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Giannakis released by Limoges, to stay with Team China

June 17, 2013

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Panagiotis Giannakis isn’t going anywhere. At least not where China is concerned.

After being the subject of several rumors regarding his exit as Team China head coach last week, “The Dragon” will resume his duties with Chinese. The 54 year-old Greek was back on the bench in China this past weekend, where he coached his team to a 1-1 split against the Australian national team in the second leg at 2013 Sino-Australian Men’s International Basketball Challenge in Tianjin and Yongcheng.

However, back in Europe, Giannakis’ future is far less clear. On Friday, his French club team, Limoges, announced that they are terminating his contract, citing “serious misconduct.” Limoges, who argue that Giannakis’ responsibilities in China will conflict with those in France, attempted to come to a settlement in the form of a pay cut with their head coach last week. According to EuroHoops.net, the two sides failed to arrive at an agreement. The inability to find a middle ground appears as a large contributing factor towards Limoges decision to let Giannakis go.

According to Basketball Pioneers, Giannakis will appeal the decision.

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Rumors abound over Giannakis alleged exit from China; CBA denies any knowledge of situation

June 11, 2013

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According to Serbian journalist, Djordje Matic, Pannagiotis Giannakis and the Chinese National Team are set to part ways. Matic later tweeted that his sources were 100% accurate. Both tweets were sent out yesterday.

China recently completed their first two exhibition games under Giannakis in Australia, going 1-1 against the Australian National Team.

Today, Matic’s tweets have made headlines on all of China’s major news outlets. In response, the Chinese Basketball Association formally denounced the news, saying that they haven’t heard anything about Giannakis alleged exit from the team.

“I haven’t heard anything about what you’re talking about,” said national team leader Zhang Xiong, who replied to a Chinese journalist via text message.

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East Asia Basketball Championship: More proof that something is seriously wrong with Chinese basketball

May 28, 2013

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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.

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Panagiotis Giannakis hired as head coach of Chinese National Team; initial 24-man roster released

April 28, 2013

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In a country where the dragon holds significant cultural importance, perhaps its fitting that one will be the next head coach of the national team.

Ending a long search, the CBA announced the appointment of Panagiotis Giannakis as head coach of the Chinese men’s national team. Nicknamed “The Dragon” for his long reign of dominance over European and international basketball, the 56 year-old will become the fourth foreign head coach in Chinese basketball history.

According to reports, the contract is a four-year agreement that will take Giannakis all the way through the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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2013 China National Team stock watch

January 21, 2013

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It’s never to early to talk National Team. And given that there’s only eight more rounds in the 2012-13 Chinese Basketball Association regular season, followed by the playoffs, its really not that early anymore.

Which is why we figured we’d offer up a quick report on who is rising, who has been staying steady, and who is falling on most important Chinese basketball index there is: this summer’s China National Team.

It’s going to be a busy and important summer for the boys in red: They’ll ultimately be playing in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which will be played in in Manila from August 1-11 and will serve as the qualifying tournament for the 2015 FIBA World Cup, where they’ll be aiming to repeat their gold medal from 2011. But before they can do that, they’ll first have to qualify out of East Asia; a task which won’t be any problem.

What type of roster the team goes forward with, however, is somewhat of a problem. Do they keep the same aging core that failed to win a game in London? Do they attempt to introduce some new blood at the risk of losing out in Asia? Or do they totally hit the reset button and go forward with a new era in Chinese hoops?

Since failure in Asia is unacceptable, don’t bank on the latter. But with so many players increasing in age, its highly probable that we’ll see some new faces this summer.

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Is Neven Spahija the front runner head coach of the national team?

January 15, 2013

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Since last summer’s London Olympics, it has been all quiet on the National Team front and their search for a new head coach.

Until yesterday.

According to Sina Sports, the Chinese Basketball Association is meeting in Beijing with Croatian Heven Spahija, who reportedly flew into the country to discuss the national team job.

Neither the CBA nor Spahija had any comment on the meeting.

On Saturday, an article in the Beijing Times reported that the CBA the process to find the next head coach had already started and that the administration would have a clear idea about their candidates by March.

“At present, the list is very extensive,” said national team director of operations, Zhang Xiong. “There’s around 20 or so names and we hope to hire a foreign coach. The list is mostly made up of European and American names, but we’re more inclined to select a European coach.”

The 50-year old Spahija’s resume includes two years as head coach at Fenerbahce from 2010-12, a two year stint at Valencia from 2008-10 and one year at Maccabi Tel Aviv from 2006-07. Spahijia started his head coaching career at Croatian club KK Cibona in 2001.

China is preparing for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which was originally to be hosted by Lebanon, but instead will take place in the Philippines due to security concerns. The tournament, which serves as the Asian qualifier for the 2014 World Cup (formerly known as the FIBA World Championship) will be held from August 1-11.

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China loses to Japan at FIBA Asia Cup, Chinese netizens react!

September 24, 2012

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It may have been “just a game” in the eyes of the Chinese Basketball Association, but China lost to Japan 60-50 last Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup. China ended up finishing fifth in the competition after beating Lebanon and Chinese Taipei in the consolation bracket.

