Last Monday, NiuBBall was live and direct at MasterCard Arena (formerly Wukesong, you know, the place where they played basketball during the 2008 Olympics?) to see the Duke Blue Devils play their last of three games against the Chinese U-23 Team, aka the Chinese Olympic Team aka the Chinese Junior National Team.
The game pretty much went the way we thought it would — China sort of stayed in the game because of their size and the refs, and Duke ended up winning by 15 points because their superior preparation, fundamentals and execution. Still, we think it was a great experience for the Chinese as we doubt they’ve ever faced a team who plays “the right way” quite like Duke, not do we believe they will again anytime soon.
Here are some of the people who caught our eye during the game and make sure to check out our pictures at the bottom, too.
Fan Bin (范斌): Fan was at his absolute best on Monday, showing the entire stadium and an international television audience why nobody in China likes playing for him. The current head coach of the Chinese U-19/U-18/U-17 , Fan, who coached the Chinese U-23 Olympic “B-Team” during the entire Duke series, had his players on a very tight leash on Monday and was not hesitant at all to yank someone from the game if they failed to execute up to his standards. Sitting four rows behind the Chinese bench, we were in perfect position to see and hear all of his famed yelling, swearing and sarcasm he used to openly insult and mock his players throughout the game. It’s too bad actually, because we’ve heard from a lot of people that he’s a great guy off the court.
Fan Bin turns back to the bench after tearing into a player during a time-out. (Photo taken by Jon Pastuszek/NiuBBall.com)
If you’ll remember, Fan was at the center of a “blood letter” (it wasn’t actually blood, just red ink) signed and marked with the fingerprints of 13 members of the Chinese U-19 team in April. Fed up with Fan’s abusive coaching methods, the teamdemanded that he be removed from his post and replaced by someone who is more up to speed on modern day coaching methods. Fan ended up being suspended before being reinstated in May after he promised to be more sensitive to his players’ emotions.
Fan, like many coaches who played in China in the 1970s and 1980s, was raised by hightly traditional coaches who felt the only way to instill discipline and hard-work into the players was by being extremely tough and strict on them, and it was not uncommon at all for players to be verbally berated and physically beaten when they made mistakes or frustrated their coach in some way. As a product of the system, Fan coaches with a fiery temper that wears quickly on players who tire of being constantly chewed out and occasionally hit.
We’ve been around our fair share of Chinese basketball practices, and we wish we could say that Fan is an isolated case. A lot of older Chinese coaches subscribe to the belief that players must fear you if they’re to follow your orders. Players are rarely encouraged for their successes and almost always yelled at for their mistakes and sometimes even beaten, usually by means of a kick in the butt or a swift whack with a cone. That style of coaching is one of the main reasons why we think some teams here play so tight all the time (Xinjiang, anyone?).
Li Muhao (李慕豪): Li has been on the radar for a couple of years ever since he appeared at the 2009 Nike Global Challenge in Portland, Oregon. At the time, the then 17 year-old center measured at 7’1. Since then, he’s reportedly grown another inch and after seeing him up close last night, we think he may have grown even more. He absolutely towered over Duke’s Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly, and was at least a couple inches taller than his seven-foot teammate, Wang Zhelin.
Li was the first option on offense for much of the first half and parts of the second and with the ball in his hands he displayed some improved footwork on his low-post moves. He also showed a nice face-up game from midrange, sticking a few jumpers out of reverse pivots. Li has long-ish arms and boasts a wingspan slightly longer than his height. Combined with his good jumping ability, he’s definitely a presence on the defensive end.
However, Li strugged at times going against his bigger and bulkier Duke opponents. Though we’re quite hesitant to say he needs to bulk up a lot as we think it would affect his athleticism, there’s no denying that he needs to put on some weight. He also needs to work on slowing down when operating out of the post — there were a couple of instances where Li made a nice move and then flubbed the finish because he was out of control. Lastly, dude needs to work on how to catch the ball properly. Li flashed the dreaded “Eric Montross hands” on a number of possessions, which led to a number of ugly turnovers.
Li will be an interesting guy to keep an eye on this year in China. He’s one of China’s brightest youth prospects and some people think he at least has a shot to make the NBA one day. Last year, he made a mere six appearances for the DongGuan New Century Leopards. This year he should see an increase in minutes as he has a year of experience under American head coach, Brian Goorjian.
Whatever this is:
(Photo taken by Jon Pastuszek/NiuBBall.com)
Wang Zhelin (王哲林): Wang is relatively skilled 17 year-old seven footer, so its not a surprise that he’s already been compared to everyone’s favorite Chinese center of all time, Yao Ming, a claim that was quickly put down by Fan Bin, the current head coach of the Chinese U-19/U-18/U-17 team.
