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UCLA Bruins to tour China this summer

May 8, 2012

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The UCLA men’s basketball team will follow in the footsteps of Duke and Georgetown by embarking on a basketball tour in August in preparation for the 2012 season.

The Bruins, members of the powerhouse Pac-12 conference, are the first team to travel to China under the conference’s initiative to expand its brand into the Asian market.

“UCLA will represent the Pac-12 and plant a flag for the conference,” said Pac-12 commissioner, Larry Scott. “We expect this to be an annual basketball trip by our schools, playing future collegiate teams and the Chinese national team.”

Although it’s unclear where and against whom UCLA will play, Scott indicated that they will play the “equivalent of NCAA competition.” Duke played the Chinese U-23 Olympic National Team in Shanghai and Beijing last year.

UCLA is the most successful collegiate basketball program in America, having won a record 11 national championships in addition to 25 Final Four appearances. However, their team hasn’t had as much success in recent seasons and went 19-14 in 2011 en route to missing the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in eight seasons.

But that looks to be changing. UCLA secured the number one recruiting class in the country this spring and Chinese fans will have the opportunity to gawk at incoming freshman Shabbazz Muhammad, who is widely considered as next year’s top overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Last summer, Georgetown’s summer tour of China made international headlines after the team got into a violent, bench-clearing brawl with the Bayi Rockets, who play professionally in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

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Extended season – CBAers in the NBA

April 7, 2012

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Lester Hudson is one of a growing number of players who have signed in the NBA after playing this season in China. (Photo: AP)

With a 2012 CBA season that was filled with rabid fanaticism, deception, fighting girlfriends, redemption, and even a playoff upset officially in the books, most foreign imports have returned to their native lands. But just because the CBA season is over doesn’t mean that it’s time for a vacation – there is still a month left in the NBA. Teams are either making their playoff push or preparing for next season by offering 10-day contracts auditions.

A handful of this season’s CBA players are now playing in the NBA. Let’s see how they’re fairing:

Kenyon Martin (Xinjiang)– Along with Coach Bob Donewald, Martin was Xinjiang’s prize free agent acquisition last summer. With the NBA lockout in full force, Martin, who has missed considerable time with injuries the last few seasons, was merely looking for some run until the NBA season started. But, Martin impacted the season far more after he left China: First, Xinjiang bought out his contract shortly before Christmas, which gave him a stress-free return back to the United States. On top of that, he was able to get his FIBA release thanks to the CBA’s 10-day annual Spring Festival break, despite the league’s strict no-opt out policy that forbade players from returning to the NBA mid-season.

Past his early and mid-2000s prime, Martin is now better served playing off the bench. The L.A. Clippers started the season with rookie Trey Thompkins and Brian Cook backing up Blake Griffin. Ouch. With a gaping hole behind Griffin, the Clippers inked Martin to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. He is now the first big man off the bench and plays 20 minutes a game averaging 5 points and 4 rebounds.

NYTimes.com – Kenyon Martin beats the China trap with the old Lunar New Year play

Wilson Chandler (Guangsha) – After watching his former teammate Kenyon Martin bolt for the NBA, both Wilson Chandler’s effort level and the Guangsha Lions’ record took a nosedive starting in January. Ultimately, he left the CBA just before the beginning of the playoffs in search of a large, multi-year contract.

After a month of posturing, he scored a five-year, $37 million deal with the Denver Nuggets (I’m sure his Guangsha teammates understand).  In his seven games with the Nuggets, he is averaging 11 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal per game. He is currently nursing a groin injury but should be back on the court soon.

HoopsWorld – Wilson Chandler Struggles to to Re-Adjust to NBA
ESPN TrueHoop - Wilson Chandler, Back at Last 

J.R. Smith (Zhejiang) – With his roller-coaster season in China complete, Smith returned to the States and fielded multiple offers. He spurned the Lob City Clippers to get in on the Linsanity with the New York Knicks.

With the Knicks, Smith is doing what he does best: shoot threes. While he still hasn’t found his stroke (37% FG) or put up one of his patented 40-point explosions, Smith is averaging 10 points off the bench. He’s also carried a lot of the controversy that followed him in Zhejiang to New York, where he’s been fined for posting “inappropriate pictures” on his Twitter account, ejected from a game for a flagrant-2 foul (which has since been downgraded to flagrant-1) and criticized by head coach, Mike Woodson, for sagging his shorts.

With Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire likely out for the season, there won’t be any shortage of shots for Smith in the near future; nor does it seem there will be any shortage of Smith headlines.

NYPost.com – Knicks coach tells Smith he wants ‘his shorts pulled up’
Posting and Toasting – J.R. Smith got fined 25,000 for his photography
NiuBBall.com – J.R. Smith fined a million dollars for missing practices?

Aaron Brooks (Guangdong) – As a restricted free agent, Brooks is in the same boat that Wilson Chandler was in when he returned from China. Brooks’ rights are owned by the Suns, who are the only team he can negotiate with until this summer’s free agency period starts. That being said, he might decide to sit out the remainder of the season until he can field contract offers from other teams, which would give him negotiating leverage. The Suns aren’t going anywhere this season and prefer allowing Steve Nash to ride into the sunset, John Wayne style, rather than signing Brooks.

But after giving up a first round pick and Goran Dragic for Brooks, the Suns would look awfully foolish if they are unable to come to terms on a contract this summer.

Arizona Republic – Suns face some tough decision on Aaron Brooks
Suns.com – Lance Blanks checking in from China
NBA.com – Suns GM Headed to China to Visit Aaron Brooks

Ivan Johnson (Qingdao) – Johnson had a cup of tea in Qingdao this year before he was replaced by Olumideye Oyedeji, despite putting up some really good numbers. After he went back to the States, he was quickly snapped up by the Atlanta Hawks, who needed some size in the interior due to an injury to Al Horford. To a lot of people’s surprise, Johnson, playing his first year of NBA ball at age 27, has stuck and played some key minutes off the bench.

In 46 games, he’s averaging 15 minutes, 5.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Associated Press: Hawks’ Ivan Johnson making good as rookie at 27
Atlanta Journal Constitution – Hawks’ other Johnson making a name for himself

Cartier Martin (Jilin) – Martin has dabbled in the NBA for a few seasons now and was most recently signed to a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards. After trading one of the NBA’s most notorious chuckers, Nick Young, the Wizards suddenly needed a SG to backup Jordan Crawford.

Martin has answered the call. In only his second game with the team, the former Jilin star scored 20 points on 12 shots while helping the Wizards snap a 5-game losing streak. In his six games with the team, he is averaging eight points and four rebounds. With the Wizards out of the playoff hunt, look for Martin to get some serious run down the stretch if he’s signed to another contract. If he continues his early success, Martin might be lucky enough to find himself on the Wizards opening night roster next fall.

Wizards Insider – Cartier Martin ‘excited’ to be back with Wizards
Truth About It – Cartier Martin. Back. (And why Martin is immediately the Wizards’ best 3-point shooter) 

Lester Hudson (Qingdao) – Qingdao’s mighty mouse, Lester Hudson was narrowly beat out by J.R. Smith for the CBA’s scoring crown.  The little man can fill it up, although he is the definition of a volume shooter.