Apparently some members of the Chinese public didn’t feel the same way as the CBA. Here’s what online commenters on Sina.com had to say after the loss:

新浪山东德州溶心: You can lose to whoever, but you just can’t lose to Japan

新浪江西南昌3kfeng: At this time, you can lose to whoever, but you can’t lose to Japan. If I was a player on the court from that game, I would retire from the game of basketball. It’s really too… I really don’t know how to express this. My goodness. If you lose,  hit a random Japanese person, I’ll support you. *Sigh…*

新浪广东中山霸龙: Dammit! TMD who is the coach? Die in Japan and don’t come back!

新浪浙江杭州stargo09: This is really quite shameful

新浪江苏无锡借锋御剑: Die in Japan, don’t come back, a bunch of disgraces!

新浪湖北黄石风子: Whoever you lose to, just don’t lose to Japan, there’s not even a little bit of heart, you can only find an excuse for failure, the national system raised you guys for nothing.

新浪上海嘉定尐輝輝Shine: An unexpected loss to little Japan, you group of retards. Don’t you understand that this is a critical moment? You’re soft on the basketball court, then you’ll be a pussy in deciding the Diaoyu Islands.

新浪湖北孝感VIP(1498544241): Since when does China basketball all of the sudden lose to this kind of crap second-rate group of short people Japan? TMD it’s more shameful than Chinese soccer.

Happy Monday, everyone!

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China to face Japan in FIBA Asia Cup quarters; do we really need this right now?

September 19, 2012

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Third place from Group A… plus second place from Group B equals… oh, crap.

Like Asian basketball really needed this to happen.

China, who finished with a 3-1 preliminary round record in Group A, has been matched up with Japan in the FIBA Asia Cup quarterfinals. The Japanese, who are acting as the host nation, went 3-1 in Group B after giving up a fourth quarter lead yesterday to Iran.

After losing to Lebanon in the second game, China has come back to put up back-to-back outputs of 120 points in lopsided wins against Uzbekistan and Macao. China narrowly beat the Philippines in their opening game.

Tomorrow’s game comes at a rather… shall we say tense times between the two countries as their dispute over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands has led to increased fears in Asia and around the world of a Sino-Japan military conflict. The situation over the islands has already trickled over into this competition, with some speculating that China’s four hour wait at the Tokyo airport upon arriving last week was an intentional act by Japanese tournament organizers.

With many fans in China hoping for a big win as a way to show Japan who’s the baddest country in East Asia, there’s likely to be a bit of pressure on Team China tomorrow to win one for the motherland. But, with a roster entirely comprised of players aged 22 years-old and under, the mix of a big continental tournament, a matchup against a pretty good Japan side who has most of their best senior level players, and the pressure to beat the Japanese — not merely as an opponent, but as a sworn mortal enemy that stems from nationalistic, deep-seeded, intense hatred going back to the 1930s – might just be a little too much for these boys to handle.

Accordingly, the Chinese Basketball Association came out publicly today to try and downplay the game and attempt to calm down crazy war-thirsty fans  like this dude from Guangdong, who left a comment of “If you can’t win [by playing], you’ll have to win by using your fists!!! Otherwise crawl back to China!” on Sina today.

Said deputy director of the CBA, Hu Jiashi, “This is just a game… I hope the fans won’t put too much pressure on the players [to win].”

Well hey, I hope Liverpool is going to get back into Champions League next year. Doesn’t mean its going to happen.

Unfortunately for hoops fans in China, neither does the prospect of watching this game on TV. According to television listings, the game won’t be televised on CCTV tomorrow night (7pm Tokyo, 6pm Beijing). For those who can get JSports (aka Japanese ESPN) through various internet methods, the game will be televised live on JSports-2.

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FIBA Asia Cup 12-man roster announced

September 13, 2012

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Team China’s trip to Tokyo for the Asia Cup got off to a boring start last night.

Yesterday, the Chinese Basketball Association has announced the 12-man roster for the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup.

Wang Zhelin and Guo Ailun headline a team that is completely comprised of players aged 22 and under. Going up against teams that will have veteran senior level players, head coach Fan Bin stressed to reporters that this China team won’t be judged on results. Instead, the tournament will be used as a way for China’s next generation of National Team players to gain experience in preparation for the 2016 Olympics.

In part, there’s truth to all of that. But as people who are familiar with Chinese basketball know, China will still be looking for a decent finish. If all they really cared about was the experience, would they have taken Guo Ailun, who has been out of action since he sprained his ankle on September 3rd and went so far to tweet on September 9th that it was still in a large amount of pain? The answer is pretty obvious, I think.

Things are already off to a rough start for the Chinese, however. According to the Beijing Morning Post, after arriving in Tokyo last night, the team was forced to wait at the airport for two hours for their bus to arrive. By the time their vehicle had arrived, it was well past midnight.

Hmmmmmm….

