Vancouver, B.C. - For Charles Dai, playing on the Chinese National Team is a dream. Playing against the Chinese National Team? Well, that's about to become a dream come true. But how did Charles get here?
Charles Dai came to Vancouver back in 2012 as an international student who would begin his studies at the University of British Columbia. With a passion for the game of basketball coming from his time in China, he wanted to find ways to play here in Vancouver. In his first year at UBC, he learned about the Men's Varsity Team Tryouts the day before tryouts were to happen. Unsure if it was too late to register, he literally waited outside Coach Kevin Hanson's office for an hour before meeting Coach Hanson in person to ask if he could attend - to which the answer was yes, Charles could tryout. Charles did not make the team.
Over the summer, Charles would watch the teams practices from the doors while holding his basketball. One day UBC was short players and the coaches looked towards the doors and asked Charles if he could rebound. This would go on for a few weeks, and after a few weeks Charles was invited to partake in select on-court drills. In his second year at UBC, Charles attended the tryout. He did not make the team, again. After the tryout, Charles stayed in the gym to shoot longer and was noticed by Assistant Coach Spencer McKay who told him to show up to practice the next day. Charles showed up and hasn't looked back since.
That year, the UBC team would battle a number of injuries, which allowed Charles the opportunity to step on-court in practice for situational play and drills despite his Team Manager position. The following summer, the UBC Team would travel to Taiwan for a friendly international tournament, and before the team was to depart Vancouver Charles received a text.
"Do you want to play against these international schools?"
Charles would rock the UBC jersey for the first time and play an important role on that trip as a player / team translator and was instantly a fan-favourite. Once the team returned to Vancouver, CTV had heard about Charles' story and wanted to run a feature piece on him. That video would go on to be the top viewed video online for three consecutive days.
This past year Charles was slated to be a redshirt on the UBC Roster, but after a few players left the program and pre-season injuries, Charles was placed on the official playing roster. In the UBC Home opener, Charles would check into the game in the closing minutes. With a good pin-down screen, Charles would curl and drive to the hoop....scoring his very first USports basket in front of the UBC home crowd on a contested lay-up. And so, six years after waiting outside the offices of the UBC Coaches asking to tryout, Charles goals had been achieved. Can't get much better than that. Right? Wrong.
In late May, it was announced that the Chinese National Team would play a pair of international exhibition games against Team Canada, in Vancouver and Victoria, in the inaugural Pacific Rim Classic. A few days later, UBC announced that Team China would play the Thunderbirds in a friendly game to be hosted at the historic War Memorial Gym. And so Charles has come full circle, from China to Vancouver to earning a spot on the UBC Men’s Basketball team to stepping on-court to go head-to-head with some of his childhood idols.
Vancouver Basketball sat down with Charles to talk about the upcoming games, and opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream.
VB: Charles, you have one of the most inspiring basketball stories we’ve ever heard. You exemplify hard work, determination, and perseverance - and we are so happy for the successes you’ve seen. Now, to start, if you can, summarize your journey from your first day in Vancouver to today.
CD: From when I arrived, to now is just like a dream. When I first got to UBC, I waited outside the gym office while the coaches were finishing work to ask to tryout. I stood outside for a long time because I was so nervous, I felt like I couldn't even speak properly. Now this past year, I didn’t know I was going to play or be active. People told me there was no chance for me because we have 19 guys in the summer. The week before the season started I became the 12th guy on the roster. I’m just really grateful to step on the court for UBC.
VB: They are clearly worlds apart - but what is the difference in basketball culture in China vs Canada.
CD: In China, there are two kinds of different education systems once you finish Grade 9. Either you go to Academic High School and then go to Universities in a couple years to get a degree, or Technical/ Sports School if you want to find a Professional trades job once you are done. Most kids in Chinese High Academic School from Grade 10-12, has to wake up everyday at 6 am, and have class that go from 6:30am until 9:30pm or 10:00pm. We only have a two hour lunch break and 50 minutes dinner break every day. There is a National Test we write in Grade 12 that determines what University you can go to. So, unless you go to Sports School, most students are more focused on their studies than sports / basketball.
VB: We heard about a story about how you used to get in trouble for playing basketball? Is this true?
CD: In short - yes. I attended Academic High School and we only had P.E. twice a week for 40 minutes. The rest of the time was class from 6:30am-10:00pm. When we had vacation time, only three to four days, I would spend that time with my family. So at school, I would get in trouble for playing basketball on my lunch and dinner breaks. I got lots of warning papers from the school because I was absent from the dining hall. I wish I could do whatever after 3:00pm like North American kids but it was impossible
VB: In the past few months you’ve scored your first USports basket and met Jeremy Lin. How does the opportunity to see (and play against) the Chinese National Team rank against those?
CD: My teammate Luka Zaharijevic told me that I should probably buy a lottery this year because it seems a lot of fortunate stuff has happened for me. But,I never take things for granted. These things happen for a reason, so much blood, sweat, and tears on the basketball court that happened to me in the past years, and now it is just about the dream coming true. I have to stay humble and believe myself to keep chasing my dreams. I’m just extremely grateful to get here and glad I didn’t ever quit my dream. Effort may not equal success all the time, but giving up is a certain failure. If I quit my dream anytime in the past five years, these things won’t happen. I believe more good will come if I keep working hard, not just on the court, but off the court as well.
VB: Now personally, what does it mean to be able to step on the same court and compete against some of the worlds best athletes?
CD: It means a lot. I am extremely grateful and very excited to play against them. I've watched some players on Team China when I was in high school in six to eight years ago and I dream about it but I actually never think I would have a chance to play against them. I remembered when I said I gonna make a varsity team in North American a couple years ago, and my friends or people just laughed about me, but when this is done, people won’t laugh at me anymore. I’m extremely grateful to have these kind of experiences and I’m going to have fun.
Tickets are now on sale for the UBC vs Team China Game as well as the Pacfic Rim Classic featuring Team Canada and Team China.
UBC vs Team China
Date: Wednesday June 20th
Where: War Memorial Gym
Time: 7:00pm Tip-off
Pacific Rim Classic
Dates Friday June 22nd and Sunday June 24th
Where: Rogers Arena and Save-On Foods Memorial Centre