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The Lithuanians Are Coming! The Lithuanians Are Coming!

September 25, 2013

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Followers of this site are well aware that, after the American Del Harris left the helm of the Chinese Men’s National Team, Jonas Kazlauskas took over. Kazlauskas is a legend in the tiny Baltic nation of Lithuania, that tiny former ward of the Soviet Union that is geo-politically insignificant but fascinating in one respect. Though a struggling nation of fewer than three million, sending migrant labourers all over Europe, Lithuania is a hoops hotbed. (Some credit Arvydas Sabonis. Do you remember him?) It has one resource that a world powerhouse like China can envy from afar: Lithuania exports astounding levels and amounts of basketball talent.

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“The Other Dream Team”, as a 2012 documentary film calls them. The great Sabonis is the giant wearing shades; the wonderfully named and gamed Sarunas Marciulionis is fourth from the right.

Perhaps you remember the Lithuania national side playing in the 1992 Olympics. Four of their stars,  including the magnificent Arvydas Sabonis, had played for the Soviet Union when they won gold in ’88 in  Seoul, the last time the Americans were content to send a college all-star team. The U.S.A. “Dream Team” of  NBA pros dominated in ’92 in Barcelona, winning their preliminary games by an average of over 40 points.  The Dreamers were a huge story (and marketing campaign), but even occasional basketball fans fell in love  with Lithuania that summer. The team had talent, but no money from home. Their warmups were outrageous  tie-dyed duds designed by an American artist; legendary stoner band the Grateful Dead were said to have  donated, too. They looked like charity cases or hipsters lost in time, but “the other Dream Team” played with  flair and real joy. The Yanks drilled them by 51  in the semifinal, but their real Olympic moment followed: in  the bronze medal game, Lithuania defeated the  “Unified Team”, the leftovers of their former Soviet masters,  and all was right in Lietuva for a golden time.

Now, you may know about Kazlauskas, Sabonis, the Houston Rockets Donatas Motiejunas, or any number of  other Lithuanian ballers past or present. Ignas Vycas isn’t somebody you should know, particularly. He’s not  a pro-level talent, but he is young and Lithuanian and left-handed, living in Dalian, and a major upgrade  in my middle-aged hoops adventures. He’s too young for the job, but he’s my new best basketball friend.

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Yi Puts Return To NBA On Hold After Signing 2-Year Deal With Guangdong

September 21, 2013

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Yi Jianlian, who was rumored to be looking at return to the NBA, will stay in China for at least the next two seasons.

Guangdong Southern Tigers forward, Yi Jianlian, has signed a two-year contract extension with the reigning Chinese Basketball Association champions, according to a statement by the team on Friday.

The new deal will put any plans the 26-year-old has on returning to the National Basketball Association on hold.

Coming off a 2012-2013 CBA season in which former sixth overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft averaged 24.6 points and 10.5 rebounds en route to earning MVP honors in the regular season, the finals and the All-Star Game, it was predicted that he would have attempted to make a move back to the United States ahead of the 2013-2014 NBA season.  Now, that has been put on hold as Yi looks to help the Southern Tigers become the most decorated team in the CBA’s history as they seek to win a record-breaking ninth title.

The Tigers currently hold eight CBA titles, which ties them with the Bayi Rockets.

There were no specifics of deal mentioned, but the team said there is no NBA opt-out clause.

The 6-11 center/forward had an up-and-down summer as the Chinese men’s national team failed to defend their title at the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship, finishing in fifth place. However, he guided the Guangdong provincial team to the gold medal at the recently concluded 12th China National Games in Liaoning Province.

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NiuBBall is Alive!

September 21, 2013

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While we shake off the 84 days of accumulated cobwebs, here’s a something that everyone can immediately get down to: A highlight video of 37 year-old Jason Williams crossing up straight-legged Chinese defenders and doing old-school elbow passes while he was here on a legends tour this past summer. Enjoy.

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Wukesong Basketball Park to open in July

June 5, 2013

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Wukesong Basketball Park will include 11 full-courts, one half-court and will come with a host of sweet amenities. And all of it will be available for public use.