The full roster:

Center

Wang Zhelin (Fujian)
Sun Zhe (DongGuan)
Zhang Dayu (Zhejiang)

Forward

Yu Changdong (Xinjiang)
Wu Ke (Shandong)
Cao Yan (Bayi)

Guard

Guo Ailun (Liaoning)
Duan Jiangpeng (Shanxi)
Sui Ran (Shandong)
Wang Zirui (Guangsha)
Zhao Tailong (Fujian)
Cao Fei (Zhejiang)

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Wang Zhelin’s busy summer to continue in Tokyo

September 10, 2012

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Fresh off a gold medal at the FIBA Asia U-18s, Wang Zhelin is on now his way to Japan to play in the FIBA Asia Cup.

Having already circled the globe this off-season to stop off at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Bob Donewald’s three month London Olympic Asia Minor preparation tour, and the FIBA U-18 Asia Championship in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, you’d think 18 year-old Wang Zhelin would finally be allowed to get some rest before he suits up for his first professional season in November with Fujian.

Well, think again.

The fourth edition of the FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo, Japan is set to kick off on Friday and for the first time ever, China will be sending a team to participate. Formerly known as the FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup, the winner will receive an automatic berth in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which is the qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.  Team who finish in the top four will earn “additional berths for their respective FIBA Asia sub zones,” according to the tournament’s official site.

Ultimately, the result isn’t that important — even if China loses, they’ll get a spot next year when they beat up on third-tier Asian national teams. And it looks like China recognizes that fact. Instead of bringing their senior squad or even a roster of second tier veterans, the Chinese Basketball Association has opted to bring several players from the Olympic Team, which is just a fancy way of saying the U-23 national team.

Wang, who averaged 22.3 points, 10.3 rebounds on 68% shooting from the field while leading China to gold in Mongolia, headlines the team where he’ll be joined by Guo Ailun (Liaoning), Li Muhao (DongGuan), Sui Ran (Shandong) and Wang Zirui (Guangsha) among others. Fan Bin will curse loudly from the sidelines act as head coach.

Though Wang will likely put up good numbers in Japan, it’ll be impossible to match what he did in Ulaanbataar. Down three to South Korea with under 15 seconds left in the Finals, Wang made a Tim Duncan-vs.-Suns-esque three-pointer — the first three-point attempt of his international career — to tie the game. China eventually won after the Koreans were called for a controversial five-second call on the ensuing play, with Gao Shang hitting the go-ahead lay-up with three seconds remaining.

China plays its first game against the Philippines on Friday.

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U-18s beat Hong Kong by 106 points and no, that’s not a typo

August 18, 2012

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The FIBA Asia U-18 Championship is underway in basketball hotbed Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and China, who are looking to defend their 2010 title, has opened its schedule with a message to its preliminary round competition: We’re totally cool by beating our own country-mates by a Wilt Chamberlain.

Playing in their opening game of the preliminary round yesterday, China beat Hong Kong by a score of 153-47.

I’ll type that again: 153-47. So much for saving some mian zi.

How you win by 106 points is beyond me, but here’s some statistics that help paint this ridiculous picture. China outrebounded their opponents 60-14, outscored them in the paint 72-14 and forced 32 turnovers. HK shot 28% for the game and were outshot 97-54. In the third quarter, China came out to score 44 points to Hong Kong’s five and then went 41-12 in the fourth just for good measure.

And when you further dig into this monstrosity of a scoreline, it’s hard not to just feel bad for these dudes. According to the competition’s official website, Hong Kong’s tallest player listed at 196 centimeters (6’5) and their next two tallest bigs are 191 (6’3). Compare that to China’s centers, Wang Zhelin and Zhou Qi, who are merely two seven footers with NBA potential.

Wang finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds (nine offensive) in just over 17 minutes, while Zhou had 17 and 6 in roughly the same time.

Unless the sun blows up, China is a lock to win this tournament for the second straight time. This roster features China’s A-list of youth players, including Wang and Zhou, as well as Gao Shang, Han Delong and Zhao Jiwei. It’s also the core team (minus Gao) that played this summer in Lithuania at the FIBA World U-17 Championship. China finished seventh with a 4-4 overall record.

China beat India earlier today 119-54. They’ll play Indonesia Lebanon tomorrow in the last game of the preliminary round before the start of the second round — in where the top three teams from each of the four groups are reorganized into two groups of six — on Monday. The top four teams from each group then play in the knockout round, which starts on August 24th.

You can check out the official website for more details and statistics here.

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The Legacy of Bob Donewald

August 16, 2012

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Among other accomplishments during his two years as Team China head coach, Bob Donewald Jr. brought home the country’s first Asia Championship since 2005. (Photo: FIBAasia.net)

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Bob Donewald Jr., whose contract in Beijing has now expired, will not be returning to coach Chinese National Team. In a highly eventful three years, the last two of which have been spent as Team China head coach, there’s been suspensions, championships, a documentary, brawls, more suspensions, sideline yelling matches, and a you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up crazy half-season in Xinjiang among other notable events. Whatever your opinion of his tenure is, we’re fairly confident that all would agree that his stay in China has been anything but boring.

Of course, the Donewald era is much more than that. The question is: What? What exactly has happened over the last three years? What impact has he made on Chinese basketball? And what is his lasting legacy?

