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Sichuan Blue Whales win promotion to CBA, round out new foreign lineup

October 7, 2013

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The CBA’s newest expansion team, the Sichuan Whales, will enter their inagural season with three foreign players, Hamed Haddadi, Herve Lamizana and Johnny Flynn, as well as a foreign head coach, J.T. Prada.

Southwestern China has been starving for some top level basketball for a long time. They won’t have to wait any longer.

Last month, the CBA officially announced the promotion of the Sichuan Jinqiang Blue Whales to the Chinese Basketball Association, and will become the 18th team in the league.

The decision, which was officially announced on September 29th, ends what had been a long-time rumored end-result to the league’s expansion plans. Dating as far back as summer 2012, the CBA had been evaluation expansion plans with the idea of promoting a team from the second-tier professional league, the National Basketball League. For various reasons, those plans were put on hold and the once-in-a-few year opportunity for teams to rise up to the top professional level was carried over to 2013. Even then, it wouldn’t be until several months after the conclusion of the NBL season for a final decision to be announced.

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Craig Smith Interview

June 24, 2013

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If you’ve watched Craig Smith play basketball for a bit, you’ve probably heard this phrase thrown around.

Craig Smith is a beast.

We were some of the early ones to figure that out.

In November 2002, perched on the familiar confines of our Section I, Row 13 seats inside Conte Forum, we watched on excitedly as Smith out-worked, out-muscled and out-played the mighty BABC All-Stars in his Boston College Eagles pre-season exhibition debut. After witnessing Al Skinner’s latest diamond-in-the-rough reveal himself as a ready-out-the-box Big East forward, we quickly arrived at another thought. You know, besides the whole beast bit.

Hope this guy stays four years.

Luckily for the Pastuszek family, who watched almost every home game as Boston College season ticket holders in the same Section I, Row 13 seats from 2000 to 2011 — and for every other Eagles basketball supporter, for that matter — Craig Smith did end up staying through his senior season. As part of a long line of similarly under-the-radar players that Skinner and his staff roamed the country to find and recruit to The Heights, the 6-7 250 pound power forward played alongside Troy Bell, Uka Agbai, Louis Hinnant, Jared Dudley and Tyrese Rice among several other key players from that era to spearhead a golden age in the program’s history. By the time senior night came in March 2006, Smith had personally amassed 2,349 points and 1,114 rebounds and had led the Eagles to a record-setting 96 wins, including a school record 28 in 2005-06, alongside three NCAA tournament appearances.

For those who weren’t as lucky as we were to catch Smith beast the competition in college, they certainly had their chance to see it at the game’s highest level. After Smith graduated Boston College, he went on to be drafted 36th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2006 NBA Draft. He would go onto stay in the NBA for six seasons, playing for the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers as well.

Now, playing in his first pro season overseas, he’s taking the beast thing global. After spending time in Israel with Hapoel Jerusalem, Smith is now in China, playing for the Hong Kong Xinda Bulls of the National Basketball League. A middle of the pack squad last year, the Bulls are off to a 9-4 start with Smith leading the way. Through the weekend, he’s averaging 32.5 points and 13.8 rebounds per game on 63% shooting, according to Asia-Basket. With promotion into China’s top league, the Chinese Basketball Association, potentially on the line, this season means more than ever for NBL teams this season; a fact not lost on Smith, whose dominance has garnered the attention of Asia-Basket, awarding him as the league’s mid-season MVP.

Last week, we jumped on the phone with the Los Angeles native to talk about the season, living in China, his days at Boston College and playing for a Hong Kong team that plays everywhere but Hong Kong.

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The NBL: Kinda sorta worth paying attention to this summer

May 21, 2013

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With the CBA set to add a team from the NBL next season, clubs like Shaanxi are shelling out good money to get high level imports, such as Craig Smith, to both win the league and increase their promotion chances.

In China, searching for a late night snack is kind of like going into 7-11 at 11:45pm to see that the guang dong zhu is still bubbling: Technically it’s available, but it’s probably best avoided.

That’s how we would best sum up the NBL (National Basketball League). Yeah, it’s around. And in the Chinese basketball summertime, where the non-national team pickings are generally slim, that counts for something. But it’s still not very good.

Nor is it very productive towards anything. Officially, the NBL operates as China’s second-tier professional basketball league and like it’s distant relative, the CBA, it is governed under the all encompassing umbrella of the Chinese Basketball Association. And oh, there’s quite a bit of on-court brawls, too. But what it actually is or what it actually does, has largely remained a mystery to anyone who actually cares enough to ask those questions.

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NBL runner-up Guangzhou Free Man folds; is their hope for second-tier basketball?

September 13, 2012

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2012 NBL runner-up, Guangzhou Free Man, announced last week that it will be dissolving effective immediately. 

