College Sports

Trip to remember: Wu brings Sac State home to Taiwan

Sacramento State’s Jeff Wu, left, poses for a photo in Taiwan. Wu is from Taipei City, where the Hornets are playing in a tournament.
Sacramento State’s Jeff Wu, left, poses for a photo in Taiwan. Wu is from Taipei City, where the Hornets are playing in a tournament.

Believe it or not, Georgie Dancer’s record-setting basketball career with Beyer High School and his Amateur Athletic Union team took flight without ever stepping on an airplane.

To some degree, Joshua Patton has also been grounded. The former Sierra High center hadn’t played a game of any consequence since the end of his senior year in 2015.

The two-time Valley Oak League MVP spent his first year at Sacramento State as a redshirt, growing his body and his mind.

The Stanislaus District alums, now teammates in the Capital City, scratched those items off their bucket lists with an assist from another local graduate, one accustomed to getting buckets in bunches.

At the behest of sophomore shooting guard Jeff Wu, a former Modesto Christian High standout, the Sac State men’s basketball team traveled to Taiwan to compete in the William Jones Cup, a round-robin tournament featuring national and professional teams.

“It’s been a really good experience for us to play in the William Jones Cup,” said Wu, born and raised in Taipei City. “I grew up watching these games and this tournament. I thought it would be a good opportunity. This is good for the guys and good for the team to play more games.”

The Hornets played six games in six days and then spent Friday – their only off day during the nine-day tournament – touring Taipei City. The team shopped at the Adidas store and visited Taipei 101, once the tallest building in the world, and now listed as No. 5.

Sacramento State will resume tournament play on Saturday and Sunday against Taiwan and Japan, respectively.

The Hornets are 2-4 with victories over India (60-42) and Taiwan (81-60). Sacramento State has also played a Filipino pro team and national teams from South Korea, Iran and Egypt.

After an exhausting, marathon-like start to the tournament, Wu was looking forward to showing off his hometown.

“It’s been pretty tough – six games in six days,” said Wu, the first men’s basketball player from Taiwan to receive a Division I scholarship. “I can’t wait to show them around, where I used to hang out. It’s going to be fun exploring the city.”

The games are only part of the experience. Coach Brian Katz and his staff set three expectations for the first international excursion in program history: One, to develop as a basketball team; two, to coalesce as a family; and lastly, to have fun.

In the process, the Hornets have expanded their view of the world.

While Wu is accustomed to the 12-hour trans-Pacific flight and life on both sides of the big blue, many of his teammates are experiencing the Asian culture for the first time.

“It’s very surreal, especially being from a small town like Manteca,” Patton said. “Being out here in a different country, playing basketball, it’s crazy to actually see and be around all of this stuff. It’s crazy to see how far ball can take you.”

And then there are those like Dancer, a wide-eyed true freshman, who had never seen the world from 40,000 feet.

“It’s been pretty crazy. This was my first plane ride, too, so it’s been like double the experience,” said Dancer, who won’t play in the tournament. Dancer had ACL surgery on his left knee in March and has continued his rehabilitation on the sidelines in Taiwan.

“Out here, it’s a different culture. Different people. Different language. … It’s been really cool trying new foods and trying to learn the language. We’re kind of like celebrities out there. People wait by our bus and mob us.”

Often the first player off the bench for the Hornets – a role that comes with a measure of anonymity – Wu has been welcomed like a rock star. Fans have lined up for autographs and photos, waving personalized signs.

That kind of feverish support fuels his hoop dream. Wu was one of only five players to appear in all 31 games in 2015, averaging 17.1 minutes and 6.2 points. He shot 43.3 percent from the floor, including nearly 34 percent from beyond the three-point line.

“A lot of people came to watch us play. I really appreciate the fans and everything,” said Wu, who came to the United States before his sophomore year and led Modesto Christian to the CIF Open Division Northern California final in 2015.

“I was kind of surprised (Thursday) by the autograph section. I didn’t think that many people wanted my autograph.”

Patton had eight points and seven rebounds in Thursday’s loss to Egypt. The trip has helped the long-and-lean 6-foot-8 forward answer questions about his place in the basketball universe, exposing him to a grown-man’s game.

“It’s nice being back. I’m still getting into the flow of playing in a game again,” Patton said. “The first couple of games were tough, having to adjust to the speed. Now it’s starting to slow down a little bit. I’m getting more confidence with each game.”

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980