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The Beijing basketballers from

Tsinghua University High School

were visiting Houston in June as

part of an exchange program with

the China Ministry of Education

and the NBA.

Houston Rockets Player

Development Coach Kevin

Burleson was set to conduct a

set of crash course high-tempo

clinics emphasizing shooting,

skill development and half-court


The last remaining obstacle was

securing suitable facilities which

fit within the already determined

logistics, until a rapid fire series

of conversations led NBA

International to St. Thomas

Athletic Director Mike Netzel.

“It’s always been this school’s

mission to reach out and extend

a helping hand, regardless of

the particulars,” Netzel said.

“We tell our guys every day ...

be hospitable and good citizens.

This was an easy way to live that


Hosting the hoopsters extended

an already well-established STH

reputation that has developed

over decades through professional

and college sports.

The school has routinely provided

the Rockets and visiting NBA

teams with access for practice and

workout sessions. Recent Texas

Bowl participants University of

Minnesota (2012-13) and University

of Arkansas (2014), plus NCAA

schools participating in the regional

baseball tournaments also have

used STH’s athletic fields.

“We will always welcome the

opportunity to accommodate teams

and universities if we can do so

without disrupting our rhythms

on campus,” Netzel said. “We

have always held great respect

for the Rockets organization and

appreciated the courtesy they’ve

extended us.”

An additional dividend for this

latest partnership was that Colin

Jones ‘16, Jeremy Peck ‘16 and

Randy Brumant ‘16 competed

with a Houston high school all-star

group against Tsinghua at the

Rockets practice facility at Toyota

Center, a gathering which included

former Rockets all-star Yao Ming

and the People’s Republic of China

Vice Premier Liu Yandong.

Troy Justice is the NBA Senior

Director of Basketball Operations-

International and previously the

long-time Senior Director of

Basketball Operations in India.

“We certainly appreciate St.

Thomas’ generosity to help make

all this happen. This is the first time

I’ve worked with this particular

group of players, but our offices

in Beijing and Shanghai have been

active for more than 20 years,”

Justice said. “Basketball is the most

popular sport in China. Hardtop

courts are everywhere, filled with

players. What we’re trying is to

provide a link to the NBA ... help

these players understand, touch,

feel how we play ... bring that

experience to them.”

Burleson became a special assistant

with the Rockets after an eight-year

professional career which included

extensive international experience.

His energized tutorial was delivered

in English and relayed through a

Chinese interpreter to an eager

audience of 17-year-olds.

“They don’t know who I am. We

can’t have a conversation. But we

communicated through basketball.

And I could see in their eyes they

wanted to learn. I’ve been fortunate

to work with and play against many

of the best players in the world.

Not all of them have the drive to

get better. These guys did and that’s

really all a coach really wants,”

Burleson said.

STH coach John Kwok marveled

that, despite the language barrier,

“a group of kids who don’t speak

English were so attentive. No

silliness. No going through the

motions. Kevin really knows the

game and it’s easy to see that this

kind of skill work translates to

better performance, more efficient

production. Small details can make

a huge difference. There’s definitely

some elements we can incorporate

to what we’re already doing.”

Justice has spearheaded much

of the NBA’s international

development, which includes

executing grassroots programs

and working with key basketball

stakeholders across the world to

grow the sport.

“The stay here in Houston was

not just teaching this group but

also presenting opportunities for

them to give back. There was an

NBA Cares program at the Chinese

Community Center where they

were coaches to young players in

that area. Basketball really breaks

down barriers. As we work around

the world, we find that it’s not just a

game but a tool to make an impact

in the communities in which we

serve and live,” Justice said.

STH Extends Helping Hand to Chinese Select Team