The East Asia Basketball Championship in Incheon, Korea concluded last Tuesday mostly as expected. As the qualifying tournament for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, all the big boys from the region clinched their ticket to the Philippines, including China, Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei, as well as not-so-big-boy Hong Kong. (And congrats to HK, who will be making their first trip to the Championship since 2007.)
One thing didn’t go quite as expected, however: China didn’t win gold.
It’s old news by now, but for those who don’t know, the heavily favored Chinese went down to South Korea 79-68 in the gold medal match. Even though it was a battle between China’s Olympic Team (a fancy name for their U-23 team) and a hodgepodge of Korea’s military team and some college players, the win was marked as the Korean’s first ever triumph at the EABC and their first win over China in a major international competition since 2002.
Now let’s get things totally straight. For the Chinese, this is not a complete disaster. Even though it kind of is.
Because China finished in the top five, they’re automatically entered into the Asia Championship this August, where they’ll once again be favorites to win the whole thing. Only this time, they’ll have their big guns — Yi Jianlian, Wang Shipeng, Sun Yue — and the rest of the senior squad. So if the Asia Championship is the ultimate prize here, this isn’t an earth moving upset that will change the landscape of Asian or Chinese basketball.
And yet… this is completely inexcusable.
Let’s compare the rosters, shall we?
For China: 12 players who are paid professional athletes. Three seven footers. Five CBA All-Stars. Three players (Wang Zhelin, Li Muhao and Guo Ailun) who have write-ups on NBADraft.net. Seven players who were invited to senior national team training camp.
For Korea: Four professional players. Eight college kids. Zero players over seven feet tall. Zero players with NBADraft.net write-ups.
Like I said… this is completely inexcusable.
Look. It’d be one thing if this was a group of U-19s who had little to no senior level international or professional experience. That would be excusable. But that’s not what this roster was. This was Big Red’s national development team. To put it simply, these are China’s next generation of national team players. If you follow this blog, you’ll know a lot of them: Guo, Wang, Li, Sun Tonglin, Zhai Xiaochuan, Duan Jiangpeng and Ding Yanyuhang among others.
Let’s put it even more simply. Forget the Olympic Team, forget NBA potential, forget CBA All-Star selections, forget all of that. The most important thing here is that every single one of these players is a product of the Chinese basketball system.
All 12 of them.
As people who follow Chinese hoops know though, the writing has already been on the wall. We’re just not talking about the London Olympics. (If you want to read what we thought about that, read this.) It goes back further than that. The Chinese nearly lost to Korea last summer in Mongolia at the 2012 FIBA U-18 Asia Championship, but got bailed out by a one-in-a-million Wang Zhelin three-pointer, a fortuitous five-second call and a Gao Shang buzzer-beater to miraculously claw out the win.
We watched that game and this past one and you’re not going to be surprised at our evaluation: China looked terrible in both. Defensively, poor communication, missed rotations, an alarming number of outright scramble situations and inconsistent efforts on the perimeter to keep ball-handlers in front of chests. Offensively, no flow, woeful spacing, half-ass cuts, too many “my turn” plays and ugly finger-pointing bitter beer face body language after mistakes. The concise way of putting that would be tough-to-watch bad basketball.
Other than Guo, who tried too hard for most of the game, everybody was pretty much content with going through the motions. Head coach Fan Bin’s lineup choices didn’t exactly help, either. His insistence on putting some combination of Wang Zhelin-Li Muhao-Sun Tonglin while refusing to put the much-needed shooters around them to properly space the floor while screwing up Guo’s driving lanes to the basket. I understand the logic — the Koreans have no size. But playing two non-passing, non-spacing, non-pick-and-roll defending centers at the same time creates a lot of self-inflicted problems as well, especially against a spread-the-floor Korean teams who feast off drive and kick.
Unfortunately, this probably isn’t the wake-up call Chinese hoops needs. Which is too bad, because we at NiuBBall want to see the game get better over here. Before that happens though, it’s likely going to get worse.