Bleeding through money with no rescue in the form of promotion to the Chinese Basketball Association in sight, Guangzhou Free Man has dissolved from the National Basketball Association.

Last week, 2012 National Basketball League (China’s second-tier professional basketball league) runner-up, Guangzhou Free Man, announced that it is disbanding and will no longer be participating in the league. The decision came after investors met with team officials shortly after the playoffs.

Free Man dissolving from the NBL was unexpected. As league runner-up two years running, Free Man had built up one of the stronger teams in the league with the potential to win titles. But like all NBL teams, Free Man was never content to win NBL hardware; rather, they were committed to being part of the CBA’s long rumored plans for expansion.

Over the last two seasons, those rumors have grown louder and louder. Last year’s NBL champions, Jiangsu Tongxi, received consideration to become the CBA’s 18th team in 2011, but that idea eventually fell through. This summer, those same expansion plans rumbled once again, but as in years past, those rumors will remain at just that. According to reports, Free Man was once again passed over for expansion because with three CBA teams already playing in Guangdong province (Foshan, DongGuan and Guangdong), there is no market for a fourth.

Like all teams in the NBL, Free Man doesn’t turn a profit. But, then again, professional sports in China has never been about making money. It’s about stage and status. When promotion to the bright lights of the CBA looks to be a quickly approaching reality, owners and investors who crave to have their name on the big-time national platform of professional basketball can live with short-term losses. Tell those same people that their big money can’t and won’t be spent in the big leagues, though? Then burning through money in perpetual minor-leaguedom doesn’t sound so appealing.

That’s key to understand in the case of Free Man, who over the past two season were committed first and foremost to getting into the CBA. When news hit that the league will remain at 17 teams, it was a death blow for an organization that has been investing and losing piles of cash in recent years. Other factors appear to be in play, too. Prior to this season, Free Man attempted to move to Chongqing, an idea that irritated the Guangdong Provincial Sports Bureau. The clash between the two sides frayed relations, with local government eventually pulling their support from the team.

Free Man’s disbandment from the NBL serves as a warning sign for second-tier basketball in China. With no promotion system in place and with yet another season of no CBA expansion, what exactly is the purpose of summertime professional basketball? What incentives do owners have in investing in their teams? How can the league develop and improve?

No answers are currently present. But since teams are asking the same exact questions, hopefully somebody can come up with something soon.

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After brawl-marred playoffs, everyone in the NBL has been suspended

July 12, 2012

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The UFC isn’t supposed to hit China until November 10th, but for those living inside ZG who just can’t wait that long to watch men pummel each other inside of a caged octagon, I invite you to keep an eye on the National Basketball League playoffs, where not one, but two all-out brawls went down inside of three days last Friday and Sunday.

Let’s start with the first one. With Changsha up 1-0 in their best-of-three first round series against Hebei, Game 2 was played in Hebei’s home city of Tangshan. An intense game the whole way, things blew up in the fourth quarter when a series of questionable calls went against the home squad. What happened next isn’t really clear, because there’s two different accounts in the media and there isn’t any video (that we know of) available online.

NetEase’s version says that after the game (Hebei ended up losing and in turn became eliminated from the playoffs), a group of fans rushed onto the court to chase and beat the refs before things spiraled out of control with both teams going full-out fisticuffs on each other. QQ Tencent’s report says the game was halted midway through the final quarter because after both benches cleared. During the exchange — which QQ says wasn’t particularly violent — fans started pelting the court with whatever they could get their hands on. Once the game was over, the crowd took a page out of the Shanxi Zhongyu Fan Conduct Handbook and attempted to block Changsha’s bus from leaving. They ultimately failed, however, once they were countered by armed police.

The CBA released their official report on Friday, which gives their own account on how everything went down. Turns out the two reports don’t conflict with each other; they’re actually just two separate chapters of the same crazy fan-player-referee-front office royal rumble.

The trouble started at 1:56 left in the game after a small group fans who were upset with the calls, started to throw things onto the court. The Henan ling dui, Ma Yuquan, (roughly translated as “team leader,” its essentially someone from the front office, usually the GM, who sits on the bench with the team) then pulled his team off the court and the game was stopped for two minutes. But once the game resumed, Ma further escalated the situation by heading over to the scorer’s table to yell and curse at the officials, which incited both his team and the crowd. At the conclusion of the game, Hebei player Sun Chunlei initiated a fight with opposing player, Sun Jian, hitting and punching him. A fight between both teams ensued and large amounts of debris were thrown onto the court by fans. Order was eventually restored, but a still enraged Ma Yuquan went back over to the scorer’s table to yell at, push and punch the lead official. He was shortly restrained by stadium workers and security, but his actions caused a few fans to rush onto the court and hit a secondary official, the latter of whom suffered minor injuries.

This photo was posted on Sun Jian’s Weibo account the day after the game.


