Morgan Tuck is a UConn legend who needs no introduction in Storrs. A multi time national champion, Tuck was around campus for four years and stayed in state for her WNBA career as a member of the Connecticut Sun. Yet life is not all familiarity for Tuck, as she just wrapped up her WNBA offseason by playing in China for the Beijing Great Wall of the WCBA. We were able to catch up with her for a brief interview and talk about this unique experience.
Matt Barresi: A lot of WNBA players, of which there are many Huskies, take on a second season during the WNBA’s “offseason”. Many end up in Europe (like Diana Taurasi) or Australia (Kia Nurse). So, for you, why China?
Morgan Tuck: It was actually kind of random. Not this past year, but the year before I was going to sign to play in Israel but then a week before I was supposed to go my agent called and told me I had an offer in China. The offer was a lot better than the one in Israel, so I took it and did pretty well in my first year which allowed to come back.
MB: Beijing has to be the total opposite of Storrs or rural Connecticut. What was that transition like?
MT: It’s totally different. The only similarity is that it still gets cold and snowy there too. Everything is like a culture shock when you first go there. Everything is different, but it is pretty Westernized when in cities, but the people and the food are different. Storrs was comfortable, it felt like home. China was a big culture shock.
MB: What is the WCBA like in terms of style of play? I know in the regular CBA they place a heavy burden on the import players to produce output.
MT: It is similar (to the CBA). The men’s league teams can have two Americans, but the women’s league can only have one. You are kind of looked at to do everything. The role is to score, put up points and help your team win. It is tough because if your team is bad you are not going to win despite your production because you’re just one person. At the same time, they expect you to do a lot even though one person isn’t going to be able to overcome the difference and that is tough with one foreigner per team.
It’s very up tempo and very physical. I don’t know if it is just China, but from talking to my friends who play overseas, they play a lot more physical than back in America. A lot of times when you are the American you don’t get those normal foul calls and it forces you to play more physical than you would in the WNBA or College. They let a lot more go than you would think, and it leads to a different style.
MB: How about off the court? Any interesting aspects in how Great Wall treated you like a personal driver or catering?
MT: I had a translator, but she really does everything for me. She’s my lifeline. You get a driver, and I lived in a hotel, so they picked me up everyday and took me where I need to go. I kind of got to choose when it came to food. I could eat at either the hotel or with my team. I did a little of both. It depends where you are. If you’re out in Beijing, there is a lot of different options so you can find something no matter what you feel like eating.
MB: Several former Huskies including Maya Moore, Tina Charles and your UConn teammate Breanna Stewart have played in the WCBA. Did you consult with any of them prior to going and what did they tell you?
MT: I talked to Stewie about it because she played (in Shanghai) the year before I was there and was there last year. She told me about some of the differences like how it is more physical and you’re not going to get the calls. Also, that your team and city are really going to determine your experience.
Tina actually just took my spot on the team. I played the regular season and she is currently playing the playoffs. That is really common there too. One import player does the first half or regular season and they bring someone else in for playoffs. It works really well because then I can get a longer break. It was nice to have her there, it made it easier because she’s done it so many times.
MB: What is the fandom like over there compared to stateside?
MT: It depends on the city. In a major city, they don’t get as many fans because it’s such a big city. In the other cities, you really get a lot of fans because they love basketball there. The men still get more than the women which is like America, but they really support their teams. Besides the huge tourist cities every team gets a good number of fans and they make you feel important.
MB: Did you run into any Husky fans? I imagine they would be easier to spot.
MT: I didn’t this year, but there was one last year. She would come to all the games. She came to a lot of my and Stewie’s games because she really loved UConn. It was cool to see someone all the way in China who loved UConn that much.
MB: Did you get out and about at all? What were some of your favorite aspects of the culture?
MT: My favorite thing was the history. There’s so much history there. For example, last year I was in Xi’an and they have the Terra Cotta Warriors which was really cool to see. Because I was in Beijing, I saw the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and all these temples and palaces. The history is amazing because a lot of things are thousands of years old. It’s unlike America because we’re just not old enough.
They also have Chinese Traditional Medicine which is very different but cool to learn about.
MB: I’ve been to China and the Western food there is different. KFC is revered and Pizza Hut is like an Olive Garden. How did you balance comfort foods with trying new cuisine?
MT: I ate more Chinese food after awhile because, in America, I don’t really eat KFC and, like you said, they have it everywhere. You see KFC and Burger King everywhere, but I don’t eat that much fast food. I stuck to the Chinese food which is really different from Americanized Chinese food. You can still find things that are really good. Being there for a second year, I knew the things to try and what I would like.
MB: How would you compare the food to your expectation based on American Chinese food? Any favorites or weird dishes you had?
MT: My favorite is “Chinese Hot Pot.” You stick a simmering bowl in the middle of the table where you cook your food in, typically spicy and hot, but you can choose the flavor. The only thing I really didn’t like was sheep. It’s bulkier, I don’t know how they cook it or season it, but it was the worst thing I had and I don’t eat it anymore.
MB: Back to on the court. How do they conduct basketball operations or coaching over there?
MT: The first big difference is that most of the coaches don’t speak English, so all the coaching has to go through my translator. Some translators know basketball lingo, and some don’t, so that makes it kind of tough. It’s not the same without that comprehension. This year was calm and cool, but you can have coaches that really yell and scream. It just depends. Tactic-wise, you will still see a lot of what you see in America. Despite the language and culture differences, the basketball is still fairly similar.
MB: In Xu Han and Li Yueru, China has two prospective WNBA draft prospects. For those who don’t know, one is 6’7” and one is 6’9”. After competing against them, how do you evaluate their ability to compete in the WNBA?
MT: They’re both really good. It’s hard to tell exactly how they’ll translate because the WNBA competition is a lot higher than in China.
Han, she’s thinner but really skilled. She can shoot outside and is a good finisher inside.
Yueru is a little shorter, but she’s a big body down low.
Both of them have their own strengths and I think that they could fit in the WNBA. A team could take a chance because they’re so big, but they’re super young which makes it kind of hard. To be 19 or 20 coming to a different country can be very difficult. Both are really good and skilled, not just super tall, but talented.
MB: Wrapping up here, what is the number one thing you will miss and the number one thing you will not miss from your time in China?
MT: The one biggest thing I will miss the most is my teammates. Most of my teammates don’t speak English or very little, and I don’t speak any Chinese, but we were able to communicate and have a good time with each other. They were a really good group and I really enjoyed playing with them.
The one thing I won’t miss is traveling there. When you’re not in a major city, the people stare at foreigners or take pictures of you. That got annoying really fast and I won’t miss that.
MB: Not to put the pressure on, but is a potential return in the cards for next year?
MT: It was kind of random how I first went there, but things have worked pretty well, and I’ll probably end up being able to play in China for most of the rest of my career.
MB: Lastly, I’m sure the time difference made it difficult, but have you been watching and been in contact with this year’s Husky team? Any thoughts?
MT: I wasn’t able to really watch too much because of the time difference as well as the fact that it’s hard to stream ESPN there. The VPN has to be working, you need Wi-Fi. It can just be a struggle with the internet.
I got to watch the Louisville game and I saw the game against Cincinnati. I think the biggest struggle is that they get tired because they don’t go deep into their bench, so the starters are playing a lot of minutes. I actually think they needed to lose in the regular season because the last couple years they haven’t, and it led to losses in the Final Four. I hope them losing, and how they lost to Louisville, will show them what they need. I think they’re fine— they’re in a bit of a struggle, but we’re just not used to seeing UConn losing. I think they’ll be good, and I still have faith they will make the Final Four and compete for a championship.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.