SEATTLE (AP) — An argument is brewing in the Washington team room. It started with bickering, and voices are now rising, college basketball players going back and forth.
Except this disagreement had nothing to do with anything on the basketball court. Think pronunciation, not passing or shooting.
"I said it first," one bellowed.
"I said it right," the other answered back.
Laughter erupted, and the Huskies' pop quiz in speaking Mandarin continued.
Washington is embarking on a unique journey to begin the 2015-16 basketball season. Instead of an exhibition game followed by a series of home-court warmups before maybe playing in a prestigious holiday tournament, the Huskies will fly 5,700 miles to China. There, Washington will open the season against Texas in Shanghai, the first regular season college basketball game ever played in China.
The game is part of the expanding footprint of the Pac-12 Conference, a growing priority for the league that could include football games outside the country in the future.
For the Huskies, the basketball is the priority. But they're also adding an educational component to the trip beyond just sightseeing.
"This is not just any basketball trip," said class professor Shawn Wong. "We're going to be spending a week, basically, before the game doing all kinds of stuff, and it's a really big deal in terms of global footprint for the university."
The class is called "English 295: One Week in China" and being taught by Wong. It's a three-credit course based around similar programs Washington's athletic academic advisers developed for a previous international summer trip to Greece in 2007. It also has aspects of a class the Huskies took in 2011 when they spent a week in New York playing two games at Madison Square Garden and attending two Broadway productions during their time there as part of a two-credit drama class.
But this class and trip are vastly different from the Greek voyage in 2007 being that this is a game that matters. While the Huskies will visit historical sites in Hangzhou and Shanghai, they'll also be introducing an overhauled roster in a season Washington needs to have success.
"Now when we get there, we're going to be there for five, six days before we play, we have to make sure we don't in the name of making sure we have a great cultural experience forget about the basketball game," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "We're going to make sure we have our rest, make sure we're dialed in, locked in. We'll practice every day, but as the days get closer to game day, our activities will be shortened and hopefully it all works out."
Wong met daily with the players for about two weeks in late September prior to the start of the fall quarter at Washington. Each class started with a basic introduction of some Mandarin words that would be useful during their time in the country.
— Duo shao means How Much?
— Tai quay is Too Expensive
— Lan Cho is Basketball
— Ham means ugly.
— And lastly there's the Huskies motto for the season of "You, Me, We" that translates to Ne, Wo, Wo Men in Mandarin.
"There is this huge culture shock that's going to hit which is I think very normal for any foreigner who has never been to China before. It's just very, very different," said Washington sophomore Jane Yang, who grew up in Shanghai and will serve as an interpreter on the trip. "Part of that comes with food and what the streets look like and how people behave. And I think it's even harder when there is a language barrier. You can't even make guesses on this is what is happening."
The classes were the precursor for presentations the players will give on site in China that will be the bulk of their grade in the course. There will be presentations on Buddhism, the Grand Canal in Hangzhou and General Yue Fei, among others. K.J. Garrett jumped at the chance to do his report on Jack Ma, the head of the Alibaba Group, one of the presenting sponsors of the Huskies' trip.
But the cultural emersion is the bigger educational opportunity. The only player on Washington's roster to have traveled to China is Andrew Andrews, who went with a Pac-12 All-Star team during the summer of 2014, but struggled eating in China and lost nearly 10 pounds during his brief stint in the country. Andrews lived mostly off Frosted Flakes and yogurt.
"I'm just a picky eater. I've been that way since I was little. I just know what I like so I stick to what I know," he said.
The Huskies will be fully prepared to make sure Andrews and his teammates are getting the nutrition they require. What they can't prepare for is the reaction and attention American basketball players will receive when they're out in public, no matter how many warnings Wong has given.
"When we go out in public the reaction is going to be unbelievable," Wong said. "We're not going to be mobbed I don't think. We might. ... I've warned them about it and I've told the staff someone needs to go with us when we take them out because we're going to draw a crowd."