Normally, it’d be tough to top anything like that. But then again, Chinese summer basketball isn’t really normal. Two nights later in DongGuan during Guangzhou Free Man’s Game 3 contest against Sichuan, the fists went flying again with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter. According to the official CBA report, with the game out of reach for Sichuan, head coach Jason Rabedeaux had already sat down his import, David Palmer, and had conceded the game. But for reasons unclear, Palmer and one of his teammates got into an argument with an opposing player, walked onto the court and came to blows. Three players from Guangzhou’s bench rushed over to join the fracas, water bottles were thrown, etc etc etc.

Here’s a video taken from a fan, which captures everything but the actual fight itself:

Summertime brawling on Chinese basketball courts shouldn’t surprise anybody. There’s already been at least one this year that has been documented by Western press among the few others that I’ve heard about on the Chinese summer basketball travel circuit that haven’t. And of course, we all know about Bayi-Georgetown. And heck, this isn’t even new stuff for the NBL or for Hebei for that matter, who experienced some player-fan violence last year as well.

But the suspensions that have been handed out by the CBA? Those are very new: Three years apiece for Hebei’s Sun Chunlei and Ma Yuquan, and for Sichuan’s David Palmer. In addition, Sichuan head coach, Jason Rabedeaux, has been suspended for a year for insufficiently controlling his team. Guangzhou’s Sun Jian was suspended 10 games as were several other players.

I don’t know what the CBA is trying to do here. The league has no recent history of levying multi-year suspensions and has given much lighter penalties for similar or even worse infractions. Is the NBL being used as an example to show the future consequences of brawling?  Or is this merely a short-term crackdown? Will CBA players and teams be held to the same standards once the season starts up in November? How can two players who were fighting each other — Sun Chunlei and Sun Jian — receive two vastly different suspension lengths? Why isn’t there any investigation being done into the officiating? Why was Rabedeaux suspended for a year was never even mentioned in the actual report? And how is he suspended for a year for insufficiently controlling his team? What does that even mean?

Don’t get me wrong — I want Chinese hoops to clean up their act and do away with violence. But I have a lot of questions that need answering before I jump on this bandwagon all fire and brimstone. As we all know though, in China, we won’t get any answers.

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They throw water bottles in the NBL, too

June 2, 2012

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The National Basketball League, the so-called minor league of the CBA, doesn’t get a ton of love in these parts or within China, mostly because it runs during the summer, which is the height of the China National Team season, and because it generally sucks. Add in the fact that media coverage is minimal, games aren’t usually shown on television and that its limited to second and third-tiered cities, and its also difficult to follow.

But, sometimes you get little nuggets, like last year’s Jerry Springer-esque chair tossing brawl, Zhu Yanxi and Alan Wiggins Jr., proud graduate of NiuBBall.com alma matter University of San Francisco, tearing up everything in sight for Whampoa last season.

Which brings us to this story out of Heilongjiang. On May 29th during Heilongjiang’s Round 9 home game against Changsha, a fan threw a disgruntled fan threw a water bottle down onto the court late in the game with Heilongjiang up 101-100 with 21 seconds remaining. The official CBA report (the CBA runs the NBL) doesn’t say why the bottle was thrown, but keeping in mind our previous experiences with Chinese bottle tossing, we could safely guess it had something to do with the officiating.

NBL water chuckers aren’t as good as their CBA counterparts however. Though the water hit its intended target (the court), it did not deter anybody from actually stopping the game as an in-arena worker quickly disposed of it while play continued.

Heilongjiang ended up winning by the same 101-100 score. But the real story here is what they lost as a result of that singular water bottle: 5,000 RMB (US $793). The CBA’s reason for the fine, which was officially handed out yesterday, was because the team had been warned before about controlling their crowd and that the league — as always — remains committed to rooting out all uncivilized behavior.

No telling if the water bottle was Nong Fu, C’estbton, Master Kong, Wahaha or some crappy generic local brand, but whatever it was it will go down in the books as the most expensive bottle of water in the history of Chinese basketball.

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2011-12 NiuBBall Awards

March 7, 2012

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Stephon Marbury is understandably fired up upon being awarded as the 2011-12 NiuBBall CBA Most Valuable Player. (Photo: Osports)

It’s a most wonderful time to be a basketball fan in China: While the NBA season continues post-All Star break and the NCAA’s big boys are starting up their conference tournaments, we China folk are three weeks into our own Chinese Basketball Association’s post-season. With two excellent semi-finals match-ups getting ready for Game 2 tonight, we here have plenty to look forward to in the immediate while also knowing that our TVs will be flickering with March Madness (if you don’t mind staying out or getting up at insane hours) and the NBA Playoffs very shortly.

Call it an embarrassment of riches if you want — with Slingbox DVR coming soon to the NiuBBall residence, we’re just going to call it Niu Bi.

