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June 11, 2007

China trip provides perspective, experience

Auburn guard Rasheem Barrett won't be complaining about how tough practice can be next season.

Don't expect him to search for excuses after a tough loss either. In fact, Barrett might have trouble finding anything to gripe about.

Barrett was one of eight players, including six from the SEC, who traveled to China in May as part of an eight-game exhibition tour that was designed to promote ministry through sports.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound rising junior returned with a new-found appreciation for all the privileges that come with living in the United States.

"We really didn't know what we were getting ourselves into," Barrett told Rivals.com. "But you can't help but come back and not take the simplest things for granted.

"The beds over there are like concrete. We couldn't find a soft bed, so that makes it tough to sleep. We traveled on some small buses where we had to pack things in every little space we could find, including the roof.

"The biggest difference was the food. We were so thankful when we found a Pizza Hut or a KFC. After we ate at KFC, we got a bucket of chicken to go because we didn't know when the next time we would see the type of food that we were used to."

Barrett and his teammates were often mobbed by crowds filled with fans desperate to catch a glimpse of an American player.

"Sometimes we got off a bus and there would be 200 or 300 people waiting for us," Barrett said. "Children just wanted to shake our hands. I was asked to sign people's skin. Everywhere we went, people wanted a picture with us. After one game, a kid asked me for my socks. He said he needed something to remember us."

The American team won its final three games, going 6-2 against a series of Chinese professional teams. Each game was played under international rules, meaning a wider lane, a deeper 3-point line (20 feet, 6 inches instead of 19-9) and a 24-second shot clock.

"The competition was better than I expected," said Auburn assistant coach Bryan Bartley, who was the head coach for the final five games. "The Chinese players were extremely sound fundamentally, and they shoot the ball really well. They really execute their plays all the way through.

"The shot clock was the biggest difference. By the time you get the ball up court you only have about 17 seconds to run a play. You need to make a move quickly."

Alabama forward Demetrius Jemison had little trouble with the adjustments. The sophomore put together double-doubles in the first four games. He averaged a team-high 15.6 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. He also shot 63 percent (49-of-77) from the field.

Eight players from around the Southeast participated in the trip to China:
Eddie Ard, F, Lipscomb
Garrett Temple, G, LSU
Brian Johnson, F, Mississippi State
Paul Stoll, G, Texas-Pan American
Quan Prowell, F, Auburn
Rasheem Barrett, F, Auburn
Mikhail Torrance, G, Alabama
Demetrius Jemison, F, Alabama
Those numbers have to encourage Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. The Tide will be looking for ways to replace the inside production of Jermareo Davidson. The departing senior averaged 14.0 points and 8.2 rebounds a game last season.

Auburn forward Quan Prowell averaged 15.5 points and 7.4 rebounds a game, throwing down several highlight-reel worthy dunks along the way.

"Quan was dunking everything," Barrett said. "He told me before one game he wasn't going to lay anything up, and he wasn't kidding. He had a couple dunks off drop steps. One time, he caught a rebound and just went right back up and slammed it."

Barrett was also a steady producer, averaging 12.4 points and 4.6 rebounds. He exploded for 23 points in the final game.

Much of those numbers can be credited to Torrance, the offensive catalyst. Torrance averaged a team-high 5.2 assists a game.

Bartley said the players quickly formed chemistry on and off the court - despite coming from rival colleges.

"It was an us versus them mentality there," Bartley said. "We were all playing for the U.S. There was no Alabama and Auburn. All of that disappeared."

The bonding among the players may be what benefits them most next season. Barrett said he was forced to improve his communication skills.

"My ballhanding definitely got better, but more than anything I realized that if you think you are leading by example, you probably aren't," he said. "We really had to talk to each other and listen to each other during the trip. I think that helped with my leadership tremendously. I really want to show what it takes to be a leader."

A few stories about life in China will certainly help Barrett with that new goal.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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