Nonetheless, his successful CBA season got the attention of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who in turn signed him to a 10-day contract. The Cavaliers lost backup PG Daniel Gibson for the season and now their pending rookie of the year Kyrie Irving could be out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. What does that mean?  Hudson and little-known Donald Sloan will be the only ones competing for minutes in the Cavs’ backcourt. If Hudson can make a good impression on the rest of the league this season, he could find his niche as a Nate Robinson-type energy man and land a longer contract.

Akron-Beacon Journal: Lester Hudson escapes past, takes long road to NBA
The News-Herald: Lester Hudson picking up offense as quickly as he can

Gerald Green (Foshan) – Of all CBA imports, Gerald Green’s NBA success is the most impressive. Drafted out of high school by the Boston Celtics in the 2005 NBA draft, an immature Green entered the league knowing how to do two things: jump and shoot. Unfortunately, the jumping only won him a slam dunk contest and his poor shooting found him jobless.

He’s been a basketball vagabond the past few seasons and was on Foshan’s roster opening night. Green only lasted 4 games before being released, but averaged a robust 26.5 points.

After his departure from China, Green signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers, who were looking for some athleticism on the wing. Things didn’t pan out in Hollywood and Green was once again on the move, this time to New Jersey. The Nets signed him to two consecutive 10-day contracts before signing him for the rest of the season. In New Jersey, Green has found his role as a scorer off the bench. For the season, he is averaging 12 points on 49% shooting in nearly 24 minutes. He has scored 20 or more points 5 times this season.

If this impressive extended audition continues, Green will probably find himself a multiyear deal this summer with an NBA team.

SI.com – Green Energy: After humbling fall, ex-dunk champ rises again in NBA
NY Daily News – Gerald Green’s 3-month roller coaster
New Jersey Examiner - Gerald Green continues to defy the odds

James Singleton (Guangdong) – It was a short turnaround for Singleton, who just a week ago was bounced from the CBA finals by the Beijing Ducks. Fortunately, he doesn’t have much time to dwell on Guangdong’s finals disappointment, as he was awarded with a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards. It’s not his first stint in Washington. Singleton was sent over to D.C. as part of the trade that sent Caron Butler to the Mavericks in 2010. He impressed enough in 32 games to get a one-year deal, but elected to sign a more lucrative contract in China the next season.

With Trevor Booker and Nene Hilario battling injuries – and who knows if they will return this season with the Wizards already eliminated from the playoffs – Singleton played 14 minutes in his first game with the Wiz. The results? Not like his CBA numbers — he had zero points, two rebounds and a whopping five personal fouls. Anyone who’s made the China-to-America trip knows a thing or two about jet lag, however and with another day and some more hours of sleep under his belt, he rebounded tonight with a 13 points and nine rebounds.

Bullets Forever – James Singleton Is Returning To The Washington Wizards

Patty Mills (Xinjiang) — The Australian point guard was embroiled in a controversial break-up with Xinjiang this season after the team accused him of faking a hamstring injury, a claim with Mills vehemently denied. Like Martin, Mills left China mid-season; unlike Martin, however, he was unable to get his FIBA release and was forced to sit in the U.S. while the Flying Tigers finished out their season.

But once Xinjiang was swept out of the semi-finals by Guangdong, Mills faced another obstacle towards getting back onto an NBA court — the Portland Trail Blazers, who still held his rights. With a full roster, a new coach and a front office in transition, it was unclear what Portland was going to do with Mills. In March, they ultimately decided to renounce Mills and after weighing offers from a couple of teams, he signed a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs. After working out his work visa papers, he suited up for his first game on March 27th at Phoenix.

Mills, who will represent the Boomers this summer in London, is in an excellent situation in San Antonio. Not only is he getting some much needed game reps before the Olympics, he’s also playing under Australian National Team head coach, Brett Brown, who works as an assistant on the Spurs staff. It may have been a long road back to the League, but it looks like Mills has landed in a good spot.

NBA.com – A Bright Light from Down Under

Alan Anderson (Shandong) – Anderson signed a 10-day with the Toronto Raptors on March 26th and was good enough to earn another one. It’s his second stint in the League — he spent two years with the Bobcats in 05-06 and 06-07. He has appeared in six games for the Raps, averaging 5.8 points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.

Raptors HQ – Raptors Re-Sign Uzoh and Anderson, Ink D-League PG Dentmon
National Post – Raptors’ Alan Anderson finds another soft landing in Toronto

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

 

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Bothfeld: Beijing squeaks by Guangsha in Game 1

February 23, 2012

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An embattled Guangsha team entered the playoffs free of any expectations after their star forward Wilson Chandler was released from his contract prior to Game 1.  With his replacement, Rodney White, making his debut, the Lions had no choice but to leave it all on the floor while trying to adapt to their new teammate.

Leave it on the floor they did; adapt to White they didn’t. Beijing squeaked by Guangsha in a closely contested contest, 106-103. Stephon Marbury led the Ducks with 32 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals. He resembled a wrecking-ball as he was able to get to the basket at will.

“We have to stop his penetration and keep him off the free-throw line,” said Guangsha head coach, Jim Cleamons, post-game.

Beijing entered halftime up 55-48, although they should have had a double-digit lead considering they forced 11 Guangsha turnovers compared to their one.

After scoring four points in the first half, White made a concerted effort get going in the third quarter, but was unable to find a rhythm. His rust was obvious as his jumpers fell short and he committed five turnovers, and finished with 7 points on 2 of 13 shooting.

Nevertheless, Cleamons praised his performance.

“I thought he played very hard. This is a very difficult situation so I think he did well considering all the things that could have happened.”

With White a non-factor, P.J. Ramos carried Guangsha’s offense. He continually overpowered Randolph Morris on offense and caused him fits on defense. Morris’ third quarter offensive struggles allowed Guangsha to briefly take a 63-62 lead on a Wang Zirui three. However, after a timeout, Marbury took the reigns of his team’s offense, repeatedly burning his defender and getting to the hoop for lay-ups. With Guangsha’s momentum stalled, Beijing extended their lead to 86-70 at the end of the third.

Cleamons inserted Jin Lipeng in the game to start the fourth and he gave Guangsha the offensive spark they desperately needed. He scored eight early points and helped whittle Beijing’s lead to five with 4:45 minutes remaining. Guangsha continued to chip away at the lead and found them selves within striking distance with under a minute remaining. Up two, Marbury drove to the basket and was rejected by Ramos, which triggered a fast break that resulted in a game-tying lay up by Lin Chih-chieh. With 27 seconds left, Beijing called an isolation play for Marbury. He held the ball at the top of the arc before driving left against White. Wang Zirui cheated towards the lane and Marbury found Wang’s man, an open Lee Hsueh-lin, in the corner for a three. After a timeout, Ramos fumbled the inbounds pass and Guangsha was unable to get up a shot attempt as time expired.

