At the end of a week-long trip to China that featured as much sight-seeing as basketball, UCLA players returned to Los Angeles Wednesday night satisfied with what they gained.
They saw the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and other famous Chinese landmarks. They garnered a new appreciation for Chinese food and culture. And got a jumpstart on what will be a pivotal season for a program that has missed the NCAA tournament two of the past three years.
Even though top recruit Shabazz Muhammad remained in Los Angeles as a result of an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, fellow freshmen Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams were able to bond with the returning players. Anderson and Adams also made an impact on the court, the former posting double-doubles in two of UCLA's three games and the latter shaking off a poor shooting night in the first game to average 19 points per game in the final two.
It's difficult to gain very much insight about a team from three August exhibition games against sometimes suspect competition, but the preliminary results were a bit more mixed among the veterans.
Center Joshua Smith overwhelmed opposing big men with his size, but he doesn't appear much closer to being in good shape than he did last season. Point guard Larry Drew III had a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio for the trip, but the North Carolina transfer made minimal impact as a scorer. And while ultra-athletic sophomore Norman Powell showed flashes of promise and junior wing Tyler Lamb was solid, neither demonstrated they're ready for a breakout season yet either.
All in all, though, the Bruins left China satisfied with the progress they made on the court and thrilled with their experience off of it. Powell provides the final UCLA in China diary entry with his summary of the trip.
Norman Powell (@Norman_Powell4):
It was great to see how this team just got closer, both on and off the court. We are really close-knit. We went to the Great Wall of China and had a great time there. We were taking pictures everywhere we went and had a great time with the people in China. I thought we really embraced the Chinese culture. We all know that this is a once in a lifetime trip, so we just wanted to make the best of it.
"The highlight of the trip for me was the visit to the Great Wall of China, hands down. Everybody was excited to see it when we came out here. That's something that you're not sure you'll be able to see in your lifetime. And for our guys to be able to say that they've already been there is great. We had such a great experience being able to see and then walk the Great Wall of China.
Previously in the UCLA in China series: