June 15, 2007
It was not hard to convince Auburn administrative assistant Bryan Bartley to be a coach with Reach USA after talking with program director Robby Spears.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity for the players to enhance their leadership skills and to play basketball for a bigger person," said Bartley referring to the program designed to promote ministry through sports.
Two Auburn players, rising junior guard Rasheem Barrett and rising senior forward Quan Prowell, were chosen to participate in an eight-game exhibition, 10-day tour in China along with six other players from the SEC.
The players had a grueling schedule while in China.
"We woke up at 7 and ate breakfast then toured whatever city we were in," said Barrett. "We had lunch around noon, Bible study in the afternoon and then went to the gym to play a game. The next morning we would wake up and fly out to a new city."
The exhausting schedule wasn't the only thing the players had to get used to.
"The food was so different," said Barrett. "Romen Noodles became a gourmet meal. Anytime we saw a KFC or McDonald's, we loaded up and took it to our rooms since we didn't know when we would see another one."
Surprisingly, it was not as hard as anticipated to blend the different styles of the players into one successful team.
"At first it was difficult, but when you are playing for something bigger, the players submit themselves for God," said Bartley. "We were also representing the United States so all barriers were gone once the players were on the court."
Even SEC rivalries were put aside on the tour of China.
"We all became friends despite the schools we came from," said Barrett. "By halftime of the first game, we had figured each other out."
On the court, the players had to make a few adjustments to adapt to the 24-second shot clock and deeper 3-point line.
"The Chinese were very competitive, and their fundamentals were very sound," said Bartley. "They executed each play very well. When our players would do something well, they would try to figure out how they did it so that they could better themselves."
The dedication of the players paid off as Reach USA finished 6-2 in the tour. Reach USA started off strong against the Chinese, winning the first four games. It lost the next two games, but broke the losing streak with an 85-71 victory. Reach USA closed out the Chinese tour with a 90-81 win over Zhe Jiang in Shanxi, China.
"The reason we lost those two games is because everyone can shoot over there," said Barrett. "The Chinese were very aggressive and that was one thing we really had to adjust to. Once we showed that we weren't going to back down, they dropped back a little and played more fairly."
Barrett and Prowell were great contributors to Reach USA. In the eight games, Prowell averaged 15.5 points and 7.4 rebounds while Barrett averaged 12.4 points and 4.6 boards. Prowell helped end the losing streak by scoring a game-high 24 points and also won a slam dunk contest. Barrett helped Reach USA finish strong with a game-high 23 points in the last game.
"The games attracted a lot of attention in China," said Bartley. "There were articles in newspapers, flyers around town and advertisements in each city. The fans were crazy. They would crowd around outside our buses when we would pull up to a game just to be able to see an American basketball player."
Barrett and teammates were surprised at the mass of people they would attract both on and off the court.
"When we got off the bus there would be 200 or 300 people throwing themselves at us just to shake our hands," said Barrett. "A lot of them would rush the floor just to get a picture with an American basketball player. One kid even asked me for my socks to remember me by."
One of the arenas the team played in was outside which required them to change their strategy. They also got to be the first team to play in a brand new arena. Although some of the arenas were similar to ones in the U.S., the cloud of cigarette smoke was something the players could not get used to.
"Smoking was allowed in the whole arena," said Barrett. "Players would even be smoking at halftime. They had cigarette stands like we have concession stands."
After experiencing life in China, Bartley and Barrett both realized how much Americans take things for granted.
"The things we think to be so small here are such a big deal over there," said Bartley. "They work so hard for nothing."
Both Bartley and Barrett came back from China with new communication and leadership skills that will help them in every aspect of life.
"On the court, some of the Chinese players spoke English, but most of the time we just had to read their body language," said Barrett. "I learned how to communicate better with my team and how to be a better leader. If I had the opportunity, I would go again. I just wouldn't want to stay as long."
Both the players and coaches also grew spiritually while on this tour.
"The day our bus broke down for seven hours, and we were stuck on a hot and crowded bus stands out in my mind the most," said Bartley. "The traffic was zooming by, and we had no idea where to go. We decided that we would go ahead and do our devotion for the day. We read scripture and prayed for about an hour and when the driver got back on the bus, it cranked again. It was at that moment that the kids understood that they were playing for God and began to get out of their comfort zone."