The absence of top freshman Shabazz Muhammad has received so much attention leading up to UCLA's week-long exhibition tour of China that it's easy to forget there's still plenty to learn about the Bruins this week.
The three games UCLA will play in China figure to provide preliminary answers to some of the questions that will determine whether UCLA regains its place among college basketball's elite this year or continues to struggle.
How much has point guard Larry Drew II improved since his abrupt midseason departure from North Carolina almost two years ago? Is hefty center Joshua Smith in good enough shape to play more than 20 minutes a game without getting fatigued or fouling out? Can this team defend in anywhere close to the manner Ben Howland's teams did during their run of three straight Final Fours? And how big of an impact can the other elite recruit, Kyle Anderson, make right away?
To provide insight into UCLA's trip, Yahoo! Sports will be running a daily update on the Bruins featuring a diary entry from one of the players and other tidbits. Up first is highly touted freshman forward Tony Parker, who is unlikely to play in China because of a hamstring injury but traveled with the team anyway.
Parker's entry focuses on UCLA's daunting trip to China, which began when the team left campus at about 10:15 p.m. on Tuesday (PST) and ended at 8:45 a.m. in Beijing on Thursday morning when the Bruins arrived at their hotel. Squeezing a 6-foot-9, 280-pound frame into an airplane seat for 13 hours could not have been easy, but Parker took it in stride and is looking forward to Friday's visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
Tony Parker (@tonyparker32):
The 13-hour flight really wasn't that tough for me. I've flown overseas before, so I just listened to music and went to sleep. I woke up a couple times but then fell right back to sleep. I had no problems with that. Once we got to the hotel in the morning, I was able to fall asleep again. That's the best way to go through everything. It helps make the travel go faster. I tried to sleep as much as possible. We're going to be really busy, so I want to be ready to sightsee."
The sightseeing is going to be great. You see these places on TV and in movies. But we are finally going to be there. It's going to be a great time. We'll be able to go home and tell people about these experiences and that we saw those historic landmarks. I'm really looking forward to being able to sightsee on this trip.