Guangsha can view this game as missed opportunity. They lost on a last second shot despite the fact that White didn’t play well offensively and Marbury and Morris shot a combined 18 of 50. Ramos led the Lions with 26 points and 20 rebounds. Wang Zirui chipped in with a career high 19 points.

Game 2 will be played in Beijing on Friday.

Box Score

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Bothfeld: Guangsha easily defeats a resting Beijing to clinch spot in playoffs

February 16, 2012

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Coming off a disappointing loss to Jiangsu on Sunday and with playoff positioning on the line, Guangsha played with a heightened sense of urgency from the opening tip in their landslide 114-94 victory over Beijing on Wednesday.

Wilson Chandler set the pace in the first quarter, scoring 25 points on an array of outside jumpers and drives to the hoop.  Guangsha built a double-digit lead early and never looked back.

Fortunately for the Lions, Beijing was already locked in as the second seed heading into the playoffs and opted to rest their starters. Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris, the Ducks’ two leading scorers, played a combined 11 minutes in the first quarter before resting for the remainder of the game.

After the game, Guangsha’s Jim Cleamons commented on Beijing’s rotation. “I understand what the opposing coach did in resting their players. I think we were focused and we would have played well even with their regular rotation. Obviously the game meant more to us than it did to them.”

In the second quarter P.J. Ramos picked up where Wilson Chandler left off, scoring 12 points. The crowd gave a loud ovation when the 7’9 Ming Ming Sun entered the game for Beijing and guarded Ramos. Size is Ramos’ main advantage, but with a taller defender playing 7 feet off him on the perimeter, he showed off his soft shooting touch, torching Ming Ming on multiple occasions.

Up 62-49 heading into the second, Guangsha continued to build their lead until the final horn. Wilson Chandler scored at will and finished with 41 points to go along with 18 rebounds. Ramos chipped in 23 points and 7 rebounds. With Marbury and Morris sitting, the Ducks were led by Zhai Xiaochuan with 18 points.

Heading into the playoffs, Cleamons is beginning to feel more confident about his team. “We are playing better. The challenge is to continue to play better each night. If we can get that consistency and extra effort that we had at the beginning of the season, I think we can be a team that other teams worry about.”

The C.B.A. playoffs are set to begin next Wednesday following this weekend’s All-Star festivities.

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

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Bothfeld: Guangsha survives Bayi’s late run

February 10, 2012

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“Sometimes you win games and don’t play very well.”

Coach Jim Cleamons’ post-game comment summed up Guangsha’s 90-89 win over Bayi perfectly. The match-up was hard on the eyes and both teams played like it was a rec-league game.

While Bayi is well out of the playoff picture, Guangsha’s lack of intensity is surprising, if not alarming, given they are vying for one of the final playoff spots.

Trying to mix it up and get off to a better start offensively, Jim Cleamons went with P.J. Ramos to start the game. But Guangsha’s offense was still stagnant and finished the first quarter down 16-19. Wilson Chandler, who was under the weather after missing the morning shoot-around with a headache, played the second quarter, scoring 5 points and leading Guangsha to 38-30 half-time lead.

Both teams’ complacent style of play continued in the second half. With Chandler starting the third quarter on the bench, P.J. Ramos scored 9 of his 20 points, including a spin move and lay-up while being fouled – after which he flexed his muscles to rile the crowd. Guangsha was able to score at will against Bayi’s nonexistent defense, but Bayi took advantage of numerous Guangsha turnovers, keeping their deficit within striking distance. Bayi entered the fourth quarter trailing 55-66.

With Guangsha’s turnover party continuing, Bayi, behind Wang Lei’s outside shooting, whittled away at Guangsha’s lead and closed the gap to 2 with 3 minutes remaining. Although Chandler clearly was not on his offensive game, he did come through in crunch time with 3 steals in the final two and a half minutes, all of which led to baskets on the other end. Jin Lipeng made a driving lay-up to put Guangsha up 5 with 10 seconds remaining, putting the game away.

Chandler finished with 14 points on 4 of 14 shooting, but it was Ramos who carried Guangsha offensively with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Wang Lei led Bayi with 29 points.

Signed to be the star of the team, Wilson Chandler has been a non-factor when his team needs him most. He has been held under 15 points in four of the last eight games. On the bench he looks disengaged and doesn’t even wear the team warm up suit – versus Bayi he dawned a lime green sweatshirt. It is likely that he is distracted by his imminent return to the NBA, where he will likely sign an eight-figure contract.

It is also evident that he does not drive to the hoop as much as in the first half of the season, instead settling for outside jumpers. However, Jim Cleamons had his own explanation, “He is being guarded not only by his man, but also by the guy in the middle of the key. If he beats his man, there is always someone to help. That’s why he is settling for more outside jump shots.”

Cleamons went on to say that if Guangsha isn’t shooting the ball well from the outside, that teams can get away with that always sending help to cover Chandler. In the second half of the season, their outside shooting has been suspect.

That said, Wilson Chandler’s recent play leaves something to be desired. In the heat of a competitive playoff race, missing morning practice because of a headache doesn’t pass the sniff test. The rest of Guangsha’s games have playoff ramifications. If Chandler and the Lions don’t show more passion against Beijing on Friday, check your post box, because they are mailing in the season.

Box Score

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

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Bothfeld: In Hangzhou, Wilson Chandler gets by with a little help from his friends

February 9, 2012

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We took our seats at a Western-style restaurant in Hangzhou, China, after another Zhejiang Guangsha Lions win. Wilson Chandler, Guangsha’s star player and the best NBA player under contract in China, scored 19 points and pulled down 8 rebounds that night in the blowout victory over Shanxi.

Joining Wilson and me was Larry, Wilson’s childhood friend and personal manager, his agent Chris Luchey, and Guangsha’s assistant coach Rodney Heard. This was the China Crew.

“Can I get a spoon?” Luchey asked a waitress. She stared blankly so he tried again. “A spooooon,” Luchey slowly pronounced as he carefully drew a picture of the utensil in the air with his finger.

Seemingly simple luxuries of daily life can be difficult for a foreigner living in China, but Chandler and company knew the challenges ahead when he signed his one-year deal with Zhejiang Guangsha in August. It was a well-calculated decision.

At the time, the NBA and the Players Association were embroiled in a bitter labor dispute. Most people involved figured that the lockout would last well into January or even cost the NBA an entire season.

“I thought the lockout would last a while,” said Heard. “My sources in the NBA said [the labor dispute] was a bad one. Everyone else was losing money, [Wilson] would be making money.”

Heard touts an impressive basketball resume and is one of Wilson’s most trusted friends. His coaching career started in the early 90’s when he spent a season in China coaching in Guangzhou before returning stateside to coach at the University of California at Berkeley. After his coaching stints, Stu Jackson (now the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations) hired him as a scout for the Vancouver Grizzlies. He went on to be the director of player personnel for the Atlanta Hawks before being hired as a head scout under Isiah Thomas with the New York Knicks.