Since we’re always in the giving mood, we’re going to share the Niu Bi feeling with the release of our second annual NiuBBall CBA Awards. Please, do comment. But know that all selections were based solely on the regular season; whatever’s already happened in the post-season had nothing to do with anything written below.

Enjoy.

Most Valuable Player: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang

It was close. As in really, really close. So close in fact, that we even debated calling it a tie.

There are, of course, no ties when declaring the highly prestigious NiuBBall Most Valuable Player award, so that inner-debate didn’t last too long.  But that we even considered calling it a split speaks to how painfully difficult the decision ultimately came.

More importantly, it speaks to the consistent excellence that Marcus Williams and Stephon Marbury displayed over the course of this season.

For a while, it was easy to put the two already been-there-done-that established Chinese Basketball Association stars out of mind — after all, the entire world’s eyes were completely fixed on the league’s shiny new box of locked-out NBA players who opted to seek refuge in cash-rich China. And though you won’t get us to deny that the NBA-to-CBA exodus was the hands-down story of the year, you will hear us say this:In the year that saw Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Aaron Brooks, Josh Powell, Rodney Carney, Dan Gadzuric, Cartier Martin and Mardy Collins all start the season in the Middle Kingdom, perhaps the just as big story that emerged was that Marbury and Williams have more than enough talent to follow them back to the League.

Yes, they’re that good.

Virtually everyone already knew that about Marbury, who after all spent 13 seasons in the NBA before making his trans-continental journey to China in 2010. (Likewise, virtually everyone knows that he has no desire to return.) Yet, there is something to be said about the now 35 year-old guard who just completed Beijing’s transformation from a fringe playoff squad into the second best team in the league.

Though he came up just short in his bid for NiuBBall MVP, Marcus Williams had a dominant season in Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

At that age, most players would be allowed to take a more secondary role and allow their younger teammates to do most of the heavy-lifting. Not in China though, where foreigners, both young and old, are depended to put up big numbers with a win every game. He’s done just that, averaging 24.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The well-rounded numbers and the 21 wins add up to his finest season in China.

After spending his debut half-season in Shanxi followed by a full one in talent-bereft Foshan without any taste of the post-season, Steph came to the capital city this season with the all-around expectations that the Ducks were going to be a top-tier team. And as we all know, he didn’t disappoint in delivering. Finding the perfect balance between calling his teammates’ number and calling his own, Marbury has reinvigorated a perennially mediocre franchise while simultaneously embedding himself and every Beijing game into the city’s culture. Already a favorite for his well-documented affinity for China and its people, he’s endeared himself even more to fans by playing with pedal-to-the-medal maximum effort in every game — which in this league, isn’t always a given when it comes to foreigners.

His adeptness at balancing the two responsibilities have had positive effects on more than just his own personal popularity, however. Steph gets love from just about everyone in Beijing, but the two guys who should be showing the most are Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, who before teaming up with their Coney Island point guard were two relatively unknown and unproven first year CBA players. Now, after a season running the floor and spotting up for open shots alongside him, both are very likely to be invited to National Team camp this spring.

Couple that with Ma Bu Li’s counseling of J.R. Smith, keeping up with a weekly China Daily column, running a shoe business and coping with injuries to key players Lee Hsueh-lin and Chen Lei, and you can really understand that he pretty much did it all and then some the Ducks this season.

To Williams’ credit, he’s done more than his fair share in Taiyuan as well. In his junior season in China, the silky point-forward had an even better campaign in Shanxi than he did with Zhejiang Chouzhou last year when he was throwing up triple-doubles on the regular. Showing almost no weaknesses in his offensive game, Williams put up 32-5-4 while shooting a staggering 60% from inside the three-point line and somewhere between 40-100% from outside it. Previously famous for their eccentric owner and object-throwing fans, the 6-7 former Arizona product now has people talking about the Brave Dragons’ first ever post-season berth. After scoring 40 points to pace Shanxi’s Game One semi-finals win over Marbury and the Ducks, he has them only two games away from an even bigger first — a trip to the Finals.

In the end, it’s Marbury with the slight edge. Even if the Ducks’ 13 game win streak to start the season — the best start in franchise history, we add — was somewhat soured by their late season swoon, we’ll push it aside for all of the things Marbury has sweetened in Beijing this season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS

On Sina and hoopCHINA, Zaid Abbas is the league’s leading rebounder. On NetEase and Sohu, he’s second behind Donnell Harvey. The lesson: No matter how mundane the question, there is hardly an easy answer in China.

The CBA’s best defensive player, though? An exception to the rule.

You can say xie xie to Abbas for that, who either averaged 14.5 or 14.9 rebounds per game this season in Fujian, the highest of his three year career. Relentless, tireless and tough on the defensive end of the floor, Abbas is a perpetually in-motion nightmare that opponents have to live with for close to 41 minutes per game. His teammates and coaches on the other hand can’t live without him — he does the defensive dirty work (actually guarding opposing imports, sprinting back on D, diving for loose balls) that nobody else wants to get close to.