Talking to the Associated Press last week, Donewald offered up his own thoughts on the latter two questions:

“It’s not the way we wanted to end it. But I think we laid the groundwork in the right way,” Donewald said. “We’ve changed some things, we’ve changed some training, we’ve brought ideas, we’ve changed the way we play a little bit. And hopefully they can take it and go from here. … I hope 10 years from now I look back and China’s back on the map and we helped bridge something, we helped do something.”

The full article is well worth the read, not just because Donewald has a lot more interesting things to say, but also because Wang Zhizhi steals the show with a couple of priceless quotes, the best being his initial response in 2010 to Donewald’s defense-first mindset: “This is China. We don’t play defense.”

Critics will obviously point to the recent failure at the Olympics as their perceived reflection of Donewald’s failure to put together and lead a Chinese team capable of winning on the world’s biggest stage. Our views on what went down in London are already well known. But whereas some will want to rate the overall Donewald purely based on an 0-5 record, we’re going to take a few steps back and improve our court vision to assess what’s really gone down the last three years.

1. The turnaround in Shanghai

Known virtually by everyone around the world as the franchise who produced Yao Ming, the Shanghai Sharks were once one of the proudest and most winningest franchise in the Chinese Basketball Association. But, in 2009 — seven years removed from their first and only championship under Yao — the team’s gradual descent into the depths of the league standings hit its lowest point. In last place with 6-44 record and a financial situation that bordered on bankruptcy, the Sharks weren’t just the dregs of the league, they were on the verge of complete extinction.

A savior came from a familiar face, Big Yao himself, who bought his old team in the summer of 2009 to ensure the franchise’s financial future while simultaneously injecting a much needed dose of optimism into the City on the Sea. Shunning the bureaucratic  state-run-styled ownership that nearly put the franchise out of the CBA, Yao vowed to change the entire structure and culture in Shanghai.

That first wave of change came in the form of a new head coach, Donewald. A former NBA assistant in the early 2000s with Cleveland and New Orleans and a successful coach in England in the late 1990s, Donewald had been in Brazil and Ukraine prior to his arrival at the Yuanshen stadium. Unknown virtually by all in Chinese circles, Donewald proved to be the perfect catalyst in Shanghai. With a no compromise attitude, Donewald uprooted practically everything in Sharks-land and brought accountability, professionalism and intensity into a team that was sorely lacking in all three of those departments the previous season.

Under the first year head coach, a reinvigorated Chinese roster teamed up with three excellent imports, John Lucas III, Garet Siler and Zaid Abbas, to finish with the league’s fourth best record before nearly upsetting eventual league champion, Guangdong, in the semi-finals. Impressed by Donewald’s success, the powers that be at the CBA appointed him as head coach of the National Team in April 2010.

That magical season went beyond just himself, though. Lucas and Siler, both of whom were passed over by NBA teams when they came out of college, signed on to play in The League in 2010 with Chicago and Phoenix respectively. Both played this last season for the same teams. Abbas has gone on to star for the Jordanian National Team during the summers and during winters, he’s been busy leading Beijing and Fujian to the playoffs. “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu, who left Cal-Berkeley early to join Donewald in Shanghai in 2010, is now part of the National Team setup.

And though Donewald left in the summer of 2011 for Urumqi, the changes he made in Shanghai can still be felt today as Dan Panaggio continues to build on top of the foundation he first set in 2009.

Yet, perhaps Donewald’s biggest impact on a player was not on an American, but on a Chinese player with deep ties not only to Chinese basketball, but to Yao Ming as well…

2. The resurrection of Liu Wei

The 2008-09 season was long for everyone in Shanghai. But it was their star player, Liu Wei, who perhaps endured the longest and most nightmarish season of them all. Known for his ultra-competitiveness, the raging fire that burned under the longtime National Team point guard smoldered into mere ambers as Liu was forced to deal with not only the worst finish in Shanghai history, but also several nagging injuries, an ugly post-game incident with Yunnan import, Gabe Muoneke, and the 10-game suspension that followed it. His play suffered, and his 15.6 points per game was the worst statistical output since 2001-02. Once a CBA champion and NBA training camp invitee, things got so bad for Liu that he was rumored to be off to Bayi in the following off-season.

Enter Yao, Donewald, and his American staff, all of whom made it a focus to get their point guard back on track for 2009-10. Brought back to health through the dedication of strength and conditioning coach, James Scott, formerly of the Houston Rockets, Liu found his old self again as Shanghai ripped off a regular season 25-7 record. His 21.3 points per game was the third highest output of his career, and individual success carried through to the next season where he averaged 18.6 a game.

Liu’s resurgence has had implications far beyond just Shanghai, however. If you think prolonging the career of the only point guard in China who is consistently capable of playing on an international level, we ask: Have you seen any alternatives at that position?

Neither have we.

3. The transformation of Yi Jianlian

Once appointed head coach of the NT, the job presented to Donewald was to oversee a changing-in-the-guard from the old Yao Ming era to a new decade of Chinese basketball. Not exactly an easy task.