In the midst of his NBA personnel jobs Heard also served as the president of the Team Detroit AAU team. It was there he met Luchey, who founded and coached the rival Michigan Hurricanes on the AAU circuit, and the two became good friends.

Chandler didn’t start playing basketball until he was 16, and it was immediately apparent that he had a natural gift for the game from the moment Chris first saw him on the court.

As Heard recounted, “They told us about a good player up in Benton Harbor. There had been good players who came from there before, so Chris went up there, met him, and got him to join the Michigan Hurricanes.”

Chandler played two years of AAU ball under Luchey before heading to DePaul University on a basketball scholarship. Still, Luchey was in constant contact with him and although DePaul was losing, Chandler was blossoming as a player, so much so that he was garnering attention as a prospect for the NBA.

After his sophomore season, Chandler entered the NBA draft and hired Luchey as his agent. At the time, Heard was working for the Knicks as a scout and advised then-GM Isiah Thomas to draft Chandler as the 23rd pick.

“We worked him out for the New York Knicks before the draft. I had worked him out in the summers at different camps — ABCD or Reebok camp, so I was seeing him developing and getting better every summer,” recalled Heard. “He puts in a lot of hard work and is very focused. He doesn’t have a lot of miles on his body. A lot of guys have a lot of miles from before AAU and high school. There is a lot of untapped potential. He could one day potentially be a multiple-time All-Star.”

Upon being drafted by the Knicks, Heard made the conscious decision to take the 20-year-old Chandler under his wing and help him develop as a basketball player and a person. While in season they kept in constant contact and in the off-season Heard is Chandler’s personal trainer.

“I’ve trained him every summer since he’s been in the NBA. We have been trying to develop his game, and I’m proud to say, every year he has gotten better.”

Heard’s assertion is true. In each of his three and a half seasons with the Knicks, Chandler improved in every major statistical category, and averaged a career-high 16.4 points in 2011 before being included as a key piece in the trade to the Denver Nuggets for perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony, which left Heard devastated. “That was a sad day for me. It was like losing your first-born.”

After the Nuggets’ first round playoff defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA lockout set in and Chandler faced a difficult decision; would he flee the U.S. and play overseas like many of his peers, or would he wait in the States and hope the lockout ended? Chandler was at a pivotal juncture in his career as a restricted free agent. If he were to get injured, he would potentially lose out on a huge payday. On the other hand, playing overseas would allow him to stay in shape and get play a lot of minutes.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for him to grow because he is still developing,” said Heard.  “Guys like Carmelo [Anthony] or Amare [Stoudemire] don’t need to come over, but Wilson still needed game experience.”

After fielding multiple offers from teams in Italy and China, Chandler decided to sign with Guangsha not because they offered the most money, but because it was the right situation. Guangsha’s owner and GM both have a great reputation for their dedication to winning (“GM” as she is referred to, whose name is Ye Xiangyu, even sits on the bench with the team). Furthermore, they had also hired longtime former Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons as head coach.

When asked about Cleamons’ role in Chandler’s decision Guanghsa, Heard said, “I had met Jim in previous years. He is a great person, a great leader, and a proven winner. It was a good opportunity for Wilson to be coached by him. He has helped Wilson grow as a player and a person.”

Yet as the season approached, Cleamons still did not have a complete coaching staff. As the focal point of the team, Wilson lobbied for Heard to join Guangsha. “I told Chris it would be good if he were here working me out.” Luchey agreed, “It made sense. It’s a short season, both of them are familiar with each other, and having coached in China before, Heard is familiar with some of the issues we would deal with.”

With Guangsha, Chandler has excelled as their leader, averaging 26 points and 11.3 rebounds. These numbers come even though Chandler plays within the team’s game plan. He often enters half time having scored under 10 points, instead looking to get his teammates involved. Then, in the second half he will assert himself, using his strength and athleticism to get to the basket at will and his shooting touch to burn opponents from the outside.

Chandler led Guangsha to a 13-4 record, and for a while it looked like they were legitimate championship contenders. However, they have struggled in recent months and now find themselves at 15-13, in the thick of the playoff race. With his return to the NBA imminent, Chandler has remained committed to his Chinese teammates. In the four games leading up to the Chinese New Year, during which the CBA has a week off, Chandler made only 31 of 104 shots, good for 29%. Instead of heading to the sunny beaches and warm weather of Hong Kong like many of the American basketball players in China, Chandler remained in a cold and wet Hangzhou, working on his game with Heard and shooting over 500 shots a day.

Although his experience in China is coming to and end, Chandler feels he has improved as a basketball player. “I’m getting better in every aspect of the game. Working with Heard every day has been helping with that. I’m a more mature player in terms of my outlook and approach to the game.”

Having been together for the ups and downs of life in China, Chandler’s relationship Heard has also grown. They eat every meal together; sit together on the team bus, and spent a turkey-less Thanksgiving together on the road, instead eating pizza and potato chips. They are also there for each other during bouts of homesickness – Wilson has a young daughter and Heard has a wife and two kids anxiously awaiting their return.

Reflecting on his time With Guangsha, Chandler said, “I won’t forget this experience. I didn’t know what to expect. I came with these guys and it gave me a comfort zone. I got a chance to be with people I know and care about in another country.” “That will probably never happen again in life for us as a group. I don’t think any of us would be able to last without all of us. We need each other.”

Luchey’s spoon finally arrived as we chatted about the other CBA results of the night and which teams would pose Guangsha the biggest threat in the playoffs. The conversation then shifted to the NBA – how the lockout ended and which teams were in need of a wing player.

Upon his return to the NBA, Chandler is likely to rejoin to the Denver Nuggets, who retain his rights and are said to be interested in signing him long term. It’s unclear where Heard will work once the Chinese season is finished, but he will train Wilson during the off-season. “I need a break from Heard for about a month,” laughed Chandler.

Edward Bothfeld can be followed on Twitter @bothfeef

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Bothfeld: Fujian defeats Guangsha behind Zaid Abbas’ determination

February 2, 2012

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In NiuBBall’s season preview, we predicted that with the addition of Zaid Abbas, Fujian could see a drastic turnaround from their disastrous 2011 season, in which they went 8-24. On Tuesday night, Abbas and Fujian proved that they are deserving of their 15-12 record on national television by beating Guangsha 132-125 in a double overtime thriller.

After struggling offensively in recent weeks, Guangsha was hot in the first half, led by Lin Chih-chieh’s 17 points. However, while their offense was flowing, their defense was stagnant. Abbas hit myriad of mid-range jumpers and every time it seemed like Guangsha was about to make run, he grabbed a key offensive rebound or came up with a big steal. He and Will McDonald, who P.J. Ramos had a difficult time guarding on the perimeter, led Fujian to a 63-61 halftime lead with 43 combined points.

After the game, Guangsha coach Jim Cleamons lamented his team’s first half defense, “Our defense in the first half was not very good. We just got beat in one on one situations. We didn’t follow the game plan. We have to be aware and help each other.”

Earlier in the season, the third quarter was when Guangsha would take control of games. Against Fujian, they came out sloppy and committed numerous sophomoric turnovers (including three botched inbounds plays). Fujian took advantage and built a nine-point lead heading into the fourth.

