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For Garret Siler and a few others, the Chinese Basketball Association was their in

The last week of pre-season is typified by a general sense of both reflection and anticipation, as teams look back on the events from the season past, while looking forward in anticipation of a new start.  Front offices are done tinkering, coaches are finished with their preparations and players, the most important ones at least, are sitting on benches, avoiding injuries and gearing up for the 82 game grind.  On NBA teams right now, all has been relatively calm recently.

But, for professional basketball’s migrant workers, the guys who have been busting their butt throughout training camp and pre-season on a non-guaranteed contract hoping to make an NBA regular season roster, this past week was amongst the most stressful periods of their lives.  These players haven’t arrived here travelling the same road: Some played in the D-League last year knowing that one call-up could change everything; others went abroad where the talent may have been worse, but paychecks were bigger.  Some have been in the NBA before and are looking to get back.  Some are still looking for their first shot.  A few of these wondering basketball souls made it.  Most did not.

Two days ago, Garret Siler learned he was one of those few. According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, Siler will ‘probably’ make the Phoenix Suns final roster after the team kept him on their 15-man roster.

After the 6-11 300 pound center went undrafted in the 2009 NBA Draft, Siler, who graduated Division II Augusta state as a three time All-American, impressed people with a good showing in summer league, displaying good rebounding and a soft touch around the hoop. However, perhaps due in part to poor conditioning, Siler wasn’t offered a guaranteed contract by any team and like the many players who feel they are on the brink of fulfilling their NBA dream, Siler headed down to the D-League where he was assigned to play with the Utah Flash.

Then, two games into the season, Siler did something that hardly any young American players with NBA aspirations would do: He decided to go East.  As in the Far East, to China.  Feeling that there were better opportunities in the People’s Republic, Siler signed up to play in the Chinese Basketball Association with the Shanghai Sharks.  The move seemed a bit odd for someone on the brink of an NBA roster, but under Shanghai’s American head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., who spent a couple of years as an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets, Siler added the skills necessary to make his game more NBA friendly.  Having the Sharks’ new owner, Yao Ming, around to occasionally tutor him down low didn’t hurt either.  Siler finished the year shooting 76 percent from the floor, averaging 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds a game for a resurgent Sharks squad that finished fourth in the league standings.

Better prepared for training camps and better equipped to land himself on a roster, Siler was snapped up by the Suns on a non-guaranteed two-year deal this summer.  Siler impressed in camp, and with the team lacking in size up front, his journey to the NBA — via Augusta State, then China — was complete.  You can read his reactions about it all about it here.

Though Siler is a general exception for CBA turned NBA ballers, he’s not the rule.  There have been other guys who’ve gone from playing in the PRC to playing in the NBA — Alex Scales and Chris Alexander both signed contracts with NBA teams after playing for Jiangsu and Liaoning respectively.

But, there are more guys who got some run in the League by first coming to China.  They are few — they can be counted on one hand, no doubt — but the guys listed below deserve recognition and a big fat niu for not only making it into the NBA, but sticking around long enough to make some form of lasting impact.  And for surviving a year playing during the winter months in the unheated gyms sprinkled around China, too.

So without further ado, lets look at some of the guys Siler will be looking to upstage as the NBA’s most famous CBA alumni.

David Vanterpool

The 6-5 Vanterpool played from 1997-99 in the CBA for the Jilin Northeast Tigers, where huge dunks over unsuspecting Chinese dudes like the one on the right helped him become one of the league’s first foreign stars.

After finishing the 1999 season in China, Vanterpool longed to play in his home country.  But, perhaps uncomfortable with suddenly breaking off from CBA basketball altogether,  he went to play for the Yakima Sun Kings in the U.S. based Continental Basketball Association.  He spent one and a half seasons there, picking up a championship along the way before signing with the American Basketball Association’s Kansas City Knights in February 2001.

Within a month, Vanterpool was living the dream: playing in the NBA, signed for the rest of the season by none other than Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.  In 22 games played, Vanterpool averaged 19 minutes, 5.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal per game.  The Wizards wen’t 6-22 to close the year and didn’t bring back Vanterpool the next season.

(I was excited to find maybe a short blip about him in When Nothing Else Matters, but alas there isn’t an index — a huge pet peeve of mine — at the end of the book, and I don’t feel like squinting my eyes, flipping through pages looking for words  hat begin with the letter “v.”  Disappointing.)

