Kentucky players Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood said that last month's trip to China gave them a boost of confidence going forward in their basketball careers.
The players were on a team sponsored by Campbellsville-based Sports Reach that toured China last month. Both played a great deal for the team, which they said can compensate for a lack of much playing time for UK last season.
"I think it boosted my confidence," Harrellson said at a news conference Wednesday. After noting that he benefited from playing against such players as DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton in practice last season, he added, "I just tried to carry that over."
Playing taller, more experienced players on teams from China and Russia on the tour, Harrellson averaged 13.1 points and 9.2 rebounds.
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"All I did was rebound," he said. "Offensive rebound and put-back. If that's all I have to do here, I'll be happy."
Noting the playing time in China, Harrellson said, "It really reassures me that I can produce and I am a good player."
Speaking of a UK front line restocked with freshmen next season, Harrellson said, "Knowing I have a chance to play, I'm going to keep pushing myself as hard as I can."
Hood did not shoot well on the tour (a team-low 32.3-percent accuracy overall, 3-for-21 from three-point range), but he also got plenty of playing time. He spoke of the confidence boost that comes from "great game experience."
Hood also played a bit of point guard.
As for his poor shooting, Hood said, "I don't remember a game I shot well. I don't think there was one."
Harrellson corrected his teammate. He noted that Hood shot well in a game, but twice had three-pointers erased because he was standing out of bounds.
Harrellson and Hood came away from China with two strong impressions: The food is different and the officiating contains its own version of home cooking.
The UK players noted how much their appreciation for American food grew during the trip. Each said he lost weight on a diet Harrellson called "17 days of rice and noodles."
Harrellson noted a "hot pot" at one restaurant that included a boiling liquid and such items as eel, squid, cow intestines, pig intestines and "other awkward food."
Hood recalled lamb's blood included in a Jell-O-like substance. "I was next to a guy who did try the blood," he said. "He just coughed."
The tour ended with a two-day stay in Beijing, a cosmopolitan city with more familiar foods available.
"Everybody grubbed out on cheeseburgers," Harrellson said, "the biggest cheeseburgers they had."
The gyms were a bit different, too. Harrellson said a fog rolled into one gym that made it difficult to see the other end of the court.
"It's not Rupp (Arena) at all," Hood said. "Not even close. One gym was about as big as Ole Miss's (Tad Smith Coliseum)."
Both UK players noted that the officiating favored the opponent.
"Like they were trying to keep the game close," Hood said. "But you still had to play."
Harrellson described the officiating as "like us going to Louisville or Tennessee. You're not going to get any fouls."
The Sports Reach tour served as a cultural exchange between American players and Chinese fans.
It also enabled players from archrival programs like Kentucky and Louisville to get to know each other better.
"Surprisingly, Peyton Siva is a good guy," Harrellson said of the U of L point guard. "A down-to-earth good guy."
Tennessee player Skylar McBee also made a winning impression on Harrellson and Hood. They noted McBee's sense of humor, which included buying a Bruce Lee kung fu outfit.
"We called him Bruce LeRoy," Harrellson said.
The players visited the Great Wall of China. This led a reporter to ask Josh Harrellson to compare the Great Wall of China and the Great Wall of Kentucky (aka John Wall).
"One stretches across China," Harrellson said. "The other is 6-4."