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Tsinghua University's Men's Basketball Team (purple) practices with WUSTL's Men's Basketball team at the WUSTL Fieldhouse. Tsinghau is participating in the Annual Lopata Basketball Classic. Photo by: Joe Angeles.
The annual Lopata Classic at Washington University in St. Louis is known for attracting teams from different parts of the country. This year’s tournament features a team from a different part of the world.
The 27th edition of the Division III Bears’ men’s basketball tournament this weekend includes a team from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Washington will play Tsinghua at 8 p.m. Friday night, and Franklin and Marshall will play the Chinese squad at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The games don’t count toward contest limits for Washington or Franklin and Marshall; nor do they count toward postseason selection purposes. Both schools applied for and received waivers from the NCAA to conduct one of their exhibition contests in the middle of the regular season.
Players from Washington and Tsinghua practiced together on Tuesday. The Tsinghua squad has been in St. Louis all week and will return to China on Monday. Despite few of the Tsinghua players being able to speak English, players from both teams have become friends – to the point where the competition between the two teams on Friday night probably won’t be as heated as it would be in a normal game.
“When we started the Lopata Classic tournament, we wanted to bring good academic institutions here and let them compete athletically,” said Washington coach Mark Edwards. “At the same time, we wanted to provide all participating teams an experience outside of athletics. Having the Tsinghua team here will add another level of interaction that everyone will benefit from.”
So far those benefits are tangible. Bears senior guard Brett Sapp posted on his Facebook page: “Just practiced with Tsinghua from China – one of the best basketball experiences of my life.” Junior center Alex Toth said: “Just met the Chinese team we play this weekend – I feel so international.”
Washington head coach Mark Edwards and Tsinghua University head coach Bo Li (center) talk during practice. Photo by: Joe Angeles.
Edwards and Tsinghua head coach Bo Li led drills during the two-hour practice on Tuesday. Edwards led both squads through the stretching and conditioning regimen the Bears are accustomed to, while Li ran drills familiar to the Chinese squad.
It’s the first time a team from China in any sport has visited the Washington campus. Bears director of sport information Christopher Mitchell said it may be the first time a team from China has visited the St. Louis area.
“We have a lot of international students on our campus to begin with, and they’ve been peaking inside the gym during practices and are pretty excited about coming to the games this weekend,” he said, adding that the Tsinghua players are “very athletic, fundamentally sound and focus a lot on defense.”
Washington attracted Tsinghua in part through a program called the McDonald’s International Scholars Academy, which is designed to attract the world’s best students to obtain graduate education at the university.
It will be at least the second experience for the Tsinghua players to compete against an American college. Augustana (Illinois) played Tsinghua when the Vikings ventured to Beijing on a trip last summer.
Watch a video from the November 30 practice session here.