PHILADELPHIA — Amid the raucous cheering at Temple University basketball games, two new voices have joined the crowd — and they’re speaking Mandarin.
Chinese students James Yuan and Javi Yuan are broadcasting play-by-play and commentary online in their native language. The pair, who are not related, beat out 18 other hopefuls on campus for the chance to livestream audio from the Owls’ home court in Philadelphia.
“We are a good team … because our styles are different,” said Javi Yuan, a sophomore from Guangzhou. “I focus on the players’ history or … playing style, and he can focus on the real things on the court — basketball things.”
The unusual broadcasts, which are audio-only because of TV rights issues, speak to the popularity in China of both basketball and the pursuit of American higher education.
More than 300,000 Chinese students attended college in the United States last year, an 11 percent increase over the previous year, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education. At Temple, Chinese student enrollment has grown from 300 a few years ago to 1,300 today.
Temple’s efforts to socially integrate international students include Football 101 and Basketball 101 — short clinics that teach game rules, skills and cheers. The Mandarin broadcasts represent the next step, one also taken by the University of Dayton (basketball) and University of Illinois (football and basketball).
The initiative is a great career-building opportunity for James and Javi, as well as a potential recruiting tool, said Brooke Walker, Temple’s vice dean for international students. Temple has partnerships with several schools in China and about 5,000 alumni there.
“It’s a way to share a flavor of Temple University in a different way — which is Chinese students having opportunities outside of the classroom and being engaged,” Walker said.
James Yuan said his passion for the Owls (Tian pu xiong qi!) helps bridge the cultural divide.
“By watching basketball, we can now have a common interest, so we can overcome the gap between international students and American students,” he said.
James and Javi won the heavily promoted “Battle of the Broadcasters” on Jan. 31, based on judging by Mandarin-speaking faculty, staff and students. Since then, they’ve become “mini-celebrities on campus” and familiar faces at the arena, said Larry Dougherty, senior associate athletic director.
“If you look at their body language, they’re animated so much when they’re calling the games,” Dougherty said.
Javi, a media and communications major, became a Houston Rockets fan watching the NBA in China and has always wanted to be a broadcaster. James, a freshman from Jinan, lived with a host family in Connecticut during high school. Not only were they big UConn fans — thus introducing him to the NCAA — but his host father coached the high school basketball team. So James played, too.
Now a business management major, James said the hardest parts of broadcasting have been pronouncing the players’ last names, avoiding profanity and learning Chinese terms for phrases like “man-on-man defense” — jargon he was taught in English in Connecticut.
There are other challenges. The 13-hour time difference for the live stream isn’t easy, and Javi noted it’s hard for fans in China to find the link on an American website. Metrics for listenership aren’t available, Dougherty said.
Eventually, James and Javi will narrate game highlight reels to be posted on YouTube and Youku Tudou, China’s version of the popular video site.
At a recent game against UConn, the Yuans sat next to the broadcasters for WHIP, Temple’s online student radio station. Color commentator Michael Zahn, a senior journalism major, said the newcomers have a lot in common with their American peers.
“We’re all in this for the same goal,” said Zahn. “At the end of the day, we just want to put the best product out there — entertain the fans.”
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