Sure, maybe he gambles a bit too much for some people’s tastes. For us though, even if he misses a wild steal or falls for a pump fake, his always running motor means he’s getting right back into the play. And in a league where good defense is still pretty hard to find, that’s more than good enough for us.

Coach of the Year: Dan Panaggio, Shanghai Dongfang

No matter who thought what about the triangle offense coming to Shanghai this season (or Guangsha and Fujian for that matter), one thing was always going to be certain: Dan Pannagio was going to teach it and he was going to stick with it, no matter how bumpy the initial process was going to be.

And oh, were there bumps. Seven of them in the Sharks’ first nine games, to be exact. Not deterred by a slow start, however, Panaggio remained patient and maintained his faith in his players and his three-sided offense. The long-term approach paid off. By season’s end, Shanghai had an 18-14 record and was in the playoffs as a No. 6 seed after missing out the year prior.

Despite a number of obstacles, Dan Panaggio successfully installed the triangle in Shanghai. (Photo: Osports)

Though people point to their big away win at Bayi as the turning point in the season, the improvement within the team didn’t happen overnight. Pannagio’s hard work in establishing an offense that demands high-IQ spacing and reads started well before the season in the long months of September and October, when he went to work teaching the basic principles of the offense. To assist in the process, he brought in Phil Jackson disciple, Kurt Rambis, in pre-season to help lay the groundwork. As the record indicated, it wasn’t pretty in the beginning, but as anyone who watched Shanghai-Shanxi last week can attest to, the Sharks can and do run the triangle effectively as their primary offense.

Getting his players comfortable and successful enough in the offense was just one part of the challenge this season, however. Arguably just as tough was convincing his very much set-in-his-ways team captain/National Team starting point guard, Liu Wei, to buy into an equal opportunity offense that basically takes the ball out of his hands for most of the shot clock. On top of that, a season ending injury to Ryan Forehan-Kelly in January, whose leadership, knowledge of the triangle and fourth quarter clutchness were all major factors in Shanghai’s progression, had the potential to totally ruin the Sharks’ year.

Though some adjusting on both parts, Liu Wei was eventually brought around. Due to some solid homework on RFK’s replacement, Marcus Landry, Shanghai never missed a beat after the injury. And thanks to Panaggio’s other main point, Shanghai’s lead leading defense, the team was able to build an identity that they’ll continue to develop next season when he comes back to take the reigns for a second year. With the already noticeable improvement in Shanghai’s Chinese players from Year One, it’s tough not to feel good abou what may come in Year Two.

Panaggio’s not the only coach with a long-term vision on our mind, though. Brian Goorjian deserves serious props for the job he did this in DonGuan. Picked by some idiot to finish out of the playoffs before the season started, Goorjian righted a potentially disastrous 0-4 start to the season to steer the Leopards to a 19-13 record. A coach who is completely committed to developing Chinese players, he’s doing wonders down in Guangdong province with an improving young core that will likely comprise a good chunk of the Senior National Team later this decade.

For a country that likes to talk about developing its own players, but still hasn’t found a way to successfully find a way to do it yet, the Shanghai-Panaggio and DongGuan-Goorjian combos are two examples that the CBA should look to if they are indeed truly serious about improving Chinese basketball.

Most Improved Player: Zhang Zhaoxu, Shanghai Dongfang

This award didn’t exist last year, simply because in our first season of really following the league, we didn’t really know the players well enough to confidently declare someone “most improved.” Upon completing our second season, however, our feeling on that matter has changed quite drastically. As has our opinion of the guy who’s taking away this award, Zhang Zhaoxu.

Known to many by his English name “Max,” the 7-3 center’s biggest claim to fame where the three years he spent in the Bay Area playing for Cal. Last season, with his eye on a National Team spot for the 2012 London Olympics, he decided to forego his senior season and sign in the CBA with the Sharks, who at the time were coached up by Team China’s head coach, Bob Donewald. Expected to come in and be a presence in the paint, Max was slow to adjust from college to the pros.

Based on what we saw from last season and this summer, it was tough to really be excited about him this year.In his second season though, Max has improved in every facet of the game to become one of the best domestic big men in the PRC. Defensively, he was good at protecting the basket and discouraging easy looks around the basket — one of the reasons behind Shanghai’s league leading defense. Now a nightly double-double threat, he’s improved his numbers almost across the board, including his free throw percentage which jumped up from 60% to 72%. And though his hands are still a major work in progress in addition to his offense which remains a bit rough around the edges, he’s developing a solid jump hook to go along with a useful turnaround jumper that is practically unblockable.

And if he can continue his development this summer, his dream of playing in London will become a reality.

