International student is making basketball dreams come true thanks to UW-Eau Claire

| Judy Berthiaume

Zixuan (Jason) Jiang was a basketball loving teen in China when he decided to plan his future career around his favorite sport.

First stop on his way to making his basketball dreams come true?

UW-Eau Claire, of course.

“Since high school, I’ve decided to devote my career to do something related to basketball,” says Jiang, now a senior at UW-Eau Claire. “I was looking for a major where I can learn how to teach basketball. When I was applying for college, one of my mom’s close friends was working at UW-Madison and suggested I come to Eau Claire because UW-Eau Claire has a kinesiology major, which is a perfect major to achieve my goal.”

He mostly followed her advice, applying to UW-Eau Claire and another university in Arizona.

“My choice was between too hot or too cold, and I picked too cold,” Jiang says of choosing a campus in the often-chilly Midwest. “It was a good decision because I’ve had a really good time here. After two years, I did apply to transfer and I did get several offers from big universities.

“However, I chose to stay here because I think UW-Eau Claire’s program fits me better, and it really is what I like to learn, the kinesiology major but also my entrepreneurship minor.”

Five years after beginning his college career, Jiang says his time as a Blugold has worked out better than he ever imagined.

He’s on track to graduate with a degree in kinesiology-sports management, he’s the student assistant coach for the men’s basketball team, and last year he started the Blugold Basketball Club with four friends, a club that already has grown to include 80 students.

When it was time to add an internship to his already impressive resume, Jiang again decided to think big, this time setting his sights on the NBA.

“I was targeting the basketball area specifically, and the NBA is the biggest brand in basketball so I just googled NBA intern and an online application came up,” Jiang says.

He applied and was accepted into the NBA China internship program.

“Even though it’s an intern position, it is still competitive in NBA China,” Jiang says. “Our internship acceptance rate is 13/3,000, which is around 1%. I am so glad I can be part of it.”

The number of students applying for NBA China internships isn’t surprising given the interest in basketball in China.

The NBA estimates that 300 million people play basketball in China and, among the nearly 1.4 billion people who call China home, 640 million of them watch some NBA programming.

Jiang spent the summer in China working as an intern with the NBA China event team.

He mostly worked with the NBA 5v5 program, an elite basketball tournament in China that gives basketball fans an authentic NBA experience.

The event features two champion teams from selection tournaments and 30 local elite teams that are invited by NBA China. The teams play in regional finals in Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang and Hangzhou during July and August. Each regional champion advances to the grand finals played in Shanghai.

“Fans see a higher competition level during the grand finals, which are officiated by NBA referees,” Jiang says, noting that the total tournament prize value this year is nearly $200,000. “The four regional champion teams face off against four teams from Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines.”

During the internship, Jiang also worked with NBA Cares to coach youth from families in need and participated in a think tank project that focused on e-commerce and content optimizing strategies.

“There are so many good experiences that I learned from this internship,” Jiang says. “The most impressive part is not about the NBA players or legends, but the mascots who came to our NBA 5v5 Chengdu event. One mascot’s name is Rocky, and he is the team mascot for the Denver Nuggets. He’s one of the most professional guys ever. Mascots don’t earn a lot of money, even when they come to an NBA event. Rocky was the oldest mascot in NBA 5v5, but he was willing to go back on the court to interact with fans. We all could see how much he loved his job through his performance.”

Seeing that kind of pride and professionalism up close made a lasting impression on him, Jiang says.

In addition to the real-world experiences he had working as part of a professional sports league, the internship also gave Jiang a better understanding of the business side of basketball, knowledge that will help him when applying to graduate schools and in his future career.

“The internship isn’t changing how I see my future, but it is changing me,” Jiang says, adding that he learned to better pay attention to details and gained other important skills that will serve him well.

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire senior Zixuan (Jason) Jiang worked as an intern this summer for NBA China.