Without an all-world center who could dominate at both ends, Donewald trashed the rely-on-one-player philosophy in favor of a more balanced defensive-oriented, blue-collar approach. But all teams need a guy to dump the ball into on offense and get buckets… and that’s where Yi Jianlian comes into the story.

Under the shadow of the Yao in the 2000s, a then-young Yi played tentatively and inconsistently for China. But since Donewald arrived in 2010, Yi has been a completely different player. Given the task of being The Guy for the Chinese, the seven footer has responded beautifully over the last two international seasons. At the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Yi was the only player in the tournament to average 20 points and 10 rebounds. The following summer at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, he won tournament MVP (16.6-10.2) as he led China to a championship over Jordan. And though China flopped miserably in London, Yi managed to lead all players in rebounds (10.2 a game), while putting up strong individual performances against Spain and Russia before an injury suffered against Australia hampered him for the rest of the Games.

No, he’s not Yao. But in the post-Yao era, Yi is unquestionably the best and most important player to the Chinese. He has consistently been at the top of his game when China has need him the most. The player deserves much credit for accepting that challenge, but he — and the CBA — will have to thank Donewald, first for believing in him, then for giving him the support to make the Yao-to-Yi transition a success.

4. The modernization of the National Team

What the CBA chooses to do in light of these Olympics (changing the import rules in their domstic league, increasing the amount of games, hiring a new coach, implementing a new  national daily regimen of three-man weave drills) is anybody’s guess.

Our two cents: They’d be wise to continue in the direction that Donewald and his staff has pointed them in.

Whether it’s been compiling thick tomes detailing every in-and-out of their opponents, meticulously breaking down film, implementing individualized strength and conditioning programs for each player or successfully appealing to the CBA to allow the coaching staff to pick their own players, Donewald has managed to do away with the old days of mindless 6-8 hour-a-day practices and two-hour team meetings. All of which are very positive for Chinese basketball, by the way. The days of 30 exhibition games in the summer? Maybe not. But, one step at a time.

If Chinese basketball is going to catch up to the rest of the world one day, they’ll have to eventually run their program accordingly. Again, whether the CBA decides to take a knee-jerk reaction to what’s gone down in London is anybody’s guess. Yet what Donewald’s been able to do — and teach — to people inside Chinese hoops about the modern requirements for developing a National Team should certainly be beneficial in the long-term for both the country and the next coach who replaces him. You know, if the CBA allows it…

5. The trophies

Lost in all of the Deng Hua de bu xing (Donewald sucks), Deng Hua De de zhan shu bu hao (Donewald’s X’s and O’s aren’t good) and Deng Hua De bu dong Zhongguo (Donewald doesn’t understand China) arguments that I’ve heard from Chinese over the last couple of weeks, is the simple fact that no matter what you think of the guy, he’s won when he was supposed to win. Every time.

And if you don’t think that getting cheng ji – results — in Chinese sports are important, you haven’t seen this yet.

Make no mistake: Donewald’s gotten results. First came a championship at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, beating Iran in a thrilling semi-finals before dispatching South Korea in the finals. Not exactly a huge deal, since China had one five out of the last six gold medals at the Asian Games, but still a championship nonetheless in a competition that demanded no other result.

The following year in Wuhan, however, was something totally different. Despite playing without two key players, Zhou Peng and Wang Shipeng, both of whom were injury casualties of an endless summer of warm-up games, Donewald and the squad managed to come back in the second half against Jordan in the finals to eek out a win and an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

Whereas Guangzhou was pretty much always in the cards, triumphing in Wuhan was anything but guaranteed. Some people, including this very space, doubted China’s chances of getting to London because of prior history and a less-than-full-strength roster. On top of proving people wrong, Wuhan represented something far greater: China’s first Asian title since 2005 and more importantly, the first in the post-Yao era, an accomplishment Donewald’s predecessor, Guo Shiqiang, could not get done in 2009.

Was Donewald’s China journey always a smooth ride? Hardly. But at the end of everything, Donewald can go out with a title that nobody in China can take away from him: A winner. We’ll see in 10 years if we can call him a pioneer, too.

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Grading Team China’s Olympics

August 16, 2012

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The United States 107-100 triumph against Spain in the gold medal match on Sunday marked both the end of Olympic basketball and the Olympics altogether, as the closing ceremony was held only a few hours after. Of course for China, basketball has been over for a while now after they went 0-5 in Group B.

Without a doubt, the winless finish will be viewed as a disappointment. But smearing blame across the entire team wouldn’t be fair. Who failed to play up to their standards, and who pulled their weight? We grade each player on a scale of 优 (excellent), 良 (good),中 (average), and 差 (bad), evaluating their performances with expected results in mind.

优- (Excellent) - Yi Jianlian

Key Statistic: 30 points (13/19 FG), 12 rebounds vs Spain

China was expected to rely heavily on their only NBA-level talent, Yi Jianlian and in the early going, Yi did not disappoint, notching a huge double-double against Spain in a respectable defeat. He followed up with another strong effort against Russia, putting up 16 points and 7 rebounds.