Since hosting the world’s best basketball players at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Wuksong Arena has become the premier symbol of the sport in both Beijing and in China.

Five years later, Wukesong is about to show some of that love back.

Last week, Wukesong Arena Management Co. held a press conference to formally announce the construction of Wukesong Basketball Park. The state-of-the-art facility, which will be built adjacent to the arena on the south side, will include 11 full-courts, four of which will be indoor, and will be spread out of 15,200 square meters of space. In addition, there will be a fenced in half-court, which will serve as the park’s featured court. The four indoor courts will be insulated by transparent glass walls and will be equipped with heating and air conditioning, making them available for use all year.

The park will also include shopping areas, locker rooms, restaurants, family areas and an elevated viewing gallery among other amenities.

And all of it will be open to the public.

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The Ol’ Basketball Coach Goes to Beijing: NiuBBall Lives!

May 23, 2013

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Beijing Youth Politics College: No this isn’t the basketball court, but you get the idea.

Anyone who has snooped around NiuBBall’s Twitter feed or the “About Us” section should know that we’re way into pick-up hoops. So when NiuBBall contributing scribe, James Howden, sent an email to tell us that he was going to be in Beijing for a weekend, we responded in the only way we know how: Bring your basketball shoes.

And it’s a good thing he did because Howden, despite the self-deprecation and the old-fart jokes, plays pretty darn well. Possessing high basketball IQ, great fundamentals, a keep-em-honest jump-shot and an understanding of the value of the hockey assist (as all proud Canadians should), he was an extremely stabilizing and useful addition to our usual Saturday afternoon squad’s backcourt. James, next time you come we’ll try to get you some better comp. In the meantime, stay well in Dalian and good luck trying to find a decent full-court out there.

Because I have connections with cool people in Beijing – well, okay, one – my itinerary on a recent trip to the capital was not the usual middle-aged tourist fare. My weekend in The Big Smoke (literally, if you look at the skyline or scout the pollution figures) was highlighted by a Saturday afternoon not pounding the pavement at Tiananmen Square or fast-breaking into Temple of Heaven Park or (thank heaven!) being full-court pressed by the salesfolk at the pearl or silk markets.

Instead, this lone man loose in the city went hooping. My ace contact had given me a standing invitation to “get in a run if you’re in ever in Beijing”, perhaps not thinking I’d be silly enough to take him up on it. I was, and (heaven help me) I was jazzed about it. Our rendezvous was set for 12:30 on the platform at the Xizhimen station of the number two metro line, the loop that runs a rough underground rectangle of the city center. I had no idea where I was going, but I had a mobile phone and a tall young American to look for at Xizhimen – that is, until he phoned to say that he was stuck in a police station, doing the obligatory bureaucratic dance of renewing his residence permit for foreigners. He wouldn’t be able to meet me.

(Who is this masked man? And was he the ringer? Read on, friends, read on.)

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Legless 13 year-old plays basketball, doesn’t use a wheelchair, and shoots the crap out of it

May 15, 2013

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The frequently used, “My legs are dead,” is no longer a valid excuse to get out of playing a game of hoops.

Not after seeing this.

Qin Xulei, like many other 13 year-olds, loves basketball. He lives in Luoyang, Henan where he attends middle school. He plays ball with his classmates when he can during the schoolday, and gets in extra practice everyday when his class lets out.

None of that makes Qin special. That he has no legs, however — and chooses to play without the aid of a wheelchair — that is special.

More amazing: The kid is nice with it. Just take a look at the video below.

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Zhai Xiaochuan goes Boomshakalaka at National Games preliminaries

April 23, 2013

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Darryl Dawkins, Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Traylor… Zhai Xiaochuan.

All have two things in common: They’ve all played professional basketball, and they’ve all gone boomshakalaka on a backboard.

