Chris Sarbaugh planned on being halfway around the world by now. Ireland, Croatia, Germany, Italy – he had the European works of travel planned as a post-graduation present to himself.
Then Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin called with a proposition to take a different trip across the seas, this one to China with his Vandals teammates.
Sarbaugh, who recently completed his college eligibility, will accompany the Vandals on a trip to China beginning June 10 to compete in the Atlas challenge and play in exhibition games against various Olympic national teams.
“I talked to him, talked to my family, so for him to offer this I couldn’t say no,” Sarbaugh, a Gonzaga Prep graduate, said. “So for the last few weeks of school I said ‘all right, I’m in.’ I changed my Europe plans because this is something I gotta do.”
College basketball programs are allowed to take one international trip every four years, although Idaho hadn’t done so since 1995.
The opportunity arose late in the season when Nels Hawkinson, father of Washington State forward Josh Hawkinson, and his organization, Basketball Travelers Inc., contacted Idaho about the prospect of participating in a trip to China.
They wanted a Pacific Northwest program with a roster comprised of experienced players. Idaho fit that bill.
“When they contacted us, it was a trip that we almost couldn’t refuse,” Verlin said. “They cut us a really good deal to go over there, we’ve been very fortunate to have a very giving roundball club that’s given a lot of money so we’ve been able to fund-raise for most of the trip.”
Verlin estimates about seven players acquired passports to travel out of the country for the first time.
Challenges of this trip include adjusting to FIBA rules, such as a wider lane, deeper 3-point line, shorter shot clock and slicker basketball. Though those may pale in comparison to the challenges of learning the culture, language and … the food.
“I know a lot of the guys are worried about the food,” Sarbaugh said. “They’re straight McDonald’s, simple food, I don’t know what they’re going to be eating over there. I’m excited.”
Perrion Callandrent advises against the Golden Arches. He would know. He tripped to China last year around the same time with best friend Zach LaVine, a guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“American food over there is a no-for me, honestly. You have your McDonald’s and stuff like that, I didn’t have a great experience with that,” Callandret said.
The restaurants were fine to him. He might suggest the duck, but it’s just not for him.
“It tastes kind of like chicken a little bit but it also tastes stringy. It’s weird; it’s got weird texture to it. I didn’t really like it as much as I thought I would,” Callandret said.
And the language? The players admit, Mandarin Chinese isn’t the easiest language to learn.
“There’s this class, Sociology 404, that our professor is kind of giving us,” Sarbaugh said. “(We’re learning) ‘thank you,’ ‘hello,’ ‘you’re welcome,’ ‘lower price,’ stuff like that, key words.”
New signees Trevon Allen of Clarkston High and Brayon Blake, formerly of North Idaho College, will also take part in the trip.
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