Photo: Getty Images

However, just as it looked as if Yi might singlehandedly lead China to some wins, he suffered an injury in the second half against Australia that severely limited him the last two games. Other teams started to focus their defenses upon him as the rest of Team China was not much of a threat, and in turn he made just 5 field goals. Yi was unable to shoulder the heavy burden placed upon him, even though he was the top rebounder at the Olympics with 10.2 a game and was one of only two players to average a double-double. It is difficult to evaluate Yi in light of his injury; if he was healthy throughout, perhaps the dominance he showed offensively early on would have continued. Though Yi Jianlian’s effort in the face of injury is commendable (14 rebounds against Great Britain), what China needed was points. Yi could not create enough offense by himself, and though that is a tall task with the support cast he has, we have to dock him a few points for his average finish to the Games.

良+ (Very good) — Wang Zhizhi

Key Statistic: 1 point (0/8 FG), 12 rebounds vs Australia

Photo: Getty Images

The longest-tenured member of the national team started his last   Olympics off strong, scoring an efficient 15 points against Spain. But, his minutes were limited against more athletic teams as his defense, never a strong point even when he was young, was too much of a liability. Against Australia, he had 12 rebounds, a career high, but fatigue and strong defensive pressure obviously had gotten to him, as he missed all eight of his shots and his rhythm was noticeably off. It is disappointing that China still has to rely on Wang to create offense, but when facing weaker defenses, the veteran was still able to put up big numbers. Wang averaged 6 points and 5.2 rebounds, showing he can still stroke the mid-range shot and rebound in short amounts of time. A great example for younger players, he suited up for the game against Brazil despite having five stitches on his face. Fatigue, age, and physicality caught up to him, though, and he was unable to sustain his quality production.

良+ (Very good) — Wang Shipeng

Key Statistic: 13/21 (61.9%) 3PT, highest in tournament

China eclipsed 60 points only two times in these Olympics, a testament to its anemic offense. Wang, though, wasn’t shabby on the offensive end, with very efficient games when he was given time on the court. Perhaps he could have been a little less turnover-prone, but on a team that frequently failed to get off shot attempts, the confident gunner was a much-needed shot creator. His unconscious shooting night against Australia will be one to remember; Wang hit 7 of 10 three pointers, and his 21 points kept China in the game for a while. He averaged 9.6 points, the second highest total on the team by quite a margin, which goes to show the dearth of a supporting cast behind Yi.

中- (Below average) — Liu Wei

Key Statistic: 1.3 assist to turnover ratio

When a team struggles as much as it does on offense as China did, a certain degree of blame must be put on the floor general of the team. Never known as an extraordinary playmaker, Liu Wei still could have done better than the two assists and 1.5 turnovers a game he averaged in the Olympics. Much of the time, it seemed that the only play the team had was to hand the ball to Yi, back off, and watch him from the perimeter, resulting in many 24 second violations, contested jumpers, and the lowest team assist average in all of the Olympics. Liu averaged 5.2 points a game on less than efficient shooting, the majority of which were mid-range jumpers. The point guard position has always been a headache for China, though Liu getting into foul trouble against Spain created playing time and much hope for…

良+ (Very good) — Chen Jianghua

Key Statistic: 12 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers vs Spain

Perhaps Chen has become a step slower after his knee injury, but even with his reduced speed, he is still able to penetrate defenseseasily, and has developed a better feel for the game as well as nice passing instincts. Chen recorded an impressive performance against Spain with 12 points and five assists, then scored 10 points apiece against both Australia and Brazil. What is even more significant than those numbers is that China’s point guard position finally seems to be in decent hands. Chen is still blessed with much of the talent that made him such a prized prospect, and with experience, he can only improve as a playmaker.

差 (Bad) — Zhu Fangyu

Key Statistic: 8 points in 4 of 5 games, 4 total rebounds

Apart from netting 13 points on 6 shots against Brazil in garbage time, Zhu had a forgettable Olympics. Averaging a paltry 4.2 points and 0.8 rebounds (which China ranked last among all teams in), he was unable to contribute much in the areas that the team needed the most help. The leading scorer in CBA history didn’t get many minutes in London, and oftentimes he wasn’t able to stop his matchup on the defensive side. His performance is a glaring sign that China’s old rotation of players desperately needs some newcomers to step up.

差 (Bad) — Sun Yue

Key Statistic: 3/16 FG in 3 games

Many had high hopes for Sun Yue, one of the only NBA-caliber talents on the team, but London represented a far tougher competition than the guard was used to after yet another season playing against inferior competition with Beijing Aoshen. He was inefficient from the field, blowing layups and jumpers alike. Sun did showcase his physical toughness on defense, stopping multiple fast breaks against Russia that otherwise would have been easy points. Sun was sidelined for the last two games with an injury, a brutal end to a disappointing tournament.