Having stayed in Hangzhou to work on his shot instead of vacationing over the Chinese New Year holiday, Wilson Chandler went to work in the fourth. With Abbas covering him, Chandler muscled his way by him for easy baskets in the lane. Although Chandler was hot, Guangsha couldn’t get any stops on the defensive end, and still found themselves down 95-105 with 6 minutes remaining.

Chandler would not be denied and after a thunderous block of Will McDonald’s lay-up attempt, scored six points in the final 3 minutes and was responsible for the game tying assist with 39 seconds left. Will McDonald missed an open 3 and Guangsha’s Zhang Wei passed up an open jumper only to have the shot clock expire with only a second remaining.

With both teams struggling in the first overtime, Guangsha received a gift from Fujiang Coach Joseph Stiebing, whose frustrations with the spotty officiating boiled over and was given a technical foul. Up with a minute remaining, Guangsha squandered their late lead and allowed Fujian to force a second overtime.

Fujian controlled the second overtime from the get-go, scoring the first 7 points of the frame. During a timeout, Guangsha already looked defeated, if not exhausted. Wilson Chandler hit two late threes to cut into the lead, but Fujian always had an answer and earned an impressive 132-125 victory.

There’s no doubt the player of the game was Zaid Abbas, who accumulated a whopping 25 points, 25 rebounds, 8 steals, 4 assists and 2 blocked shots. He was everywhere.

Jim Cleamons offered Abbas praise, “He’s a very athletic player. I think his athleticism and length bothered Chandler on his shot.”

Chandler, who has been mired in an offensive slump, broke out with 36 points and 21 rebounds on 11 of 28 shooting. He did a great job of getting to the line, but only made 10 of his 16 attempts. As a team, Guangsha missed 9 of 31 free throw attempts and was beat on the boards, 63-51.

“We knock down our free throws, we do a better job of rebounding and we might have a different outcome,” said Cleamons.

Guangsha will hit the road and play Xinjiang and Shanxi this weekend before returning home for three of their final four games. Now in sole possession of 5th place, Fujian will look to finish off the season strong and secure a playoff bid.

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Bothfeld: Jin Lipeng more than just a spark off the bench

January 12, 2012

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Video courtesy of NBA247365.com

There is no doubt that Guangsha’s Round 23 bye came at an ideal time. Currently in third place, the Lions have lost three of their last four, and like most professional basketball teams, their players are nursing various injuries and ailments. For Jin Lipeng, the five-day break between games is incredibly important. Now 33 years old, the 6’3 guard is the oldest player on the team and is playing in his 14th CBA season. In the basketball world, he is a senior citizen.

That said, Jin is a major piece to the Guangsha puzzle and has a defined role: to score. Fortunately, this is a role Jin excels in at this stage in his career. He enters most games at the beginning of the second quarter, when star forward Wilson Chandler is on the bench. With Chandler out, Guangsha relies on Jin and center P.J. Ramos to carry the offense, which they do, often immediately looking for their shots.

Coach Jim Cleamons recognizes Jin’s value, “He’s been a real spark off the bench and provided some much needed offense and much needed leadership with the second unit.”

Cleamons is also cognizant of Jin’s age and picks his spots to play him in the second half. Unlike his other players, who he will simply tell they are going in, he asks Jin if he has the energy to play more. “Do you have any bullets left?” Cleamons will ask him.

“I try not to over-coach him. He has tremendous faith in his shot. I try to put him into situations that allows him to do what he does best.” said Cleamons, after Jin hit a game-winning buzzer beater on January 4th against Shandong.

Jin is currently Guangsha’s fourth leading scorer, averaging 11 points per game. After him, there is a sharp drop to Zhang Wei, who scores 6.8 points per contest. What’s striking is that Jin does all of his work in only 17.9 minutes per game, which ranks 8th on the team in playing time.

Looking at his game-log, these 17.9 minutes are critical to Guangsha’s success:

Minutes Points >11 points <11 points
Wins 19.8 12.9 6 8
Losses 13.8 7.1 5 2

As you can see, Guangsha fairs much better when Jin is in the game and producing. Ultimately, Guangsha’s success for the rest of the season and playoffs rests upon the shoulders of Wilson Chandler and P.J. Ramos. But if they have any hopes of making a serious run at the championship, Jin Lipeng will have to have some bullets cocked and ready to fire.

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

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Bothfeld: The arrival of P.J. Ramos and his effect on Guangsha

December 22, 2011

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Back on November 29th, the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions made the first major roster move of the season. Just five games in, they released the ineffective Dwayne Jones and brought in Peter John Ramos. Now having played seven games with his new team, NiuBBall is taking a look at Ramos’ effect on his teammates.

Obviously, Ramos has been a welcomed addition to the Lions. In his seven games with Guangsha, he is averaging 24.1 points and 13.4 rebounds. Compare these numbers with Dwayne Jones, who he replaced and averaged 6.4 points and 10.2 rebounds in five games, and you can see how much of an impact Ramos has had.

With Ramos’ ability to score inside and suck the defense towards the basket, one would expect that the Lions would get better looks from long range. However, the opposite is true:

  With Dwayne Jones With P.J. Ramos
3’s attempted per game 24.8 19.28
3-point shooting % 37% 34%

It’s interesting that the Lions are attempting nearly 20% fewer 3’s with Ramos. This could be attributed to the offense flowing better when he is in the game. If a play breaks down, Guangsha can feed the 7’4 Puerto Rican and allow him to make a move to the basket and draw a foul instead of scrambling to get a difficult three off with the shot clock winding down. The latter often happened when Dwayne Jones was with the team due to his limited offensive repertoire.

Even if Ramos hasn’t had a positive effect in on Guangsha’s three-point percentage, he has helped his team, and more importantly Wilson Chandler, get easy points at the free-throw line.

  With Dwayne Jones With P.J. Ramos
Team ft per game 21.2 28.8
Chandler ft per game 4.8 9.1

As you can see, the Lions are getting to the line nearly 36% more since Ramos’ arrival. Chandler is shooting almost twice as many free throws. They are points that are often overlooked and don’t appear on the highlight reel, but free throws can be difference between winning and losing. They give players a short breather and more importantly can get opposing players into foul trouble. For a player like Chandler, who plays 35 minutes, is the teams best offensive player and is often responsible for guarding the oppositions best wing player, having a few moments to catch his breath and talk to coaches during free throws is important.

Coach Jim Cleamons will readily admit that his team is a work in progress. Adding a player like P.J. Ramos who changes the complexion of the entire team in the middle of the season takes time to adjust to. But if his first seven games with Guangsha are any indication, they are headed for a deep run in the playoffs.

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Bothfeld: Zhejiang Guangsha victorious behind P.J. Ramos’ 34 points

December 20, 2011

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After a statement victory over Xinjiang on Friday night, one might have thought the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions would have been primed for a letdown on Sunday night against Shanxi. Instead, Peter John Ramos paced the Lions with 34 points and 14 rebounds as they cruised to a 126-112 win.

