King Rice's Monmouth team is getting beneficial experience early in offseason, as Hawks have split first two games in 14-day trip to China. (Photo courtesy of the Asbury Park Press)
Trips overseas have become increasingly prevalent in college basketball over the past several years. Two years ago, Manhattan began their first of two consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship campaigns with an excursion to the Bahamas, while Canada hosted Fordham and Siena in each of the past two seasons. In each circumstance, the tour has provided an opportunity to not only get additional experience, but also improve team chemistry, neither of which are bad qualities.
In the case of Monmouth, now in the midst of a 14-day trip to China just two months after wrapping up an 18-win season in just their second year in the MAAC, the Hawks are reaping the same benefits, and for a team expected to contend next season given that its core returns largely intact save for two mainstays in the rotation, the extra repetitions surely cannot hurt the push toward Monmouth's common goal.
"I thought my kids played great," head coach King Rice said after the Hawks' second game, a 78-61 victory earlier this morning (Monday night in China) over a Shanghai Sharks team that defeated Monmouth by the final of 72-62 on Saturday. "The thing they did was approach the game with a seriousness that we haven't always done. They really had a focus on having fun during the game. We made it fun for ourselves, and it was great results."
Over the first two games against Shanghai, a team Yao Ming once played for before entering the NBA; and now serves as team president of, Justin Robinson has led all scorers with 23 points, while Austin Tilghman has chipped in with 20, and Oklahoma transfer Je'lon Hornbeak has added 17 in his first action in a Hawks uniform. The guard regains his eligibility this fall after sitting out last season to complete his mandatory year in residence. In addition, Zac Tillman has continued to be a force on the glass, with ten rebounds in the first two games as he prepares for his junior season.
Among the differences that Monmouth has encountered, aside from the native culture, is one on the hardwood that may be the most glaring between China and the United States. Both of Monmouth's first two contests were played with an NBA-style 24-second shot clock, in four quarters of ten minutes each.
"It was a very physical game," said Rice of the first contest, "and the more physical we got, it wasn't the best way for us to play." Of the second game, he said: "I definitely thought it was very physical, but our legs were fresher. The other night, you travel 14 hours on a plane, you play the next day, we had heavy, heavy legs. Today, our legs weren't heavy, so we could deal with their physicality much better."
Monmouth continues their tour of China with games on Wednesday and Thursday. For more information on the Hawks' journey, visit MonmouthHawks.com.
***Reports from Monmouth athletic communications assistant Gary Kowal contributed to this story***