Last night during pre-game lay-up lines at the 2013 National Games preliminaries in Chongqing, Sichuan province, Zhai, representing Beijing, went up for a dunk and did that. The game, which featured the capital city against Shandong, both of whom entered the night with a perfect 3-0 record, was postponed for about 20 minutes as stadium workers replaced the backboard.

Unfortunately for Beijing, the shattered glass was the high point of the evening. Shandong won 67-64 to go to the top of the group. Zhai finished with nine points, all on three-pointers.

We’re not hating on Zhai by any means — with the Ducks, he plays his butt off and guards usually guards the opposing team’s foreign perimeter player — but he’s not exactly known as a power dunker, which means we’re a little skeptical over the quality of both the rim and the glass itself. And if you don’t know boomshakalakawe’re not hating on you either; it just means that you didn’t play NBA Jam, which is unacceptable to a certain degree.

Yet, even more surprising than Zhai’s destructiveness? How about the fact that they actually had a backup backboard?

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T-Mac and Tang

April 23, 2013

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Ill-fated ‘80s music duo? Fast-food lunch combo? Bachelor grocery list?

The answer is D) None of the above. Here are some notes about two bits of news that might be meaningful to you if you have both a mildly unhealthy appetite for basketball and a streak of Chi-curiosity. They are about two ballplayers whose careers will likely never come in direct contact, yet which are bizarre mirror images of each other.

T-Mac, of course, is Tracy McGrady, the former NBA scoring wizard who spent last season in what was, to some, a startingly unimpressive late-career stroll through a season with the Qingdao Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association. Tang is T-Mac’s basketball opposite, a teenaged hoops prodigy from Jiangsu province who went to the United States for high school so that he could be a student and an athlete. Tang Zihao is called Chris Tang in the States, Chris for the point guard’s sporting hero, Chris Paul, and Tang as in the powdered sugary-orange drink, not as it’s pronounced back home in southeastern China.

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Hoop Crazy: My Kingdom for a Club!

March 13, 2013

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NiuBBall Linus

I miss Linus, too.

As the great Marv Albert made the call, Yes! After nearly four years in Dalian, suddenly there it was: a club for my boy. Lucked out, I did – it turned out that it operates out of my own university, and I happened to poke my head into the gym one Saturday morning in the middle of a run. Kids?! Playing BASKETBALL?! I was so excited, as like most foreigners here I am blind (can’t read) and stupid (can’t talk to most people). However, between my limited Chinese and the coach’s non-English, I managed to walk away with a sheet of paper I couldn’t understand, a vague conception of how the club operated, and a phone number. A few friendly translations, a little coaxing, a couple of months and a friend’s phone call later, I spent some weekend hours watching Son the Fourth on imitation hardwood. An old coach’s pedestrian prayer has been answered. I love it too much! as my Chinese students say. They mean so much, but in my case, my fever for the game does run absurdly hot, sometimes, even after all these years.

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Howden: Elbow Shot

February 11, 2013

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McDonald’s is not a place I often go when I’m home in Canada, but in Dalian, it’s a bit of a treat. (All things are relative, my friends.) I began this post, which begins as an adventure in middle-aged basketball and ends with a journey through Chinese health care, under the golden arches. This is a place I sometimes come to avoid the distractions of home! I am the King of Distraction. Speaking of which, here’s the story I wanted to tell.

For the second straight day, after not playing since early December, I got a call to ball. Normally, that’s not great for the ol’ body, but I hadn’t played very hard Tuesday night. When Yinghua, a former student and a pretty good player, invited me to join him yesterday afternoon, there was no NO there. Projects I was fitfully working at were shelved; even when I was perched at the keyboard, I found myself Mentally Preparing to Play as if this game actually meant something. The King, indeed, but even codgers need something to look forward to. What I hadn’t prepared for was getting decked twice, and staggering away with a pair of more or less serious boo-boos.

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The new NiuBBall

September 10, 2012

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Well, by now you’ve probably noticed — NiuBBall has gone through an upgrade. Keep an eye out for further changes as time goes by. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be looking to add a few new features to the site while we continue to stay strong with good, informative content.

Back with some new posts in a few.