Shanxi’s high-scoring tandem of Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines were both on the bench in the first quarter. Nevertheless, their role players were able to hang with the Lions and ended the frame only down 4. Wilson Chandler struggled and was forced to the bench after picking up his second foul early. Ramos entered the game to the chants of “da”, and after committing a few lazy turnovers, imposed his will on the undersized Shanxi front line.

While he only totaled 12 first half points, Ramos did an excellent job of spacing the floor for his teammates, most notably Jin Lipeng, who once again provided an offensive spark with 16 points off the bench.

“I think P.J. gave us a nice boost of energy the last two games,” head coach Jim Cleamons told NiuBBall, “He’s a big target in there. He’s a skill player, and when he puts his mind to it, he’s a pretty good basketball player.”

Marcus Williams led Shanxi with 18 second quarter points, including 7 points in the last minute that gave Shanxi a 4 point lead at halftime.

In what’s becoming a recurring theme, the Lions offense and defense really started to click in the third quarter. Wilson Chandler helped slow down Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines struggled to find space all night against the much larger P.J. Ramos. On the offensive end, the combination of Chandler and Ramos was too much for Shanxi — they scored 22 of Guangsha’s 34 third quarter points compared with Shanxi’s 18.

Up 10 entering the fourth, the Lions continued to pile it on and watched their lead grow to over 20, eventually winning by 14. Chandler complemented Ramos’ 34 points with 19 points of his own and 8 rebounds. Marcus Williams led Shanxi with 36 points and Charles Gaines finished with 28, although the majority of those were in garbage time. Guangsha dominated Shanxi’s undersized front line, out-rebounding them 60-36.

Guangsha will hit the road this week for two tough matchups at Bayi and an anticipated provincial showdown against J.R. Smith and Zhejiang Chouzhou.

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

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Bothfeld: Guangsha rolls as Chandler and Ramos combine for 47

December 8, 2011

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Last night’s Guangsha versus Liaoning game was profiled in our list of marquee matchups for the 2011-2012 season. It certainly didn’t live up to it.

The first half was hard on the eyes, as it was marred with sloppy play, fouls, and turnovers. In one sequence, Josh Powell fronted P.J. Ramos, intercepted a lazy post feed, and then proceeded to run passed the entire Guangsha team for an easy lay-up. If it weren’t for Jin Lipeng, Guangsha might have found themselves down a significant margin at halftime instead of up 40-38. The veteran came off the bench to score 12 much-needed first half points.

After the game, Coach Jim Cleamons praised Jin’s performance, “He’s been a real spark off the bench and provided some much needed offense and much needed leadership with the second unit.”

In what’s becoming a trend this season, Guangsha came out in the second half much more aggressive. After only scoring 2 points in the first quarter, Wilson Chandler had his way with Liaoning’s defenders in the third quarter and got to the basket at will for easy lay-ups, racking up for 17 of his 24 points.

Up 15 at the end of the third, Guangsha extended their lead to 20 early in the fourth on the back of P.J. Ramos, who showed a lot of emotion on each of his three dunks in traffic. The two man game between Ramos and Chandler that took place in the second half is surely what the Guangsha management had in mind when they signed Ramos last week. With Chandler’s ability to penetrate and Ramos requiring double-teams, they can each were able to capitalize on the offensive glass for easy put backs, as evidenced by their 29 combined rebounds.

The game wasn’t as nearly close as the 103-98 final score indicates, as Guangsha’s second unit struggled to put the game away. Added Cleamons, “We played hard, we out rebounded them. We are still a work in progress. Still getting to know each other.”

Rodney Carney led Liaoning with 27 points and 6 rebounds. Josh Powell couldn’t get motivated to outdo his former coach, and finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds.

Guangsha will start a three game road trip on Friday at Guandong, which will be a highly anticipated match up between two of the league’s best teams.

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

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Bothfeld: Balanced attack leads Guangsha to victory

November 29, 2011

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In the first three games of the season, the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions’ offense rested solely upon the shoulders of Wilson Chandler – perhaps too much. In Friday’s  loss to Shandong, Chandler scored a casual 42 points while none of his teammates reached double figures. With the Shandong game serving as an example, this unbalanced attack proved to be an unsustainable winning formula.

The Lions entered Round 4’s match-up against Foshan with a different strategy. In the first quarter, Chandler took only two shots, mostly deferring and trying to get his teammates going. This strategy faltered, however, as Guangsha’s offense still lacked any rhythm and they trailed by 13 going into the second quarter.

With Chandler on the bench for the second quarter, the Lions’ offense finally came alive; Jin Lipeng hit multiple three-pointers and Lin Chih-chieh’s continued to make plays at the rim and Guangsha outscored Foshan 32-25 to trim the halftime deficit to six. Gerald Green accounted for 20 of Foshan’s 25 second quarter points. He had the crowd’s undivided attention as he kept Guangsha’s defense on their heels, scoring on quick moves to the basket and calmly hitting jumpers from all over the court.

While he seemed unstoppable in the second quarter, Green was guarded by Chandler in the second half and struggled, scoring only nine points. Chandler’s defense on Green sparked Guangsha and they played with a defensive intensity that was missing in their first three games. After the game Coach Jim Cleamons noted, “They scored 60 points in the first half and only 39 in the second.”

With their defense forcing turnovers and the offense flowing freely, Guangsha chipped away at Foshan’s lead until the six-minute mark in the fourth, when Jin Lipeng hit two free-throws to give Guangsha their first lead of the game. Foshan never recovered and managed only 10 points in the fourth quarter and fell to the Lions, 109-116.

Offensively, Guangsha was much more balanced with nine players scoring, four of which in double figures. After a silent first-half, Chandler became noticeably more aggressive in the second half, scoring all 22 of his points on only 16 shots. The Lions were paced, however, by Jin, who scored a team-high 25 points. Dwayne Jones even got in the offensive assault and scored 13 points to go along with his 14 rebounds (8 offensive).

NiuBBall had the opportunity to catch up with Jones after the game. “I’m still trying to get accustomed to the offense. I know I can do a lot better than I have been doing offensively”. Added Coach Jim Cleamons, “He played well.”

In recent weeks there has been speculation that Jones could be replaced. That speculation has proven to be true, as Guangsha announced that they are bringing back Peter John Ramos, who spent the last two seasons playing in Hangzhou, to replace Jones.

At 3-1, Guangsha will hit the road to play a struggling Shanghai Sharks team on Wednesday.

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

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Wilson Chandler carries Guangsha to victory with epic 43-22 debut

November 23, 2011

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From Hangzhou, Zhejiang province — In his CBA debut on Sunday night, Wilson Chandler made quite an impression on the Chinese basketball world as he willed the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions to victory over the Tianjin Ronggang Golden Lions, 118-115. Chandler led all players with 43 points and 22 rebounds, eclipsing his NBA career highs in points, rebounds, minutes played, field goal attempts and field goals made.