Rookie of the Year: Zhu Yanxi, Beijing Shougang

It was a long, strange road to the CBA for Zhu Yanxi, but his rookie season for the Ducks was well worth the wait. (Photo: Osports)

If you like Jeremy Lin’s overnight sensation story in New York, then we’ve got a feeling you’re going to like Zhu Yanxi’s very similar tale here in Beijing.

Originally a soccer player as a youngster growing up in Chongqing, Zhu Yanxi was pushed towards basketball by his mother at the age of seven after she realized he was growing faster than his classmates. After showing a lot of promise at youth summer and winter camps, Zhu pulled out of school at 13 to board a train to Beijing with the intention of signing professionally. His first tryout was with Bayi, but due to the team’s already fulfilled quota for youth players, they declined to put him on their youth team and told him to come back next year. Already in Beijing, Zhu went to go see the Ducks who quickly snapped him up after seeing him and his sharp shooting from the perimeter.

By the time he was eligible for Beijing’s senior team, though, management felt that he was too raw and sent him down to China’s second-tier professional league, the NBL, to hone his skills. Known and liked by Jiangsu Tongxi head coach, Cui Wanjun, who had coached him during a national training camp earlier that year, Cui rented him out for the season as his ideal stretch big man. Cui’s scouting was on point — playing for Tongxi last season, Zhu lead the team to a championship and also earned himself an NBL All-Star selection.

Satisfied with his performance with Jiangsu, the 6-10 power forward got the call up this year and simply exploded onto the CBA scene, putting up 23 points, three rebounds and four assists on 4-5 from three in his debut game against Jilin. He’d go on to score double-figures in Beijing’s next seven, including 18 against Guangdong and 15 against Xinjiang, both wins.

Zhu ended the regular season with averages of 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds on 36% from three, all of which were good enough to earn him another All-Star selection, this one being the CBA variety. And here’s another honor for his troubles: NiuBBall Rookie of the Year.

All-CBA First Team:

Guard: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang
Guard: Aaron Brooks, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Marcus Williams, Shanxi Zhongyu
Forward: Charles Gaines, Shanxi Zhongyu
Center: Will McDonald, Fujian SBS

All-CBA Second Team:

Guard: Lester Hudson, Qingdao Double Star
Guard: J.R. Smith, Zhejiang Chouzhou
Forward: Mike Harris, Shanghai Dongfang
Forward: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS
Center: P.J. Ramos, Zhejiang Guangsha

If Steph and Marcus’ MVP race was a struggle, the First Team selection was a cool breeze. Like almost every high scoring guard that comes into Guangdong, Brooks initially had trouble meshing with his high scoring Chinese teammates before figuring it out by January. By far the most talented player they’ve ever had, this year’s Guangdong team is hands down the best Guangdong team ever and will win yet another title at the end of this month. Williams’ foreign teammate in Shanxi, Gaines, was just as dominant statistically — no surprise to anyone who’s kept up with the league over the past three seasons. McDonald, in his first year in China, took his highly skilled, highly versatile inside-outside game from Spain and pretty much abused everyone who was thrown his way. If he opts to come back next year, he’ll be in high demand.

From start to finish, Aaron Brooks was the best NBA-to-CBA import in 2011-12. (Photo: Osports)

On the Second Team, Smith and Hudson, the league’s number one and two leading scorers, round out the backcourt while Abbas and Harris comprise the two forward spots. Initially on the bubble, Harris nudged out a couple of competitors he after tore it up with some huge performances during Shanghai’s regular season stretch run. One of those guys who was bumped out, Donnell Harvey, another player who runs through brick walls every game, deserves special mention for the 24-14 he threw down in Tianjin.

The most noticeable name left off these two teams is Wilson Chandler, who couldn’t get his name up above despite averaging 26.6 points and 11.5 rebounds. Why, you ask? Once the NBA resumed and it became clear that he potentially had a potential $30-40 million contract waiting for him when he got back, Chandler pretty much shut it down in order to prevent an injury. Once in second place at 13-4, Guangsha went 2-9 over their next 11 before squeaking into the playoffs as a No. 7 seed at 18-14. His overall unwillingness to get into the paint during that stretch wasn’t the only reason why the Lions slipped down the standings, but it certainly played a role. And to be honest, we don’t really blame him. If we had that much loot back in the States, we’d probably have done the same.

NiuBBall adheres to the laws of Sir Issac Newton, however: Actions have reactions. So while his conservative on-court approach may have guaranteed him a big payday, it did cost him a NiuBBall All-CBA selection.