中 (Average) — Zhou Peng, Yi Li

中- (Below average) — Ding Jinhui Guo Ailun, Zhang Zhaoxu

Key Statistic: First Olympics

Zhou played significant minutes in 3 games, and was a great energy guy off the bench, gathering rebounds and playing tough defense. He protected the post with Ding, who provided his trademark brand of aggression. Both are undersized and raw on defense, and could not make much impact on the offensive end (Ding was 2-9 from the field). Yi Li provided a remarkable first half against Russia, where he nailed a couple of important jumpers for 9 points, and in subsequent games flashed his confidence in his shot. Guo Ailun, often paired with Chen in a combo guard position, started for China against Brazil, logging 8 points, while Zhang Zhaoxu filled his role of a 12th man big body, and set a couple of nice screens. The two were prone to making mistakes, and Zhang found it hard to stay on the floor with fouls and turnovers. All in all, Coach Donewald played his youngsters sparingly. They gained much experience from these Games, but in a perfect world, these players would have been capable of playing big minutes in place of the veterans presently. Not many expected them to, though, and this group didn’t really prove the doubters wrong; other than Zhou and perhaps Yi, the youth movement was not able to contribute much.

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End of an era: Liu Wei retires from National Team, Wang Zhizhi plays in final Olympic match

August 8, 2012

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Liu Wei, who has played with Team China since 2002, is retiring from the National Team.

China’s 90-58 defeat to Great Britain on Monday, which clinched an 0-5 overall record and the country’s first ever winless result at the Olympics, will be remembered as part of a series of big losses. But it will pale in comparison to the several veteran players the National Team has just lost to retirement.

Liu Wei, who has been part of the National Team setup for the last 10 years, most of which were spent as the starting point guard, announced on Sina Weibo that he has played his last game for Team China. Over his career with the National Team, the 32 year-old point guard participated in three Olympics and three World Championships.

In addition, 35 year-old Wang Zhizhi, announced that he will not play in Brazil in the 2016 Olympics. He did not, however, explicitly say that he has retired from Team China, which could possibly leave the door open for him to return to the team as they get set to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Championship. Wang, who made his senior debut for China at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, has played in the last five Olympic Games.

Other longtime National Team mainstays, Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu, also announced to reporters that they have participated in their last Olympics as well.

The news that the four have played their last Olympics marks the end of an era for Chinese basketball. Liu, Wang Zhizhi, Zhu and Wang Shipeng were all part of the 2006 World Championship team in Greece Japan, the 2008 Beijing Olympic team and the 2010 World Championship team in Turkey, all three of which qualified past the group stages.

All four figure to play for their club teams in the Chinese Basketball Association next year.

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Missing out on London may have given China the wake-up call its needed

August 6, 2012

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Saturday’s loss to Brazil marked a low point for Chinese basketball as Yi Jianlian and the National Team failed to get out of the group stage for the first time since 2000. (Photo: Osports)

A NiuBBall road trip  out of Beijing  a couple of months ago led me to a conversation with a Chinese basketball old-hand who wondered: Would the National Team have been better off if they had lost to Jordan in the FIBA Asia Championship last summer?

Now that the sky is officially falling in the world of Chinese basketball after the Men’s National Team went down hard to Brazil two nights ago in London, the question has reached its highest point of relevance. The 98-56 loss brought China’s overall record in London to 0-4 and officially eliminated them from the knockout round. For the first time since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, China won’t make it out of their group, no matter what result they attain tonight against Great Britain. And for the umpteenth time since, well forever, people are debating the necessity and the degree of which changes need to be made in Chinese basketball to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Of course, to the powers-that-be at the Chinese Basketball Association, the double image of China losing its place as Asia’s best basketball team while simultaneously losing out on an automatic bid to the Olympics is one best left for 2am nightmares. Losing on the world’s biggest international stage is one thing; not being able to participate is far worse.

But it’s exactly those type of earth-shattering failures, however, that tend to bring about earth-shattering changes. And there lies the logic of our China old-hand: Sure, losing to Jordan would have been a step back in the short-term. But in the long-term, it may have spurred the CBA to reflect upon itself and finally make some changes in the way it directs Chinese basketball.

In some ways, China’s actually been down that road before. Failure at the Asia Championship happened as recently as 2009 when China’s first real sans-Yao Ming foray into continental competition went up in flames after they were handily dealt with by Hamed Haddadi and Iran in Tianjin.

Though the loss was unacceptable for the win-in-Asia-at-all-costs CBA, the 2009 debacle was eventually amended through less dramatic means. The silver medal was a loss of face for the Chinese no doubt, but due to the World Championship’s inclusive qualification standards that automatically send the top three finishers at the Asian competition to the big world show, China still was assured of an all-important spot in Turkey in 2010. Nonetheless, change came in the form a new coach as Guo Shiqiang was replaced shortly before the start of the World Championship by American Bob Donewald Jr. in April 2010, who at the time was fresh off of a highly successful debut campaign with the Shanghai Sharks, leading the team to the CBA semi-finals one year after they finished in second-to-last place.

Order was quickly restored under the guidance of their new coach. Though the lending of the Asian throne to Iran resulted in a panic-stricken loss-of-face, it turned out to be just a small smudge on Chinese hoops after Donewald led the team into the knockout round later that summer.

