One of the reasons we love sports so much as a society is its ability to transcend borders, languages, politics and culture.
Take basketball, for example. The sport is played across the globe, from Boston to Beijing, with the language of the game itself being the only language one needs to know to play.
Allison Livengood, a junior star post player at North Wilkes, enjoyed a unique opportunity last weekend to participate in a series of basketball games against the U19 (or under 19 years old) Chinese Women’s National Team in Winston-Salem.
And while the languages of the participants were much different, as were the styles of play and even some of the rules, the experience was one basketball game Livengood is not likely to forget.
“This is not something you expect to happen, and it was really cool,” said Livengood, who got the chance to play against China’s best young basketball talent as part of the Winston-Salem Stealers AAU program.
Livengood said the possibility of playing the U19 Chinese team first came to light at an organizational meeting for the Stealers at the start of the season.
“We didn’t believe it at first,” said Livengood.
Brian Robinson, the head girls’ coach at Bishop-McGuinness and the director of the Stealers’ program, said the opportunity came through his seven-year association with USA Basketball.
“(Because of my work with the USAB) the women’s basketball national team director, Carol Callan, called me in November about the opportunity. Naturally, the answer was ‘yes’,” said Robinson.
“China’s U19 team wanted to come to the United States to train before heading to the World Championships in Russia this summer,” continued Robinson. “USA Basketball felt as though our club program was organized and somewhat talented enough to make the experience for the Chinese Team a good one.”
The Chinese team was “fast and physical “ said Livengood. “It was like playing with college freshmen and sophomores. It was definitely basketball at a different level.”
Livengood stands at 5 feet 11 inches, and is one of the premier post players in the area. She averaged 10 points and seven rebounds for North Wilkes last season, landing on the Mountain Valley all-conference team.
But in three games (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) she had to square off against players standing 6-feet-4-inches and 6-feet-5-inches.
“I’ve guarded a lot of big players,” laughed Livengood, “but never anyone that big.”
The physicality of the Chinese was apparent even several days after the games had been played. Livengood showed off a variety of bruises on her arms, and said, “I’m bruised up in a lot of places. I definitely learned that I have to be more aggressive playing at that level.”
It was a busy weekend for Livengood, who also runs track this spring at North Wilkes, participating in two field and two running events.
“We had an AAU tournament over the weekend, too,” she said. “So we played a couple of games Saturday, and then they came in and we played a third game. Overall, I played six games; we were all pretty tired.”
There wasn’t much interaction between the two squads outside of the basketball court.
“The Chinese Team did get to spend a few hours at Hanes Mall, and they enjoyed going to TGIFridays for dinner,” said Robinson. “And during practice on Monday, their coaches played some pickle ball with some of the members of the Gateway YWCA (in Winston-Salem, where the games were held).”
The three games between the teams (Livengood was the only player on the American side to participate in all three) were played under international rules. So the Stealers had to adjust to subtle rule changes and others that weren’t so subtle.
“There was a 24-second shot clock and we had never played with a shot clock before,” said Livengood. “It took us a few possessions to adjust. There were a couple of times when we just threw something up to avoid the violation.”
But overall the experience was one Livengood “enjoyed every minute of. Not many people get a chance to play against a team like that.”
“The scores were not in our favor,” said Robinson (the Stealers lost all three contests), “but this was their national team and that was expected. The reality of playing against future Olympians was more of an honor than anything else.”
The Chinese team continued their basketball trek through America after leaving Winston-Salem, and also played against programs in San Jose, Calif. and Portland, Ore.