HANGZHOU, China – On their first full day in China, Georgia Tech players and coaches ventured out of the hotel Sunday morning to stretch their legs and take a look around. It turned out there were plenty of people intrigued to take a look at the Yellow Jackets, in China to play UCLA next Saturday (Friday night in the U.S.)
“People always want to take pictures here and there, but not that many,” Tech forward Sylvester Ogbonda said.
The team hotel looks out onto West Lake in Hangzhou, a tourist spot that on this morning had attracted hundreds of visitors strolling along the waterfront. A group like theirs – abnormally tall young men in matching sweatsuits – would attract attention in the U.S. It was all the more so in Hangzhou.
“We stick out because we’re tall and I guess there aren’t that many black people here,” guard Brandon Alston said. “I guess it’s cool. It’s just a different experience.”
A man artfully painting Chinese characters on the sidewalk with a brush dabbed in water got the players’ attention. So did the boats on the lake. All the while, men and women pulled out their phones to take pictures of the lanky visitors in the navy blue sweatsuits.
When they stopped to take a group picture with the lake behind them, that provided all of the opening some of the onlookers needed. They moved in for pictures, some of them holding up selfie sticks. With several players and several people vying for photos, there was a lot going on.
"They were excited to see us," Ogbonda said. "It was quite fun."
Before the work of the day – an early-afternoon practice and then study hall – players also ventured out into back-alley shops and markets near the hotel. Alston bought a shirt, pants and some chocolate. Ogbonda and teammates Abdoulaye Gueye and Ben Lammers and strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor wandered into shops, including one with a tank full of crabs.
“I love being here,” Ogbonda said. “I just love the culture, the way they treat people. They actually like you. You can see it’s genuine.”