In the end, things worked out, at least from a competition standpoint. A loss a year ago to Jordan, however, would have resulted in a much different reality for China; one that very likely would have involved the unspeakable scenario of non-qualification for the 2012 London Olympics. Then — and only then — as the argument goes, after that catastrophic failure would we have possibly seen some important changes to the system that has so far failed to consistently develop high-level international players.

In fact, some changes might be underselling it; a complete overhaul is probably more appropriate. Those who argue the former, including some members of the Chinese media, who have used the last 48 hours to heap blame on Donewald for the winless trip in London, are simply out of touch. All he’s done is win at every level he’s been asked to win at, starting in Turkey in 2010, continuing with an Asian Games championship later that summer before finally taking home gold at the Asia Championship in Wuhan.

No, bringing in a new coach, Chinese or foreign, isn’t going to fix what’s always been truly wrong in Beijing, which is the inability to identify and develop top-level players.

Even for those who have casually tuned in to watch any of China’s last three games against Russia, Australia and Brazil, one fact is clearly evident: China just isn’t very good. None of this should be a surprise. If the common coach-speak, “you’re only as good as your talent,” remains true today, then the debacle in London is not Donewald’s fault. Placed in an extremely tough group with an aging, in-transition roster, it was always going to be tough for China to win a game, nonetheless advance into the knockout round. And when their best player, Yi Jianlian, who also happens to be the only person capable of consistently getting his own shot on offense, is limping around with a knee injury against a Brazil squad that is competing for a medal as he was two nights ago, China is arguably pretty bad.

The singular reliance on one great player is something we’ve all become used to. Whereas the National Team solely relied on one all-world player, Yao Ming, to shoulder the on-court burden throughout the 2000s, Yi finds himself in the same position in this decade — alone in the middle with little to no help around him. And while Yi is a good player in his own right at the international level, he is no Yao Ming, a Hall-of-Fame 7-6 center capable of dominating the game on both ends. Nor is he capable of leading China to anything past fringe status internationally.

Of course, it could be different. Opportunities to reflect and reform have already presented themselves to the CBA. In what should have been an era that saw the CBA capitalize on all-time highs in youth participation in basketball as a result of Yao’s global success by reforming its Soviet-styled system to better identify and develop the largest pool of basketball players on the planet. Instead, government officials remained satisfied enough with continued continental dominance and  just-good-enough results at the Olympics and World Championships to keep everything the same.

Flash forward to present, and we can clearly see the effects of that decision. Talent wise, the cupboard in China is currently bare at the senior National Team level because of China’s failure to develop the next generation of basketball players. Young players are still selected based on bone tests that predict future height. Those who make the cut and play club level youth ball are relegated to six hours-a-day of mindless three-man weaves and other full-court lay-up drills. The ones who are cut are left in the cold as there remains little to no alternatives to develop their games, nonetheless get looked at by professional teams.

Speaking to the New York Times in July 2011, Donewald, as well as his National Team assistant, former Bayi legend, Li Nan, were quoted on the state of the Chinese basketball system. Their consensus: It’s broken and it needs to be fixed.

“When you work in Chinese basketball, you realize that the C.B.A., the clubs and the national team don’t care and don’t want to hear about the process,” Donewald said. “They just want results. But it’s by building the infrastructure that you win more medals and make more stars.”

“If height were the determining factor, we would be the best team in the world,” said Li Nan.

Yao Ming, speaking to Xinhua yesterday, was also critical of the system as he asked “We have 1.3 billion people, why can’t we develop elite-level international players?” His answer: Separation between sports and education.

The system is already starting to see trickles of change. “Chris” Tang Zihao, a Chinese-born point guard who showed enough promise to be recruited by his home province team, Liaoning Jiangsu, opted instead to attend middle school in the States. Now entering his junior year in high school, Tang will play at prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Tang, who is already being recruited by mid-to-high level D-1 programs, will almost certainly play college ball in the U.S. and could possibly be an important piece at point for the Chinese National Team in the years to come.

In DongGuan, the NBA and the CBA in the form of the DongGuan New Century Leopards, have teamed up on the 2011-constructed DongGuan Basketball School, which aims to develop top-level players through a more well-rounded and balanced program in comparison to club youth teams. It’s too early to measure its effectiveness, but the idea for the school is one that has been viewed as a step in the right direction.

But schools like DongGuan and players like Tang are unfortunately few and far between currently. Change from within is needed if Chinese basketball is to take the next step. And with fresh new investments coming in from Infront and Li-Ning, the CBA has the money and resources to at least start the process. Longtime vets Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei, and quite possibly Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu have seen their last Olympics. A new era of Chinese basketball has arrived, and its time to do something to ensure it gets on the right track.

If history is any indication, however, we’ll get a heavy dose of China’s next NBA-bound big man, Wang Zhelin, who during the next four years will be anointed as the next “next Yao” and the savior of the National Team for 2016.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Osama Dahglas’ last second shot had gone in for Jordan last year, and thus we’ll never know what the CBA would have done if China hadn’t qualified for London. But we do know this: On its current course, Chinese basketball will continue to step in a sideways direction. And until China takes a large enough step backward for decision makers to see the tattered state of their system, the slide-stepping is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

 

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