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Yi Jianlian rumored to Real Madrid

August 16, 2012

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Through the last three years, Yi Jianlian has saved his best for the international stage. It’s thus no wonder why, according to reports, Yi is receiving offers from high-profile teams in Europe.

According to a report out of PlanetACB.com in Spain, Real Madrid is seriously interested in signing the seven-foot center for the upcoming ACB season. The site also names Greek outfit Panathinaikos as another team who sees Yi as a fit. Wendell Maxey over at Crossover Chronicles has a report in English.

PlanetACB goes on to write that Yi’s decision to sign in Europe this season will depend on whether he can get a deal in the NBA, which is his preferred destination. However, coming off the heels of two lackluster seasons where he’s battled injures and inconsistent play, the common belief is that there is likely no market for the 2007 lottery pick’s services this season.

Yi played 30 games for Dallas last year, averaging 6.8 minutes and 2.6 points.

If the Guangdong native were to make it out to Spain, it would be another big coup for Real Madrid, who made a big splash earlier in the off-season by acquiring former player, Rudy Fernandez, who had spent the last four years in the NBA with Portland and Denver.

Last season, Real Madrid lost in the ACB finals to Barcelona. They did, however, manage to win the Copa del Rey.

 

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Back in Beijing…

July 9, 2012

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Many ex-pats have a bit of a routine when they get back to China from an extended trip back to their home country. Some get on a detailed schedule to overcome jetlag. Others may choose to get back in the swing by heading out at night for a cold (or warm) Qingdao and some chuanr.

I on the other hand like to deny jetlag’s existence (it’s 80% mental, at least when you get past the first day or two), go about my normal routine… and check the US Embassy’s hourly index on Beijing’s air pollution (the top number is the American’s reading, the bottom is China’s). The higher the number, the worse off the air. And as of this morning, the air — well, it sucks. And it’s been sucking really ever since I got back on Wednesday night.

But hey, what’s the big deal right? Microscopic air particles and hazardous fumes are mental, too. Wait, no they’re not. That’s just what I tell myself to make me feel better about the possibility that Beijing could take five years off my life by the time I’m done with this city.

Luckily, I have the blinders of blogging basketball to keep my attention away from this troubling matter. And now that I’m not consumed with reuniting with my family’s big screen HDTV and beer runs for Sam Summers and Harpoons, NiuBBall should be back on a regular schedule just in time for the China NT’s quickly approaching trip to London and the CBA off-season rumor mill, the latter of which has officially heated up.

So make it easier on yourself and keep coming back to NiuBBall.com. Or put on a surgical mask. Whatever. We won’t judge, we promise.

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Back in the United States

May 21, 2012

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So… long time no post. Long time no go back home to the U.S., either — 16 months, to be exact. Which makes me happy to write that after all that time, as of last Tuesday, I’ve been sitting on my couch in America indulging in things like 18-inch chicken cutlet subs, Sour Patch Kids, Harpoon IPA and Inside the NBA.

All of that, as well as the travel, the catching up with family and friends and the jetlag have all gotten in the way of the blog. But now settled in, we’re getting back to the old NiuBBall, the one where we’d actually write stuff. And good for you, the timing couldn’t be better – the Chinese National Team, the CBA coaching carousel, the off-season rumor mill and more are all in full swing, as is the summer circuit of touring teams, players and clinics that truly make China a basketball hotspot. Best of all, we’ll be on top of it all, even if we’re on the other side of the world.

And to celebrate that return, here’s the worst sequence in basketball history, as played in the 2012 CBA All-Star Game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr7K7DOAZns

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16 year-old Zhou Qi wows at Albert Schweitzer Tournament

April 30, 2012

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In a little over a year, Zhou Qi has become arguably China’s top long-term prospect.

What is it with young Chinese centers tearing it up right now? After 18 year-old Wang Zhelin turned heads at the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, last month, 16 year-old Zhou Qi made some serious noise of his own in Spain at the 2012 Albert Schweitzer Tournament.

