Randy Wiel: Being a Coach in China
At this moment, the 2019 World Cup is taking place in China, less than a year before the Olympics will take place in Tokyo. Some say the Chinese league is already the second best league in the world, just behind the NBA, as lots of very good American players are making the step to China. Jeremy Lin is the latest star player to take the jump and try his chances in China.
It’s a little less common for coaches to do the same thing. One of the few who has is Randy Wiel. A former player of North Carolina under the guidance of Dean Smith, and a player of the Dutch national Team. And, of course, Wiel was also the coach of North Carolina-Ashville, Middle Tennessee, the Dutch National team, and several other teams in the Netherlands. Here Randy Wiel will tell us all about his time in China.
How did I end up in China??
I was coaching in Rotterdam in the Netherlands at the time in 2012 an the Chinese team Jiangsu Lions came over to Holland to play a Christmas tournament in Zwolle. They had an American coach Sean Rooks who did not make the trip to Holland, so their representative asked me if I could substitute for their coach during the tournament.
After the season I returned to the U.S.A and an agent from Brazil called me on behalf of the Chinese team and asked me if I was interested in coaching the team in China the upcoming season. As my contract ran out with Rotterdam, I signed a one year contract to coach the Jiangsu Lions. China has 2 basketball leagues; The CBA, and the NBL. The Jiangsu Lions were a member of the NBL and were based in the 4th largest city named Xuzhou. Xuzhou is a city of 10 million inhabitants about 9 hours from Shanghai and 12 hours from Beijing.
Nobody spoke English and I had an interpreter with me 24/7. He slept in the room next door to my apartment. It was a different experience because the team lived in a sports complex with security.
Food and everything was provided within the complex.
Our team had very strict rules. I had to check curfew every night and report to the General Manager if a player was not there or if they had women in their rooms, even though these were adult players with an average age of 27 years . The team owner was a millionaire who lived in a mansion outside of the city limits, but was there at every practice.
One thing that was different from every league I have coached in, is that the NBL league would give a skills and conditioning test to every player on every team. This test is given in Beijing on certain dates before the season. Any player that fails the skills and conditioning test is not allowed to start practice or play in the league until he passes the test given by the league officials.
I felt a little isolated because with China being a communist country , there was no access to Yahoo, Facebook, or Youtube. I could get the world news from the BBC. but nothing from the USA. I communicated with my family through skype.
However there was one channel that showed NBA games 24 hours a day.
The level of Basketball in the CBA is comparable with the German or Italian league, especially since there are so many ex- NBA players playing in the League. The quality of play is getting better every year and China pays astronomical salaries especially to the American players, and the very good Chinese players. There are numerous players making over 1 million dollars a season. Players like Stephon Marbury, Jimmer Fredette, Michael Beasley , Ty Lawson etc.
With the Jiangsu Lions we played in different tournaments against other foreign teams from Argentina , Brazil, and we also played Talinn from Estonia , coached by one of my former players Gert Kullimae . Since we had no cheerleaders our team owner flew over a cheerleading team from Holland that he saw during the tournament in Zwolle, and paid for all their expenses for 2 weeks so we would have cheerleaders at our tournaments. He did this numerous times.
I was under the impression that communist countries did not have a lot of rich people. In China there are a lot of rich people and there are even more wealthy people . And they love basketball. Every summer they bring NBA stars to give clinics and just travel the country to promote basketball. The one thing I don’t miss is the travel. China is a big country and 10 to 12 hour road-trips are common.
China however has the best train systems I have ever been on. They called them bullet trains and they can go so fast, and reduce a ten hour trip to four hours. The fans are very, very enthusiastic and most teams have real good attendance and the top teams play in front of sellout crowds. When I was there the National team was coached by the great Greek coach and ex-player Panagiotis Giannakis during the Asian Games.
China has had a couple of great player that got drafted to play in the NBA. Some came over and others prefer to stay and play in China. Beside the isolation China was a positive experience. The only time I saw any other foreigners was when we would go to Beijing and they take us to visit the great Chinese Wall because there were busloads of tourists that come visit there.
I also found out that in China the local people do not eat what they feed us in Holland and here in the USA. They eat lots of fish and fish-products, lots of soup and noodles, and lots of rice which I like. However we went to a very classy restaurant one time and they served us all kinds of meat on the table and my interpreter kept offering me this meat. After a couple times of him insisting I asked him what it was and he answered me it was dog meat. I could not get myself to even taste that meat, but in China it is a delicacy and everybody eats it. Another thing I could not eat was grasshoppers. They prepare it in some sauce , but I could not get myself to even taste it. When I asked my interpreter how come they eat dogs, his simple answer was how come you guys eat cows. I guess each country has its own habits.