In a match-up that was widely expected to be a blow out, Tianjin was competitive throughout and especially resilient in the fourth quarter. Led up front by Donnell Harvey, who had 27 points and 13 rebounds, they were equally deadly from three, making 16 of 38 attempts. Zhang Nan buried 5 of 10 from deep and finished with a team high 29 points.

Simply put, Chandler was all over the court. When he wasn’t hauling in rebounds over Donnel Harvey on the defensive end, he was abusing him on offense, scoring on a dazzling array of pull-up jumpers, jab steps, spin-moves and drives to the hoop.

Guangsha appeared to have put Tianjin away midway through the fourth quarter after Chandler hit a momentum altering three-pointer followed by a pull-up jumper, which put the Lions up by 9 with less than six minutes to play. Then things got sloppy. Inexcusable turnovers enabled Tianjin to hang around, and after a Chandler missed a free throw to put Guangsha up four with less than thirty seconds remaining, Tianjin responded by hitting a crowd-silencing three with four seconds left. Dwayne Jones slipped on the subsequent in-bounds play and ended up throwing up a feeble attempt as the final buzzer sounded.

Neither team could seize control in the first overtime and the teams remained deadlocked after 53 minutes. In the second overtime frame, Dwayne Jones stepped up and scored his first basket of the game (more on that later). Down three with thirty seconds left, David Harrison had a defensive rebound snatched out of his hands by a much smaller Lipeng Jin, who proceeded to lay it in and put the game away.

After logging an exhausting fifty minutes of action, Chandler was unavailable for comment due to severe cramping and had to be helped to his ride home by teammates and members of his entourage.

If Guangsha has any hope of even being mentioned as a title contender, they are going to need consistent play in the interior, as Chandler won’t be able to do it alone. Dwayne Jones was supposed to provide an interior presence, but it is well noted that Guangsha is actively pursuing a replacement for him. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting that they have offered a contract to Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler, who, if he signs, would be an ideal addition with his ability to lockdown opposing big men and rebound the ball.

Wilson Chandler’s signing and subsequent arrival in Hangzhou was much anticipated, and he lived up to all expectations in his season debut. They escaped with a sloppy victory tonight, but as the season wears on and Guangsha learns to play together, expect the wins to come in a much easier fashion.

Follow Edward on Twitter @bothfeef

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Is the NBA risking locking themselves out of the Chinese basketball market?

November 11, 2011

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Eighty million.

This represents the approximate amount of money that the NBA and the Players Association are disagreeing over, and the reason the NBA season is locked out and didn’t tip off last weekend.

Three hundred million.

This is the estimated amount of basketball players and potential NBA fans in China. It is a number that nearly equals the entire population of the United States.

While the NBA is undoubtedly worried about losing fans at home in America due to the lockout, they should also be concerned about a dwindling fan base in China.  Beyond the season starting late, if at all, Yao Ming is retired. Yi Jianlian, once hyped as a Chinese Dirk Nowitzki, has instead turned into a player Basketball-Reference.com compares to Loren Woods and Dickey Simpkins. For the first time in a decade, the NBA landscape for Chinese players is uncertain.

As a result, NBA television ratings are at all-time lows in China.  This past June, a Sina Weibo poll said that 57% of respondents would not watch the NBA after Yao retired. As longtime commentator and basketball enthusiast Xu Jicheng put it, “It is Yao Ming who makes the kids in China like basketball and it’s also Yao Ming who makes the kids know how a real professional basketball player should be.”

But, Yao wasn’t the only NBA player who Chinese fans connected with. His star teammates with the Rockets, Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis, are also wildly popular as a result of playing alongside the Chinese center. After all, it was McGrady, not Yao, who had the top-selling jersey in China during the 2006 season, at the height of the Yao era. Yet, even the T-Mac era in China has fallen. McGrady’s career has been coming to a slow, injury-riddled, painful-to-watch end for the past few seasons — last year he averaged only 8 points in 23 minutes for a pathetic Detroit Pistons team. While the Chinese may still adore him (he just completed a tour of China promoting humanitarian causes in August), it doesn’t change the fact that his best playing days are behind him and he’s no longer a marketable cash cow.

The reality for the NBA in China is clear: Casual fans who once tuned in religiously the mornings to watch Yao and the Rockets have now gone back to centering their pre-noon schedules around school and work. With Yao, the NBA had a go-to player and a go-to team for Chinese fans to watch. Now looking at an NBA without Yao, the league appears to have gone back to being more of a niche form of entertainment.

This is the background that sits behind the NBA lockout here in China. As with all work stoppages, disappointment, anger, spite, and sadness are common feelings among fans. With the NBA’s lockout getting more serious, these feelings are more than understandable. The owners and Players Association cannot agree on how to divvy up a small percentage of revenue; it’s millionaires and billionaires grappling over a few million dollars, chump change when compared with the billions of dollars that stand to be made from all this.

In America, the NBA is doing its best damage control by providing updates and development through its “Labor Central” web page that is prominently featured on the front page of NBA.com. They also have a $7.4 billion TV contract with TNT and the biggest sports news outlet, ESPN, which can conveniently spin the blame on the players.

On the other side of the world, however, Chinese NBA fans — at least officially — have been completely locked out on information about the NBA’s work stoppage. As Adam Minter writes, ”To find any Chinese-language evidence that the NBA has locked its players out of the gyms, Chinese fans must click on the news tab on the NBA China site, and then scroll through news releases to find an Oct. 11 story headlined, ‘NBA announces the cancellation of two weeks of regular season games.’” But that’s not to say that fans are completely in the dark about the lockout. Websites, television programs, newspapers and magazines all have kept close tabs on the lockout and fans, if they want to go out and look for it, have no shortage of resources for information.

It’s puzzling that the NBA would risk alienating such a large and important fan base. According to USA Today, the NBA received 4.7 billion page views from China last season. Twelve time zones away from league headquarters in New York City, fans already have to overcome an inconvenient time change just to watch games.  With no NBA to watch, the league risks losing these fans forever, as they may be losing interest in the NBA’s product to begin with.

Chinese fans might also be less inclined to follow the NBA now that the CBA’s imported players are almost all former NBA players. The days of Nigel Dixon and Donta Smith-like players are over. Now, fans can see the likes of two-time aAll-Star Stephon Marbury, trash-talking intimidator Kenyon Martin, and the unpredictable but high-scoring J.R. Smith live. They’ll also be able to see them and the rest of the league on television more frequently than ever. As the lockout persists, more high-profile players are likely to join them.

As a commissioner who is completely bent on globalizing the game of basketball, David Stern is risking more than just the U.S. market during this lockout. With most recent reports saying the players want to take the failed negotiations to the American legal system, there is no end in site to the NBA’s work stoppage.

In China, however, the CBA season is set to begin. Fans will undoubtedly be intrigued with the idea of seeing if Kenyon Martin can deliver Xinjiang a championship, to watch J.R. Smith’s electrifying athleticism, and to embrace Yi’s (temporary) return to the Middle Kingdom.

The NBA, however, is facing a reality that their locked-out league is only going to push more Chinese fans away from organizing their mornings around watching basketball.