All-CBA Chinese Team:

Guard: Lu Xiaoming, Shanxi Zhongyu
Guard: Wang Shipeng, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Zhu Fangyu, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Li Gen, Qingdao Double Star
Center: Wang Zhizhi, Bayi Fubang

Williams and Gaines have had a lot to do with Shanxi’s great season, but Lu Xiaoming’s steadiness at a position that has plagued the team in years past has been another key element to their historic season. Thought to be too old after a few lackluster seasons in Fujian, Lu was released by the team he spent the last five years with in the off-season. At the invitation of Shanxi’s infamous owner, Boss Wang, he ended up in Taiyuan as the squad’s starting point guard. Responsible for pushing the ball out after both makes and misses, the 33 year-old Lu had a resurrection this season averaging 8.4 points, 5.9 assists and only 1.9 turnovers. Without his frenetic pace, Shanxi wouldn’t have averaged a league leading 110.3 points per game, nor would they have won 20 games.

Li Gen, who lead all Chinese players with 17.5 ppg, gets on here too, as do Wang Zhizhi, Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu who despite their advancing years are still among the CBA’s best domestic players. We’ll see how long that lasts, especially for Da Zhi, who has Liaoning’s Han Dejun breathing down his neck for best center in the country.

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Qingdao Double Star releases Jarron Collins, signs Lester Hudson; Ike Diogu next?

November 13, 2011

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With a little over a week to week to go before the start of the 2011-12 season, Qingdao Double Star, the league’s only remaining team without a full import roster, made two big moves yesterday.

In a surprise move, the Eagles announced the signing of guard Lester Hudson, according to Sohu Sports. Hudson, who was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 60th pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, came over to Guangdong Hongyuan mid-season last year after the team parted ways with Fred Jones. The move paid off — with the help of Hudson, Guangdong won its fourth straight championship.

In the same stroke, Qingdao also has cut ties with center Jarron Collins, who they had signed in the end of October. As for a reason, head coach Jiang Zhengxiu said simply that he “wasn’t the type of player we needed.” According to Sohu, the team is in discussions with five-year NBA pro and former lottery pick, Ike Diogu. Diogu played for the Los Angeles Clippers last season averaging 5.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in just over 13 minutes a game.

If Diogu comes, he should be a good fit for the Eagles. Remember that last year, before settling on the combo of Hudson and Marcus Haislip, Guangdong had originally planned on bringing Diogu over. But at the last second, the Clippers stepped in and signed the former Arizona State Sun Devil for the rest of the season, which ultimately opened the door up for Haislip.

On paper, Diogu and Hudson are a good combination and Qingdao is fortunate that they were able to sign two high quality imports this late in the game. They are not, however, at least in our eyes, smart. Because if they were, they would have never even considered Collins in the first place. Collins joins Jermaine Taylor and Earl Clark on the list of players who didn’t make it to start of the regular season.

It’s worked out nonetheless, so it seems. Combined with Asian import Sakakini Sani, who played well in the NBL this summer for Guangdong Free Man, and Qingdao might be able to overcome its weak Chinese roster to get in the playoff mix. At this point though, that’s all secondary to the awesome fact that there’s a team named “Free Man” in the NBL. Let’s get more of that, please.

Last season, Qingdao finished in 15th place with a 10-22 record.

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Tuesday Afternoon Jianbing

August 23, 2011

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Showing you that jianbing can be enjoyed 24 hours a day while keeping your day going with China’s favorite and most versatile street snack and a batch of links.

 

  • An easy tip for people who want to learn more about Chinese basketball: Read anything that Brook Larmer writes. Keeping that creed in mind, go over right now and read his take on the Georgetown- Bayi brawl he wrote for the Washington Post.
  • Amazing, but true: Thursday’s fight might not have been the worst on-court incident in China this summer. As we mentioned in yesterday’s post about all of the different factors that led up to both benches clearing, the National Basketball League, China’s second tier professional league, witnessed a scene where an American player, Justin Gray of Guangzhou FM, chucked a chair into the stands at a fan after the fan hurled two full water bottles at Gray’s girlfriend seated courtside during an on-court scuffle between his American teammate, Jartavious Henderson, and an opposing Chinese player.
  • Keane Shum, writing for SLAMonline, eschews making grand-scale sweeping conclusions about the fight to talk about the social consequences in both China and America: “But here’s what the historians and the experts don’t know about sports: they don’t know that the next time I want to go play some pickup ball in Beijing, I’m going to think twice about wearing the Hoyas t-shirt I bought the day I graduated from Georgetown, and that if I’m ever back in a Georgetown gym, I’m probably not going to wear some of the China gear I picked up at the Beijing Olympics. They don’t know that Chinese national basketball teams have in recent years gotten disturbingly thuggish; they have literally pulled some of the same chair-throwing and kick-em-while-they’re-down tactics against Puerto Rico, Brazil, and now Georgetown. And that in this day and age, Georgetown fans and American basketball players everywhere are going to point to the incontrovertible YouTube evidence of this and assume that most Chinese basketball players are cheap and dirty.”
  • Duke guard Andre Dawkins talks to ESPN.com about Duke’s three-game exhibition tour in China, which ended last night in Beijing with a win against the Chinese U-23 team. Interesting that he says the team came with the understanding that Chinese basketball is physical, but definitely not surprising — after all, Coach K played against China in the 2008 Olympics and is thus very familiar with the playing style here. Just wish he had given that memo to Georgetown…
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CBA to meet on Thursday and Friday, will rule on opt-out clauses

August 17, 2011

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The Chinese Basketball Association will have its long awaited policy meeting tomorrow and Friday in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to determine several important rules for the upcoming 2011-12 season, including a much anticipated decision on back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses.

