star team from players all around the area. The competition was good, not as difficult as I had expected, but still the games were tough. One thing we constantly were reminded of is that we weren't in America. It was physical as it could have been and we didn't get any help from the referees."
Give a couple examples of unplanned things you did/experienced on the trip?
"First and foremost, we missed our connecting flight from Beijing to Kunming which then led to some of us spending 15 hours in the Beijing airport. That was an experience to remember and definitely unplanned! Another one would have to be the last night we were in Beijing some of us went to the Olympic Park. After a long day at the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square and lots of walking around and shopping, Coach proposed we go see the Olympic Park. I particularly liked the Bird's Nest, and the Water Cube."
What was the most surprising thing you experienced/encountered on the trip?
"Meeting guys that shared the same passions as I do, but also seeing us all grow in such a short amount of time was rewarding. I went in not knowing anyone on the trip and was nervous about what the outcome was going to be. Head Coach Kelly Combs told us I think on the second day of training camp that by the end of this whole trip we would all love one another and would not want to be separated. By the end of the trip, he was exactly right. We had all gone through a variety of challenges that only brought us closer together as a team. That is something I will never forget in my lifetime. We all remain in good contact with one another and we all know that we can count on each other for anything at anytime. For that, I am very thankful."
Did this trip give you a new appreciation for your current life situation? Explain.
"A new appreciation is an understatement. I am so thankful, grateful, appreciative, and blessed with the things I have. I am trying my hardest to never take what we have for granted and cherish every precious moment. Being on this trip taught me to be more respectful of others as well as my family and coaches."
What advice would you give to college students traveling to another country for the first time?
"If an opportunity like this one were to come your way, take advantage of it. I encourage you to go on a trip like this because there's no experience like it. There are opportunities like this all over the place, and if you have an interest of going overseas for anything, seek out overseas trips with sports companies. It's an experience like you cannot imagine and truly a time you will never forget."