Tempe, Ariz. • Washington coach Mike Hopkins has taken multiple teams overseas with USA Basketball, coaching in Olympics, world championships and various events.
Each time a team goes on an international trip, the message is the same: Enjoy yourselves, but realize you’re in a foreign country. The laws and culture are not the same as those in the United States, so be aware and respectful.
“When you’re in a foreign country, different rules,” Hopkins said. “You have to know the lay of the land because every country has different rules, different regulations and treat each case a lot differently.”
The arrest of three UCLA players on shoplifting charges in China exemplifies the need to take such precautions.
The players, identified by The Los Angeles Times as Cody Riley, Jalen Hill and LiAngelo Ball, were arrested for shoplifting ahead of their game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai.
Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott has said UCLA is cooperating with local authorities after the basketball players were “involved in a situation” in China, with police being summoned to the team’s hotel to investigate.
The NCAA does not provide behavior guidelines for teams going overseas, leaving it up to the conferences and schools.
The Pac-12, which has held games in China annually since 2015, provides teams with a detailed manual on all of the activities and schedule for the overseas trip, including a section on cultural etiquette, social issues, safety and other overseas travel information related to the foreign country. UCLA also provided a pre-trip orientation for the players, according to the Pac-12.
Washington was the first Pac-12 school to play in China, the game coming twoyears ago against Texas. Its players took classes on culture, language and rules before going.
“We live by a quote: ‘It’s not how you do anything, it’s how you do everything,'” said Hopkins, who replaced Lorenzo Romar during the offseason. “If you make bad decisions off the court, you’re probably going to make bad decisions on the court. Understanding that we’re teaching these kids to be professionals. We don’t just say professional basketball players. Professional people.”
Most overseas trips have full schedules, loaded with practices, games, team activities, group sightseeing. But coaches also want the players to experience the new culture on their own, so they work in free time for them to explore.
The free times are when awareness of being in a foreign country becomes most vital for the players.
“You talk about it. You do, but all I can tell you is you can’t be with them every second,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, whose team played in Europe this summer. “You’re going to give them some free time. You’d like to think that somewhere along the line, someone’s taught them that you don’t take what’s not yours. You hate to see it because of what we’ve gone through with basketball right now, but the fact is that’s what we are, we’ve got to continue to educate in everything that we do.”
Driving it home is not always easy. The players are typically 18 to 22 years old, excited to be in a new country and unfamiliar of their surroundings. Something they might do in the U.S. without thinking about could be frowned upon or even illegal in a foreign country.
There’s also the issue of safety, perhaps from wandering into a bad area of town or ending up in a place they’re not supposed to be.
“We have a good bunch of guys, but we did remind them at various times during the trip to be aware of their surroundings,” said Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley, whose team played in Spain and Italy this summer. “You want them to have some free time, so we’re not going to be around them the whole time and want them to be aware of what’s around them.”