By Tom Ballato
On the other side of the world, in China, strength and conditioning coach Matt Houston has been making an impact through hard work and perseverance.
In 2017, Houston was offered a job with the Chinese National Team as strength and conditioning coach. Houston is currently in his third season in China. He worked on the women’s side for the past two years with Shanxi Rui Flame and Sichuan Blue Whales. Now Houston is working on the men’s side with Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), which he started in 2019.
Before heading to China, Houston built quite a resume and got his name out there. Houston played linebacker for the University of Washington football team for four seasons. He spent 2011-2012 doing an internship at IMG Academy assisting with all sports programs. In 2012, Matt was with the Colorado State football team and from 2013-2015 he was a graduate assistant at Hawaii assisting with multiple sports programs (men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s golf). He was with the University of South Dakota’s basketball team in 2015-2016 as the head strength and condition coach and first assistant for the strength and conditioning program. Houston also has spent time working at Peak Performance Project (P3) in Santa Barbara, California, a place that uses science and technology to understanding athletic movement and development for performance optimization.
Matt also worked a NBA pre-draft training camp out in Phoenix, Arizona. He worked with former Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who was selected with the 49th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs, and former Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy who is with the Iowa Wolves in the NBA G-League.
His resume doesn’t stop there. Houston fell in love with working within the game of basketball. He has trained and worked with numerous athletes to get their bodies in top shape for performance. Houston has worked with Jason Thompson (1st round pick by the Sacramento Kings and currently in China), Orlando Johnson (2nd round pick and multiple stints in the NBA), James Nunnally (multiple stints in the NBA and currently in China), Brandon Jennings (1st round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks), Yelena Leuchanka (two time Olympian for Belarus’ National Team), Julyan Stone (all-time assist leader at University of Texas El Paso and currently in the Italian Basketball League), Retin Obashohan (Beligum National Team) and Jonquel Jones (WNBA All-Star and 1st round pick of the WNBA).
China hasn’t been too hard of an adjustment for Houston. He stated, “I grew up in Goleta, California and it was very diverse community. I think that helped with the transition. I enjoy the culture and people here in China.” Houston also stated that some of the coaches in China are Americans which also has helped him transition, but there is still a language barrier.
When asked about his role with the Southern Tigers, Houston said, “I am in a unique situation. I have been assigned to one player, Yi Jianlian. He was a former first round pick in the NBA and what people may not know about Yi is that he is number one in CBA history for points and rebounds. We get up early and get workouts in before he heads to practice and gets his shots up.”
The Southern Tigers currently sit in first place in the Chinese Basketball Association. They are a team that features two American imports with NBA experience in Sonny Weems and MarShon Brooks, and Yi Jianlian who has been a member of the team since the 2011-2012 season.
Houston talked about how competitive the CBA is and how the league is filled with American imports. When discussing the role Americans play in the CBA, Houston said, “Americans can only play together the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Only one American can play in the 1st and 4th quarters. We are 23-2, but the teams chasing us are very talented and close in the standings.” The CBA features the likes of many former NBA players like Lester Hudson, Jeremy Lin, Lance Stevenson, Ty Lawson, and the list goes on. Basketball is growing around the world and the Chinese Basketball Association is rich in talent. It has become a destination for many former NBA players and Americans. While the CBA has put restrictions on imports and their playing time, it still hasn’t stopped them from coming.
“If you don’t bring your A game, they are sending you home.” -Matthew Houston
While there is only a few months left in the season, the Southern Tigers and Houston are embracing the challenges that come their way. Houston is making the most of every opportunity with the ultimate goal of making everyone better around him.
Houston remains very close to many of the athletes he works and is in constant contact with them. While it is unclear what the future holds for Matt Houston, he is accepting everything China has to offer.