“Right now I still can’t compare him to any one person,” said Fan back in March. “Out of this current crop of players, he’s the best. His body and his knowledge of the game are all excellent, but he still needs to work hard if he’s going to develop into a good player. There’s no way for me to say if he’s the next Yao Ming.”
Let’s just clear everything up right now: There will never be another Yao, so everybody is going to have to get a little creative and come up with another comparison. Also, since Wang is under the age of 18, he is intelligible to play senior level CBA ball, so its tough to really gauge where he’s at right now. He put up solid numbers at the FIBA U-19 World Championship in Latvia, which is a promising sign, but we’re going to hold off on proclaiming anything about this kid until we see him playing against some older competition.
But last night, he wasn’t bad. At 17 years of age, he’s already pretty big physically and he doesn’t shy away from contact under the hoop. Like Li, he rushed a lot of his moves, which caused him to either miss at the rim or turn the ball over before getting there. I liked his aggressiveness — he went to the line 10 times — but only hit on three of his attempts. Wang is one of China’s top prospects going forward and his progress will be tracked closely both by his CBA team, Fujian, and the National Team, who see him as a potential centerpiece going forward.
Duan Jiangpeng (段江鹏): Listed as born in 1990, Duan is a forward who plays for Shanxi Zhongyu and was on the Senior National Team roster for a bit this summer before he was let go in the team’s first round of cuts. He played in game for Team China in early June, a 70-55 win over an American All-Star team, and scored six points in 21 minutes.
On Monday, he was the only guy for China who could consistently create his own shot. He finished with a team high 25 points, 10 of which came from the free-throw line. The guy can definitely score — he hit 20 points in four out of his last five games last year for the Brave Dragons and ended up with a per-game average of 12.7 points over 30 games. With the entire Chinese National Team about to fall over from old age any time now, Duan will likely see more time with the squad as he gets older.
Mike Krzyzewski: Coming in at a close second to Fan, Coach K’s temper was also a story in Beijing. His reasons were quite different than his Chinese counterpart’s, however. While Fan was ripping into his player, Krzyzewski could be seen directing his rage towards the referees, who were doing their best in the second quarter to prevent the game from becoming a blowout. The referees made several questionable calls during the stretch, calling several phantom fouls on Duke and ignoring a couple of blatant hacks on the Chinese. So angered by everything that Krzyzewski stood up to yell “THAT’S A FOUL!!!” several times in a row to the referee on the opposite side of the court, a claim that only increased in volume when the ref didn’t acknowledge Krzyzewski’s complaint.
By the second half though, the refs called the game more evenly and Coach K calmed down considerably.
A half-time break from the action — and an on-court ceremony with Yao Ming — allowed Coach K to relax after a heated exchange with a referee in the second quarter. (Photo taken by Jon Pastuszek/NiuBBall.com)
Austin Rivers: The golden rule of player scouting is to never make concrete conclusions after seeing someone for the first time, so we’re not going to get too carried away with Austin Rivers’ 4-13 shooting performance last night. This was the freshman’s third game in six nights in China nonetheless, and its quite likely he was feeling the effects of fatigue brought on by both the schedule and cross-continental travel.
That being said though, we can understand why people have some concerns about his game. Last night, Rivers showed a propensity to force things off the dribble to get his own offense going on several possessions, including a 3-on-2 in the second quarter where it was pretty obvious he should have dished off. In fact, he really didn’t look to set-up teammates at all — something he’ll need to work on if he’s going to play at the point in the NBA. And like a lot of young players, he needs to make the adjustment from high-school to college on the defensive end.
But again, we’re not going to get carried away with this. The kid has a ton of talent and the fact that he chose Duke, where he’ll have to fit into a system instead of having the entire offense handed over to him, speaks volumes about his goals as a player.
Seth Curry: Shooting obviously runs in the Curry family, and like his father Dell and his brother Stephen, Seth can really rip the nets from the outside. Curry got off to a fast start with two threes and a long pull-up two in transition during Duke’s 28-6 run to start the game en route to a final tally of 16 points. He’s not particularly explosive, nor is he a great ball handler, but he’s a heady player and he offers a very valuable skill with his shooting. With him and Rivers in the backcourt this year, Duke won’t have a true point-guard — that may be something to keep an eye on for the team this year.
Ryan Kelly: For a Duke team that will be without Kyrie Ivring, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, Kelly is one of the guys Coach K is leaning on to provide some replacement production on offense for the team this year. If he can hit the three like he did over the last three games against China (4 for 7 overall), he’ll help out in that respect.
(Photo taken by Jon Pastuszek/NiuBBall.com)
Who much like the cheerleaders in front of him…
(Photo taken by Jon Pastuszek/NiuBBall.com)
…Can still get way down with the YMCA despite probably not knowing what it is.