Though he never returned to play in the League, David went on to have an extremely successful career in Europe.  In 2002-03, David went across the pond to play in Italy for Scandone Avellino, where his play attracted the attention of one of the biggest clubs in the country, Siena.  He signed with the club for the 03-04 season, and it immediately paid off for both himself and the team, as Siena went on to the Euroleague Final Four where they lost in overtime to fellow Italian side Bologna.

Vanterpool spent one more season with Siena, but the team failed to recapture their European success from the year before and in 2005-06, he was on the move again, this time to Russia to sign on with one biggest clubs in Europe, CSKA Moscow.  The move paid off: serving as a key starter on an extremely talented roster, he helped deliver the team’s first EuroLeague title in 35 years, an accomplishment that that was not overlooked by the EuroLeague All-Decade Team committee.  You might remember that team as the squad that thrashed the Clippers the following October in an NBA exhibition game.

The next season with Moscow would be his last as a professional basketball player, however, as he retired to become one of the team’s assistant coaches.

Vanterpool gets some props for being the only guard on this list, as well as for taking down a David Vanterpool impostor on a message board.  And if you’re into Russian children’s art, here’s some David Vanterpool Russian children’s art for you.  D.V. also has a Chinese tattoo on his right arm… something about a son, but I can’t quite tell. The picture is small and whoever inked him up writes characters very crappy.

Chris Anderson

Andersen’s crazy trip (not that crazy trip, I’m talking before all that) to the NBA started in China in 1999, when he left tiny Blinn J.C. after a year and a half to play for the Jiangsu Dragons.  In his only season in the CBA,  Birdman impressed himself to fans and players alike with his endless hustle and athleticism, including none other than Yao Ming, averaging 17 points, 12.5 boards and 2.5 blocks a game on 53% shooting.

In 2000-01, Andersen suited up for the briefly for IBA’s Fargo-Moorehead Beez.  The next year, Andersen was drafted number one overall by the Fayetville Patriots in the NBA Development League’s inaugural Draft and after a mere two games, was picked up by the Denver Nuggets as the D-League’s first ever call-up.

Andersen spent three seasons with the Nuggets before signing a long-term contract with the New Orleans Hornets in 2005. By then, however, he was battling a multitude of personal troubles and fell into a bout with substance abuse. He was suspended by David Stern for two years under the League’s strict one-strike-and-your-out “drugs of abuse” policy and as a result, the Hornets voided his   contract, which cost Birdman an estimated $7 million in total future salary.

Thankfully, both for himself and his large fan following, Andersen battled his way back from addiction and onto the NBA hardwood, rejoining the Hornets after his suspension was  over in March 2008.  Even though he played well in his brief return, teams were still somewhat unconvinced  that Andersen could keep himself clean as he entered free-agency that summer.  The Nuggets eventually signed him to a one-year deal at the minimum for 2008-09 season.  Displaying his trademark energy and athleticism, Andersen instantly became a crowd favorite coming off the bench while  blossoming into one of the League’s most valuable backup  big-men.

Last summer, the team inked him to a long-term deal worth about $26 million over five years.

Among the many tattoos on Andersen’s body are two Chinese characters, hao (好) meaning “good” on his left forearm, and    e (恶), which means “evil,” on his right.  While the  characters are translated into “good” and “evil,” perfect opposites of each other in English, the characters’ Chinese meaning are not.  The correct antonym for evil would be shan (善).  Points for trying, though.  As we’ll find out at a later time, there are plenty worse NBA player Chinese character tattoos.

Mike Harris

Undrafted out of Rice in 2005, Harris has spent most of his professional career killing it in the D-League, going back and forth from the NBA over the past few years, getting called up to the League four separate times.

But, before his first call-up to the Rockets in March 2008, Harris could be found destroying everything in sight for the DongGuan New Century Leopards, averaging 24.3 points and 11.6 boards in 25 games, including one pretty freaking ridiculous game where he put up 46 points 26 rebounds.

After returning from China to sign on with the Rockets for the rest of the 2008 season, Harris was released by the team during the 2008-09 pre-season.  Last season, he played with Houston’s D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Vipers, where he established himself as the consensus best player in the league (26.3 points, 9.8 boards, NBDL MVP), earning himself 10-day contracts with Rockets in January and the Wizards in February before landing back with Rockets for the rest of the NBA season on March 24.

Harris was on the Rockets’ pre-season roster and traveled with the team to China for the 2010 China Games earlier this month. But, unlike Siler, Harris was cut from the team’s 15-man roster on Wednesday.  He is rumored to be heading back to China to play with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls.


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