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Men's basketball team fosters goodwill in China

LAIE, Hawaii — During an 11-day tour by its men's basketball team, BYU-Hawaii strengthened relationships and promoted goodwill between the university and the Church in the People's Republic of China.

Head coach Ken Wagner described the trip Aug. 11-22 as a great success. "It was a great opportunity for our hosts to learn about us, about BYU-Hawaii and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," he said. "For instance, when we were setting up the trip they wanted to schedule a game for Sunday. It gave us an opportunity to explain about our beliefs and why we wouldn't play on the Sabbath."

"There is a lot of respect for our religious beliefs and the way we carry ourselves," said assistant coach Brandyn Akana. "Just by our examples, we are able to have a positive influence on those we work with.

"We want BYU-Hawaii to be the American university of China," Coach Akana added. "Through basketball, we have done a good job of building a relationship with them and making that happen."

His hope is not too far off. According to Wang Fei, former head coach of the Chinese National Team, BYU-Hawaii is one of the most popular U.S. universities in all of China, so much so that BYU-Hawaii is the first university team from the United States invited to play in China in many years.

The tour was the culmination of several years of warm relations between BYU-Hawaii and China. Coach Akana and his brother, Jarinn Akana, assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association and former BYU-Hawaii player and coach, both worked with Coach Fei and the Chinese National Team in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics. The team visited Dallas, Texas, for training camps four years ago and Denver, Colo., the following year.

Two years ago, Coach Akana and Coach Wagner visited the People's Republic of China to conduct clinics and invite teams to participate in BYU-Hawaii's annual Asia-Pacific Basketball Tournament. Consequently, university teams from China have played in the tournament for the past two years, and Huaqiao University's team will compete in this year's tournament.

Due to the close relationship established by this series of events, Coach Fei was delighted to work with Akana in organizing the tour for BYU-Hawaii's "Seasiders" men's basketball team to China.

"It was also a great opportunity to play against the best teams in China, and it was a fantastic cultural and historical experience for the team," Coach Wagner said. "We were able to visit three vastly different provinces and learn about them and experience their culture and foods."

The Seasiders spent a night in Osaka, Japan, before arriving in Beijing. While in Beijing the team visited the Great Wall of China, the tomb of Mao Tse-tung, the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. They then traveled approximately 250 miles southwest to Taiyuan, capital city of the Shanxi province, where they played and lost to the Ji Ling Tigers, one of China's top provincial teams.

The Seasiders then traveled to the extreme northwest province of China, Xingjian where they split a pair of games with Xinjiang, the defending national champions of the Chinese Basketball Association. The defending CBA champions, led by 6-foot-11-inch Denver Nugget draftee Xue Yu Yang, gave the Seasiders a pair of exciting games that helped to continue the excellent relationship BYU-Hawaii has established with the People's Republic of China.

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