Ben Howland might need to practice a new gesture for his team, as it does not… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
No matter what happens to the UCLA basketball team during a series of exhibition games in China over the next week, do not expect any finger-pointing.
The players have been warned about that particular gesture — it does not sit well with the Chinese.
No pointing. No whistling. And if you give someone a gift, please use both hands.
"There are a bunch of rules," forward David Wear said. "It's going to be tough to remember a lot of that stuff."
With an itinerary that includes ceremonies, sightseeing and official dinners — as well as games against two colleges and a professional team — the Bruins have been thoroughly instructed on Chinese etiquette.
They've also been working on basketball.
"The team has gotten a little head start on the season," Coach Ben Howland said. "That's been a real positive."
The NCAA allows an extra 10 practices for international games. With the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation, and the debut of a renovated Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins need all the help they can get preparing for a season of great expectations.
During the first part of practice Monday — the only part reporters were allowed to watch — the team sprinted constantly, honing what has been promoted as a new, up-tempo offense.
Howland has toyed with speeding things up before, only to have his team settle into a half-court pace once the season begins. His players think this time will be different.
Guard Tyler Lamb said practices have involved far more running. Wear was surprised early on, when someone committed a turnover during fastbreak drills.
"I was waiting for coach to stop us and tell us what we did wrong," the junior said. "He just kept us going."
Two exceptions Monday: Freshman center Tony Parker rode a stationary bike, recuperating from a hamstring injury, and swingman Shabazz Muhammad sat in a chair, sidelined while the NCAA determines whether he received improper benefits from acquaintances during high school.
Muhammad will not travel to China. Parker will, but is not expected to play unless his condition improves dramatically.
The remaining eight scholarship players, plus a few walk-ons, should get plenty of action. Howland likes what he has seen from David and Travis Wear and the outside shooting of freshman Jordan Adams.
Transfer guard Larry Drew II appears set to fill the point guard spot and freshman Kyle Anderson — his surgically repaired thumb in heavy tape — has shown a natural feel for the game.
As for Josh Smith, the returning center looks somewhat more fit than last season, but still has work to do.
The China trip begins with a 1:40 a.m. flight out of Los Angeles International on Wednesday. After visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, the Bruins will play Tsinghua University in Beijing on Saturday, then travel to face Shanghai Jiao Tong University on Monday and the Shanghai Sharks — a pro club that once featured a young Yao Ming — on Aug. 28.
These opponents figure to play a physical brand of basketball favored in China. Last summer, a game between Georgetown and the Bayi Rockets, another pro team, disintegrated into a brawl.
The Bruins have seen videotape of the incident, Lamb saying: "It's just stuff you've got to play through."
Their pre-trip seminar emphasized remaining calm and avoiding confrontations. Also, never leave your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice — that is how Chinese honor their dead — and watch out for the clear liquor often served at banquets.
This is a team that has been instructed to mind its manners.