11/21/2014

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Sports

Pac-12 eyes regular season games in China

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott's expansion dreams aren't finished. No, the conference isn't trying to add another team. Scott is looking across the Pacific Ocean to China to help expand the conference's brand.

This is the second year of Scott's long-term effort to increase the Pac-12's presence in Asia. This summer, four groups from the conference will - or have - made trips to China. A conference All-Star volleyball team was the first to take the journey, spending 13 days there.

Scott said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he expected the Pac-12 to play regular season games in China within the next few years, and that he hoped the league's cable network would someday be available there.

"That's the next step," the Pac-12 commissioner said. "That's something we will be evaluating this summer. Taking the next step would be a regular season men's basketball game in China. Whether that's a non-conference game early in the season or during holiday time. There's a robust fan base for basketball in China, 300 million basketball fans."

Scott said the earliest such a game would happen would be the 2014-15 regular season.

Arizona State's men's basketball team and Cal's women's basketball program will head across the Pacific next month to play a series of exhibition games against Chinese teams. UCLA went over to China last summer in the first step of the conference's initiative.

Finally, a delegation of coaches - led by Oregon State men's basketball coach Craig Robinson - will conduct clinics for Chinese coaches in August.

"The ultimate goal is to build the brand of the schools in China and to develop other opportunities more broadly," the Pac-12 commissioner said. "That's tied to our philosophy of universities. Schools are looking at that when they think about globalization."

USC coach Mick Haley led the All-Star volleyball team on its trip earlier this month. The former U.S. national team coach loved the experience, returning to China for the first time in 15 years.

"I was worried that we wouldn't be competitive," Haley said. "They have 100,000 club teams and the whole country understands the game of volleyball. I was tremendously encouraged and surprised how well all the kids performed under pressure."

While the All-Star team didn't win any matches against the No. 1, 4 and 7 teams in the Chinese professional league, they were competitive.

"We were competitive with some of their best teams," Haley said. "It's a good sign if we got to the point in the future where we bring the best players and have the training time to put it together. It could be a made-for-TV kind of event - China vs the U.S."

Haley said he would be "extremely interested and excited" to play a regular season match in Asia if the opportunity presented itself.

"I like the idea. China is trying to copy our university system below the pro league. They are testing it out and see if they can move in that direction also. It would be great to have some sort of tournament with some of our teams and their teams playing each other."

Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb seconded the idea. Her squad will be heading to China from Aug. 17-26.

"I'm up for anything that's going to help our game, be cutting edge. Larry Scott has visions greater than the visions what we see right now. We want to be the premiere women's basketball program and if we could play a game in Asia, I'd be the first to raise my hand."
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