In addition, the league will also decide on new playing time rules for imports, when the new season will start and whether or not the league will be expanded into 18 teams.

But, all of that is considered secondary to the one thing that teams, agents, players and fans have all been waiting for: A CBA ruling over whether active NBA players will be allowed to sign out-clauses that will allow them to return back to the NBA whenever the lockout ends.

In truth though, there isn’t much doubt as to what the end result will be. Multiple Chinese sources who are connected to the CBA have told NiuBBall.com that the rule is a near certainty to be passed.

“It’s 99% happening,” said one source.

Still, with Chinese teams willing and able to throw millions of dollars at players, superstars remain interested at the idea of playing here. According to Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! Sports, Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker have both received substantial offers from Chinese teams this summer, with Bryant having been offered $1.5 million per month by Shanxi Zhongyu. As reported in the story, sources say Bryant would sign if it weren’t for the soon-to-be implemented rule that will ban the signing of opt-out clauses.

Parker told ESPN.com yesterday that if he plays abroad this season, he will play in his home country of France.

Why the CBA would prevent what would be a major boost in revenue to the league is puzzling to some. But the logic behind this decision for the government-run CBA remains in line with an overall policy that has remained in place for years: Putting the interests of Chinese basketball, namely the success of the national team, above all other interests, even ahead of potentially lucrative commercial ones. In their eyes, allowing a group of megastars to come to China as a lockout refuge to make a quick buck only to leave in the middle of the year would hurt the long-term development of its players and put teams, who would find themselves suddenly without an import player mid-season, in a tough situation.

Last Sunday in China, the Modern Express (via NetEase) published a report quoting an anonymous source directly connected to the CBA, who further elaborated on the CBA’s thinking.

“From the very beginning, the CBA wasn’t interested in attracting superstars,” said the source. “First, they’re tough to manage. Second, we have no idea when the lockout is going to end. And when it does end, they’re definitely going to go back to the NBA. That would destroy our league. From out understanding, most teams don’t want big name players either. So, I think its going to be impossible for a superstar to come here and play this season.”

Another very important aspect to take into account in this ongoing saga is the quickly approaching 2012 Olympics in London. As the biggest international sports stage in the world, the CBA considers getting the national team ready for the Olympics as its top priority for the next two years. A good showing would do well to promote China’s image abroad and boost nationalism domestically, both of which are key interests of China’s state-run government sports system.

To further make sure its players are in the best position to play their best by 2012, the CBA is also considering other rule changes besides banning out-clauses.  According to the same Modern Express report, the CBA is contemplating a rule which would limit each team’s roster of two import players to a combined five quarters of playing time. Currently, league rules stipulate that imports can play six quarters combined. Typically, teams play one import in the first quarter and the other in the second before playing them together for the entire second half. But, if this rule was passed, imports would only be allowed to play together for one quarter per game. The rule would give more opportunities for Chinese players to play during games.

“The hopes that local players will have a chance to play even more this season,” said a source in the Modern Express report. “That would really help the national team prepare for the London Olympics.”

That the CBA is thinking about even furthering limitations on foreign players’ playing time clearly illustrates that the CBA is, as always, dead serious about developing Chinese basketball — even if it comes at the expense of profits, fan interest and perhaps even its reputation among players abroad.

Regardless of the CBA’s rules, however, some teams are still intent on finding ways to get an NBA superstar to China this season. As NiuBBall.com wrote two weeks ago, teams are quite aware of the money to be made from what would be a major boost in ticket sales, merchandising and sponsorships, and are willing to bear the future consequences to cash in on it all. Furthermore, some teams feel that the rule would be too difficult to enforce and are adamant in their belief that they could find legal ways to get around it.

During the meetings, officials will also set a start date for the league, expected to be sometime in November. They will also determine if Jiangsu Tongxi, who has won the last two National Basketball Association titles, China’s second tier professional basketball league played in the summer, will join the league to make it 18 teams.

But, the attention paid to those developments will pale in comparison to the eyes that will keep a keen watch on the league’s ruling on out-clauses. Whether we’re headed for a complete shutdown of all NBA superstars-to-China rumors as players scurry away in search of more dependable offers, or for a heated standoff between the the government-headed CBA and defiant Chinese teams determined to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the NBA lockout has presented remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, however: This is the CBA. Nothing is for certain, everything is far from over and plenty has yet to unfold.

Jon Pastuszek can be followed on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall

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