Don’t think that just because Beijing Shougang’s newest import happens to be a three-time NBA All-Star and a former teammate of Chinese megastar, Yao Ming, he’ll be able to walk into China on a whim and be handed the keys to the Chinese Basketball Association palace.
Steve Francis, who has yet to practice with his new Beijing teammates as he prepares to fly into China’s capital city within the next few days, will start the season off the bench whenever he is declared fit for game action by both himself and the team, as announced by head coach, Min Lulei. The 6-3 guard, who is signed up to play professional ball for the first time in over two years, has already been ruled out for the team’s first two games on December 12th and 15th as he works to get back into game shape.
“Regardless of how old the star, he still must listen to the coach’s plan,” said Coach Min . “Francis will definitely start the year off the bench. The other players have all been practicing together for a while and they’ve also played in some warm-up games. There’s no way he can start right when he comes here. He’ll need to start out on the sidelines to look at what we’re doing and to understand our overall strategy.”
But, would Francis, arguably the biggest name to ever play professionally in China, be willing to play off the bench on arrival? Min, who flew to the U.S. last month to personally watch the nine-year NBA veteran workout, doesn’t seem too nervous about a potential flare-up.
“Anytime a player comes to a new environment there will always be a period of adjustment. [Coming off the bench] is for his own good. We’ll wait for him to get used to the team and for his body to get back in shape. When that happens, his time on the court will naturally increase.”
“Francis’ contract has some clauses, like obeying the coaches plan, not ducking out of practice, etc. Our final hope is that he can feel at ease with and play some basketball. He’s a big name player, so we know that he won’t be willing to just sit there and not say anything. He’s always been a player who actively tries to understand the team’s overall concepts and strategies… we have a lot of faith in him.”
In addition to any potential discord there may be when Francis is off the court, its also unclear as to how he’ll fit alongside his new teammates when he’s on the court. With Taiwanese point guard, Lee Hsueh-lin, brought into the team to solidify the position, there is also some mystery as to how the Franchise will play alongside another ball handler. As Francis is a natural scorer, however, Min doesn’t seem too bothered by the potential positional dilemma.
“Francis has a lot of offensive ability, so he can play the 2. Nowadays, positions are more and more blurred anyways. I believe that the two will be able to work together very well.”
With center Randolph Morris, who played previously for the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks, and Jordanian import, Zaid Abbas, flanking Francis on the team’s import roster, Beijing will sport its strongest set of foreign players in team history, which explains why Min is so focused on returning to the playoffs this year.
“We’re working hard in order to make the playoffs; there’s no turning back.”
Beijing plays its season opener on December 12th away at Xinjiang before coming home to play Qingdao on the 15th, where Francis is expected to be on hand.