Georgia Tech going to Shanghai on ‘trip of a lifetime’

A journey to a city 7,650 miles from Atlanta began with a phone call. A little more than a year ago, Georgia Tech assistant coach Eric Reveno took a call from a friend who has an association with the Pac-12 gauging his team’s interest in playing a game in Shanghai to open the 2017-18 season.

Gears began to turn – among Reveno’s first inquiries was to the athletic department’s academic advising office to see if it would be feasible to leave campus for a week in the middle of the semester to play a basketball game halfway across the world – and plans took shape. On Friday, those designs finally came to fruition as the Yellow Jackets boarded a charter bus that took them from campus to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Two flights and a bus ride later, they were scheduled to arrive at their hotel in Hangzhou, China, some 25 ½ hours later. 

While college basketball won’t command the attention of most Atlanta sports fans until January (or possibly March), Tech is undertaking a historic trip, its first game on international soil since 1986. Tech will be the guest of the Pac-12 and will play UCLA on Nov. 10 (Nov. 11 in Shanghai) to open the 2017-18 season.

Organizing the trip has been an undertaking.

“It’s been just thinking of a lot of small things,” said Ellie Cantkier, team program and operations manager. “How to get everyone in the country, how to keep ’em healthy and how to get ’em back out. And then win a game in the process.”

Since the end of last season, Tech athletic department staff, including Reveno, Cantkier, associate athletic director Marvin Lewis and scouting director Tyler Benson and others – have taken on the added tasks of planning the trip. That’s included obtaining visas (and passports in the cases of a few first-time international travelers), arranging meals, scheduling vaccinations, picking out gifts to present to hosts, packing up extra sneakers and setting up a class for team and staff about do’s and don’ts in China (do use bottled water to brush your teeth; don’t be surprised if you are treated like a celebrity from selfie-seeking locals).

“It’s a full-time job focusing on that trip with the amount of stuff that you have to do to be organized,” coach Josh Pastner said.

There’s an additional layer of complexity in that Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson also will lead a delegation to China. As was the case with the football team’s trip last year to Dublin, there are peripheral events scheduled that are only tangentially related to the game.

“I think the biggest challenge is making sure that all the various parties understand who’s doing what and trying to address everyone’s needs,” Lewis said.

Traveling in a party of about 35, the Jackets are not traveling light. As they’re to arrive seven days before game day, they had to pack for practice and game preparation. They checked in 22 equipment bags stuffed with balls, sneakers, uniforms, practice gear and more. The coaching staff brought along its own video equipment, including laptops and a projector.

The team is bringing medication, supplies for injury treatment and rehabilitation, and electric stimulation devices to activate muscles during the 14-hour flight from Detroit to Shanghai. (There are no direct flights from Atlanta to Shanghai, although Delta will begin that route in July 2018.) Trainer Richard Stewart prepared bags for the travel party that included everything from trail mix to hand sanitizer to toothpaste. The team ordered 40 electrical converters.

“You kind of try and overthink and think about what could be the one thing we’re missing or what are we forgetting?” Benson said.

Beyond practice, weightlifting and study hall, the team has a visit planned for the campus of Alibaba (a company often described as the Amazon of China), a trip to Shanghai Disneyland, a river cruise and a clinic for children supported by the foundation of former NBA star Yao Ming.

“More than anything else, it’s one of those cultural experiences that everyone involved will be impacted in a positive way,” Lewis said.

As the Pac-12 is picking up most of the tab for Tech, the trip will cost between $60,000 to $70,000, Lewis said. That’s a roughly the cost of a standard road trip.

In a basketball sense, the reality is that this trip likely will not help Tech become a better team. The travel disrupts the routines of practice for a young team that needs as much training time as possible, particularly with guards Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson being held out for NCAA rules violations. The time that staff members have spent on lining up details could have been spent on basketball matters. The disruption from class time and sleep could come with a cost of players’ time and energy later in the semester.

“Someone should have punched me in the nose when I said yes about agreeing to the trip,” Pastner said jokingly.

He then went on to recount two summer tours to Australia that he took with teams as an assistant coach with Arizona. At the time, he dreaded the trips, but saw later how players shared a valuable and memorable experience.

“It’ll be the same thing with these guys,” he said. “It’ll be the trip of a lifetime.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Josh Okogie’s brother explains how draft decision will be made
Josh Okogie’s brother explains how draft decision will be made

To gain some insight into how Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie’s decision about whether to stay in the NBA draft will be made, it might be worthwhile to consider his three older siblings. His eldest brother Evaristus is a dentist who for a time in college held three jobs. The second and third eldest, Nathaniel and Rachael, both earned degrees in...
What happens at the tryouts for Buzz
What happens at the tryouts for Buzz

It was closing in on 10 p.m. on a recent Friday night. Three men sat at a plastic folding table in a Georgia Tech gymnasium illuminated by fluorescent lights. The tone of the conversation, while not grave, was serious. Daniel Nester, Tech’s athletic spirit coordinator, assistant cheerleading coach Adrian Newbill and Tech alumnus Robert Carswell...
5 observations from Georgia Tech’s loss to No. 20 UGA
5 observations from Georgia Tech’s loss to No. 20 UGA

No. 20 Georgia made the key plays, Georgia Tech did not, and for a fifth consecutive game, the Bulldogs beat the Yellow Jackets. Following its win in Athens on April 3, Georgia took the season series from Tech by claiming an 8-3 win Wednesday night on a breezy evening at Russ Chandler Stadium. Georgia (28-13) broke open a 1-1 score with three in the...
Multiple Georgia Tech draft hopefuls draw Falcons’ interest
Multiple Georgia Tech draft hopefuls draw Falcons’ interest

Former Georgia Tech defensive end Antonio Simmons didn’t even finish his Pro Day, but the event served its purpose. Simmons threw down a time of 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash and pumped out 30 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, and suddenly NFL scouts grew a lot more interested. Simmons’ agent is hopeful that his client will hear his name...
Question marks at two position groups for Tech defense
Question marks at two position groups for Tech defense

Among the Georgia Tech players inherited by new defensive coordinator Nate Woody, there are plenty that look like they are fitting in well for the Yellow Jackets. It’s particularly so at linebacker. Victor Alexander and Jaquan Henderson on the outside and Brant Mitchell and Bruce Jordan-Swilling on the inside, a potential starting four, are fast...
More Stories