The high profile youth tournament, running for the 26th time this year in Mannheim, Germany, has Hall of Fame alumni list who have played over the years including Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Drazen Petrovic and typically attracts the world’s best U-18 talent.

Put in a group with Spain, Australia and Russia China was special for two reasons: One, it was the only nation representing Asia and two, they sent their U-17 team in preparation for the FIBA U-17 World Championship this summer in Lithuania. Matched up against strong teams that were a year older, China went 0-3 to find themselves in the consolation bracket. But once there, China rebounded to beat Greece, Denmark and Sweeden to finish with a very respectable 3-3 record and an 11th place finish.

Spain ended up beating Serbia to take home the championship, but one of the stories of the tournament was the 7-1 Zhou, who finished with averages of 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 blocks in 28.8 minutes per game, wowing spectators with his height, footwork and timing on the weakside.

From David Hein at FIBA.com:

By far the biggest talent at the tournament was 16-year-old Chinese center Zhou Qi.

The Chinese team was made up exclusively of players born in 1995 and 1996 as they prepare for the FIBA U17 World Championship in Lithuania this summer. And Qi, who turned 16 in January, showed that he can already dominate older competition.

While he still needs to build body mass, he already has a strong feeling around the basket offensively, defends adequately for his weight, knows how to block shots and even boasts a bit of a mean streak. He has plenty of tools to work with and if he continues to work hard and with dedication, it’s easy to see him as a future star.

Hein isn’t the only Westerner to write about Zhou; EuropeanProspects.com has a very detailed report from Mannheim:

His shooting mechanics are very fluid and guard-like and he is able to score the jumper from mid-range in both catch-and-shoot and dribble situations. He even was able to adjust his jump shot to a perfect form out of the dribble after being severely hit on his arm. Qi is not very fast (he is fast for a 2m15 tall player but not guard-fast) or explosive though which makes him finish a lot more with technique than force around the basket…. He is definitely one of the players to follow in the future and he will certainly have a huge impact during the upcoming U17 World Championships this summer.

Though his play in Mannenheim has helped boost his stock, Zhou has actually been on the international map for over a year. Barely known in China, Zhou blew up in February 2011 at the Turk Telecom Tourney in Ankara, Turkey after he helped lead China a surprise championship while putting up two stat lines that belong on an NBA Jam arcade screen: 41 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks in a semi-finals game against Germany (which went into triple overtime), and a 30-17-8 in the Finals against Turkey. Zhou finished the tournament with averages of 20.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and a tournament-high 5.4 blocks, the star of a Team China who became the first Chinese basketball team to ever win an international competition.

The then 15 year-old came back to China a hero — and the next young seven-foot prospect to be compared to Yao Ming. He followed up his surprising and impressive performance in Turkey with a good (but not very surprising) showing at the 2nd FIBA Asia U-16 Championship it Vietnam. In the Finals he went for a stupid 43-19-12 in a 92-52 blowout win against Korea, which gave China back-to-back U-16 championships.

Zhou is a stick and will need to bulk up in the years ahead, though not as quickly as some would think. With nice guard-like fluidity to his game, Zhou is a  unique prospect who’s advantages would likely be taken away if he were to put on too much bulk. (Although Anthony Tao at Beijing Cream thinks he could at least use second portions at lunch and dinner.)

Yest despite that fact, Zhou continues to be compared to… Yao Ming. I know, what a shock. If we’re only limiting ourselves to Chinese comparisons, a better one would be Wang Zhizhi, who like Zhou is more graceful and perimeter-oriented than the 7-6 Yao.

What’s next for Zhou will depend on his development, how he fills into his frame and how he reacts to the building hype both in China and abroad. What is known right now, however, is that he projects as a better long-term NBA prospect than Wang Zhelin. And that’s not really a knock on Wang, who definitely will have a shot at The League if improves in the coming years, but more of a nod to Zhou, who has proven himself on the international stage to make himself far and away China’s best young player right now.

For more on Zhou, you can check out his profile at NBADraft.net, as well as this nice little post-Turk Telecom write-up from China Sports Today.

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