Reigning Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion CSKA Moscow is off to China for a pair of exhibition games that will take it to the cities of Chengdu and Shenzhen. CSKA brings with it all of the stars that led the team to its seventh continental crown last spring as well as the same coaching staff.
"It is an honor to represent Euroleague Basketball, especially as its champion," head coach Dimitris Itoudis said. "We have had the privilege of going on these tours, showing what Euroleague Basketball is about and growing its brand as well," he added.
"It is a great opportunity. It is going to be a great experience," said center Kyle Hines. "Not many of us have been to China before and it is great that we can be representatives of not only the EuroLeague, but also CSKA, to go over there and to play some exhibition games, some great events. It is good not only for the EuroLeague, but for basketball in general for us to go out there and have a good opportunity to show fans out there what Euroleague Basketball is about."
This will CSKA's second visit to China within the EB World Tour, following its 2007 tour, which marked the first Euroleague Basketball showcase in the country. On that trip, CSKA beat both Yao Ming’s Team China and the Sidney Kings in a tournament that also featured Benetton Treviso.
Itoudis stressed the importance Yao had in Chinese and world basketball. "Yao Ming was Chinese basketball's best ambassador, playing in the NBA and being an important player there. Unfortunately, he stopped his career earlier than we all thought. Chinese basketball fans keep an eye in America, but also in Europe. It would be great if they can modify both styles into something that is their own," Itoudis said.
For team captain Victor Khryapa, this is a great chance to make Euroleague Basketball and CSKA even more popular. "It is always great to see something new and play in a new environment. We have experienced playing in America and now we are going to China. Obviously, it is good for marketing reasons to make basketball more popular all around the world. The Chinese people and local teams will have the chance to see the European champion," Khryapa said. "The only bad thing about it is that the trip is so short that we, the players, will not be able to see as much as we wanted! I hope everything goes well and that it will be a good trip."
One of the many incentives for Chinese fans will be seeing Nando De Colo and Milos Teodosic. De Colo is the reigning EuroLeague MVP and Teodosic won that award in the 2009-10 season. De Colo was also the competition's top scorer last season, with Teodosic right behind him. De Colo is very excited to travel to China for the first time, while Teodosic will return for the first time in almost a decade.
"It will be my first time in China, but we know they love basketball," De Colo said. "I think it will be great to see how they react when the EuroLeague champions come to their country. It will be the first time for me to go and play against them so we will see. We need to stay focused on our job and know that this is a pre-season game. We need to get ready for the future."
"It is nice, I am very happy that we are going to go to China and visit the country. I have been there once, maybe 10 years ago. I want to see it again, so I am very happy to be able to play two games in China," Teodosic said. "For team chemistry, it is perfect to go over there. I think we will enjoy a lot in our six days over there."
Another player eager to travel to China for the first time is swingman Cory Higgins, who is entering his second season with CSKA. "Going to China is very exciting. Obviously, it is a new experience, a new culture and I feel I can grow as a person. That is what I am looking forward to most. Basketball is a plus, but I am looking forward to experiencing part of their culture," Higgins said.
This promises to be a unique opportunity for CSKA players to be together in a different environment, to build their team chemistry and trying things against different teams. The tour will also go beyond the court with several other events that will expand Euroleague Basketball’s reach within the Chinese basketball community. Community events and a coaching clinic will add to the Euroleague Basketball experience in China.
One Team, Euroleague Basketball's corporate social responsibility programme, will be present in this trip as it joins forces with local government to work with special communities that need help. Hines will be one of CSKA's most visible faces in his role as a One Team Global Ambassador for a third consecutive season. When asked about travelling to China and the great experience it can be, Hines did not hesitate. "It is the best part for me. We get a chance to experience a new culture, new things and some new cities, meet different people, try different foods... the whole experience will be a great opportunity for all of us," Hines said. "I am looking forward to it a lot."
CSKA will start the tour in Chengdu, on Wednesday, September 28 where the EuroLeague champ will face its CBA counterpart, Sichuan Blue Whales. The second game will be two days later in Shenzhen, were CSKA will face CBA semifinalist Guangdong Tigers.