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Wheelchair basketball rolls on in Zhejiang at the National Games for Disabled Persons

October 30, 2011

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Two women’s players grapple for a loose ball during the wheelchair basketball tournament at China’s 8th National Games for Disabled Persons in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. (Photo by BCheng)

At NiuBBall.com, we don’t see ourselves as one man or one website. We see ourselves as members of a community — one that not only loves basketball; one that is dedicated to better understanding the place where NiuBBall dwells, China. And since basketball is arguably the most popular sport amongst this country’s 1.3 billion person population, we think using the lens of a round orange ball is a good way to go about doing that. Oh yeah, and it’s pretty cool, too.

So when we got an email from a guy who felt the same way asking if he could write something up for the site, we replied with an emphatic “yes.” Introducing the newest member of the NiuBBall family, Edward Bothfeld. Based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, Edward graduated from the University of Miami in spring 2008 with a bachelor’s in Mass Communications, moved to Hangzhou in the fall, and has been there ever since. A basketball enthusiast who says his on-court game resembles a dangerous mix of Matt Bonner and Mehmet Okur in their primes, Edward currently is part of the editing team at that’s Zhejiang magazine and also contributes material on Chinese basketball for Asia-Basket.com. A big CBA fan, Edward has been following Zhejiang Guangsha since the days of Rodney White and Nigel Dixon. He’ll be contributing to the blog frequently this year on a variety of subjects, including some much anticipated first-hand reports on Wilson Chandler and the Lions.

Edward’s first piece for NiuBBall is on wheelchair basketball in China. Special thanks to BCheng from Wild East Football for meeting up with us at the event, getting our wheelchair hoops knowledge up, and hooking us up with pictures.

From October 12-19, all of Hangzhou’s focus was on the participants of China’s 8th National Games for Disabled Persons.  Not so much by free choice, but rather by design – with ticket sales likely lagging, the Zhejiang provincial government ensured attendance and local interest by upending school schedules on only ten days notice. For two weeks, regularly scheduled classes on Tuesday and Wednesday were cancelled. (Unfortunately for students, they had to be made up on that weekend.)  By doing this, Zhejiang ensured that the closing and opening ceremonies would have high attendance figures. For a country that is not known for it’s sensitivities towards the disabled, it seemed like it for a week.

While most of the Games’ 18 events were held in the heart of Hangzhou around Huanglong Stadium, the one that mattered most to NiuBBall, wheelchair basketball, was being played an hour outside the college town of Xia Sha (下沙).  For a game that was first played by disabled American World War II veterans in the 1940’s, wheelchair basketball has come a long way.  The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) oversees 82 countries and approximately 100,000 people who play wheelchair basketball.  The sport is relatively new in China, as it was introduced in the early 2000’s and piggybacked the basketball obsession to become one of China’s most popular disabled sports.

As I approached the small stadium in Xia Sha, I saw the Hong Kong men’s team warming up by doing arm stretches and wheeling around in a small circle.  The competitors use a special type of wheelchair – the two large wheels are tilted slightly towards the person to provide more balance and decrease the probability of falling over (not to mention protecting the hands from getting squashed in between wheels).  There is also one small wheel in the back and two small wheels in the front of the wheelchair.  These wheels have the ability to rotate in a full 360 degrees to allow the players to turn quickly and remain balanced.

Inside, the Hong Kong team warmed up with lay-up lines.  Unlike traditional basketball players, wheelchair players are always grounded, obviously.  Since they are further from the hoop, finding the right angle to deflect the ball off the backboard is more challenging.  To make matters worse, they have to worry about using both hands to give themselves one final push towards the basket at the right angle.  More often than not they wait until they are nearly under the hoop to softly toss the ball up towards the backboard.

Since wheelchair basketball is played on the ground, having long arms like Hebei’s #3 pictured above is a huge advantage down low. (Photo by BCheng) 

This is just one of the many subtle but important differences between basketball and wheelchair basketball.  The wheelchairs end up giving the players a natural area of personal space because other players, who are secured in their own chairs by a seatbelt, can only reach so far.  Thus, being tall provides the same advantages as it does in normal basketball. A team that has someone tall with long arms holds a significant advantage because he or she can get the ball near the basket and take as much time as he or she wants to aim the shot while the defenders can only try their best to lean and reach as far as they can into the shooter’s space to alter the shot.  With the inability to play defense in a physical matter, there are not as many fouls in wheelchair basketball and it almost flows more than normal basketball. That’s not to say there aren’t any collisions. Plays are run and screens are set.  This isn’t bumper cars, so most fouls are called when a players slams into their opposition a little too hard.

Hong Kong ended up easily defeating Hebei by more than thirty points.  This lopsided score was not unusual as there is a large discrepancy in the quality of play between the Chinese provinces.  Wealthier provinces can afford better coaching, facilities, and opportunities for their disabled citizens.  Take a team’s depth into consideration. The Beijing women’s team had over a dozen players ready to play, while less wealthy provinces only had seven or eight players suited up.

The Beijing women’s team was by far the best team in the tournament, which isn’t surprising considering the majority of the team plays internationally for China.  BCheng, friend of NiuBBall and editor-in-chief of the fantastic Wild East Football, closely follows women’s wheelchair basketball. In attendance with me during the day, he was excited because he thought Beijing’s game against Shandong would be within twenty points (they won by forty).  While the games were blowouts, the competitors were obviously very proud of their sport and to have the opportunity to compete in front of a large audience.  At the end of the third quarter of a thirty-point game, a player for Beijing made a shot at the buzzer.  As the horn sounded, she remained under the hoop with both fists clenched shouting with Kevin Garnett-like enthusiasm.  She then caught the eye of a teammate on the bench and they approached each other to make what I dubbed, “the wheelchair chest bump”.  They wheeled toward each other at a decent speed and collided head on.  The collision of the front bumpers on each wheelchair provided a gentle boost into the air for each player; enough so that they could meet in mid-air, hug, and give each other kisses on the cheek.

Being disabled in China is not easy, and there more than sixty million people to tell you that.  The infrastructure does not cater to them.  Few buildings have ramps and the majority of residential buildings and schools under six stories don’t have elevators.  However, handicapped life has improved in recent decades.  Prior to 1980, disabled people were referred to as can fei (残废), which means “handicapped and useless”.  The disabled now have the more politically correct title of can ji ren (残疾人), which means “disabled persons”.  In 1987, only 50% of disabled people were employed, compared with 84% as of 2003.  This drastic increase in employment can be attributed to the government’s assistance in helping the disabled find work; which is how many of the wheelchair basketball players have come to love the sport.  When they were teenagers, the China Disabled Persons Federation politely encouraged (or assigned) them to play a handicapped sport, whether it is volleyball, tennis, or basketball. And so their wheelchair basketball careers began, with them practicing every morning and afternoon in preparation for international tournaments, and China’s National Games for Disabled Persons on a barely livable monthly salary.

While their participation in wheelchair basketball may be partially forced, the competitors at the Disabled Games played with the passion and excitement of someone who loved what they were doing.

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