For the third consecutive summer, Mike Krzyzewski will lead a basketball team in competition abroad—but for the first time, it won’t be the United States national team.
The Duke basketball program will travel to China and Dubai from Aug. 14-27, playing four exhibition games in a series dubbed the “Friendship Games.”
The Blue Devils will play a three-game exhibition showcase with the Chinese Olympic team, starting Aug. 17 in Kunshan, China, where Duke is completing construction on a new 200-acre campus. The Blue Devils will make the short trip to Shanghai the next day to play in the Shanghai Mercedes-Benz Arena. On Aug. 22, Duke will conclude its time in China with a game at Beijing’s MasterCard Center, home of the 2008 Olympic basketball tournament.
The Blue Devils will help open another Fuqua campus in Dubai just three days later by playing the United Arab Emirates national team.
The University is currently in talks with ESPN International to broadcast three of the four games on the ESPN family of networks, according to senior associate director of athletics and director of the basketball legacy fund Mike Cragg.
Duke will host a pair of open practices with the Chinese national team in Shanghai and Beijing. The practice in Shanghai will take place outdoors on Aug. 19. Krzyzewski and his team will also conduct a basketball clinic for members of the Chinese athletics community.
“It’s really a coaches clinic,” Cragg said. “It will be run similarly to how Coach K does things here at the [Coach K Leadership Conference].”
The Blue Devils will have responsibilities beyond those on the court, though, as the primary goal of the trip is to bring attention to Duke’s new campuses abroad. Along with visiting the construction site of the Kunshan campus, the team will attend pregame VIP banquets with government officials, sponsors and University administrators from both China and Durham.
“It’s much more than a basketball trip,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a big trip for our school.”
Duke basketball has not played abroad since 2002, even though NCAA bylaws permit one international trip every four years. Part of the reason, according to Cragg, is that until last year incoming freshmen were not allowed to take part in summer travel. The timing of the Blue Devils’ two-week trip is fit closely between the end of summer session classes and the beginning of the fall semester.
Despite the focus on promoting Duke’s new campuses abroad, though, the trip will also give Duke a significant edge in the coming season. The NCAA allows any team traveling abroad to practice ten times before they leave for international competition, over two months before the normal mid-October start date, a huge advantage for a team adding five freshmen to its roster. More than anything, Krzyzewski will use the extra practice time to see which of his players step up into leadership roles.
“Going on the tour that we are gives these guys an opportunity to step forward and establish themselves with their team first and the public after,” Krzyzewski said.
The trip to China and Dubai is the brainchild of Fuqua School of Business Dean Blair Sheppard and former vice president and vice provost for global strategy and programs Greg Jones, who first presented the idea to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski just over one year ago. Although Krzyzewski was receptive to the proposal, he was initially concerned that his ongoing commitment to the United States national team would conflict with any potential summer travel.
“I thought I’d be in Argentina trying to qualify for the Olympics,” Krzyzewski said. “Last summer if we didn’t win the [FIBA World Championships], this would have been a heck of a summer with USA Basketball.”
The FIBA victory not only secured a berth in the 2012 Olympics for the United States, but a summer away from national team duties for Krzyzewski. With the time conflict resolved, Cragg called Sheppard and Jones to start making concrete plans.
“I called and said, ‘If everyone’s serious about this, let’s start talking,’” Cragg said.
And after months of “collective effort” between Duke basketball, Fuqua and the Office of Global Strategy and Programs, those plans are finally ready to be set in motion.