Sanchez Moved By China Experience

FAYETTEVILLE — Michael Sanchez cherished the opportunity to play games on his recent trip to China with Reach USA, a division of Christian sports ministry Sports Reach.

After all, Sanchez redshirted this past season at Arkansas, limiting the Springdale native to practices.

But his 11-day trip with the Reach USA all-star team impacted Sanchez more off the court than on it. Sanchez met with members of the media Friday in the Broyles Athletic Center and discussed how the excursion changed him.

"It was a life-changing experience going halfway around the world, experiencing the tragedy with the earthquake over there and seeing how people reacted to it," Sanchez said. "You go over there and see what people have and you think about how lucky you are and how blessed you are to have the things that you have over here."

The predominating poverty of the country overwhelmed Sanchez at times. Air conditioning was sparse. Cars were rarely used with bicycles being the main source of transportation.

The sight of little kids working on farms and in rice paddies seemed to be in and around every city Sanchez visited.

Plus, the players and coaches had to watch what they said and how they acted on the trip, as Chinese government representatives lurked to censor them.

Sanchez also dealt with rock-hard beds in his hotels and food that didn't sit well with him.

"I ate rice the whole time," Sanchez said. "The best meal we had was two days before we left. We had McDonald's in Beijing, and it was amazing. One day, I had pig's ear, bullfrog, rabbit and duck in the same sitting."

As for the actual basketball, Sanchez admitted to being quite rusty, but the 6-foot-8 power forward ended up producing respectable numbers. Sanchez ended up on the team because Reach USA organizers saw Arkansas play at Ole Miss, watching him cheer his teammates and shrug off chants of "Waterboy."

Reach USA went 1-3-1 competing against the same Chinese professional team, a squad Sanchez said ranked as the third-best in China. He fouled out of the first game Reach USA played, committed four fouls in the next game and fouled out of the last game. But Sanchez finished with averages of 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 55.9 percent from the field. Sanchez persevered despite "slip-and-slide" floors, cigarette smoke-filled arenas and a bloody nose in the fourth game.

He said the locals in each city — the five games took place in five different cities — treated the players like celebrities.

"People gawked at us," Sanchez said. "They couldn't believe there were Americans in their city. Before every game, there were huge ceremonies that were more important than the games. After games, they had to break people off of us. They were mobbing us in a good way, wanting to touch us, wanting our uniforms.

"I learned to just scribble (my autograph)."

It all ended earlier than expected, though, because of the after-effects of the devastating earthquake that rocked the country and killed more than 63,000 people. Reach USA's final two games were canceled when the team felt several aftershocks and eventually became worried during the country-sponsored three days of mourning.

"They shut down all the entertainment," Sanchez said. "No television. The only thing open were restaurants. The same news channel was on 52 stations. It got serious and we had to go."

Bert Sanchez, Michael's father, said his son wasn't concerned with leaving but that he went along with the consensus opinion of the worried players. The early departure didn't ruin the trip for Sanchez, however.

"Everything other than basketball, just seeing the people and their culture, that was so great," Sanchez said.

MICHAEL SANCHEZ

Age: 19

Height: 6-foot-8

Weight: 235 pounds

Hometown: Springdale

High School: Har-Ber

Notables: Averaged 15.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7 assists as a senior at Har-Ber and led the Wildcats to the Class 7A State Championship Game. ... Signed with Arkansas after also considering Kentucky, Wake Forest, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Tennessee. ... Played his AAU ball with the Arkansas Hawks.

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