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Tag Archives: 2011 FIBA Asia Championship

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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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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China announces final 12-man roster for Olympics, wins gold at Stankovic

July 11, 2012

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Team China celebrates their first ever Stankovic Cup gold medal last night in Guangzhou. (Photo: Osports)

China finalized its 12-man roster for the 2012 London Olympics yesterday, then they proceeded to win the finals at the 2012 Stankovic Cup in Guangzhou.

The Chinese capped off their undefeated run to gold with a 70-51 win over Australia last night. It’s China’s first and only gold medal since the competition was first established in 2005. Yi Jianlian finished as the game’s top performer with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Yi Li pitched in with 12.

Although the level of competition at this year’s even wasn’t as strong as it has been in years past — Russia and Australia both sent younger teams — the achievement is still notable for China. Clearly better and more experienced, the Chinese suffered no letdowns and played well throughout the tournament. The win should give the team some momentum heading into their next set of pre-Olympic exhibition games, which start on July 20 in Poland against the Polish National Team.

But while the historic result was highly noteworthy, the real news came a few hours before tip-off when the 12-man roster was announced on Chinese media outlets. Five players will be making their Olympic debut in London: Center Zhang Zhaoxu, forwards Ding Jinhui, Yi Li and Zhou Peng, and point guard Guo Ailun.

Joining them will be the familiar faces of Chinese basketball over the last several years, Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhizhi, Zhu Fangyu, Wang Shipeng, Sun Yue, Liu Wei and Chen Jianghua.

CBA officials said the roster can change in the event of injuries.

Bob Donewald’s decision to carry only three centers on the roster speaks to the emphasis on versatility and defense that has been placed within the Chinese National Team since he took over the reigns in the spring of 2010. Whereas Chinese teams in the past relied on a slower pace that was designed to punish teams down low — i.e. get the ball into Yao Ming by any means necessary — China is now likely to go with rangier and more athletic lineups that will be better equipped to handle what is an extremely talented Group B.

So the exclusion of what is already being seen as China’s two biggest snubs, centers Su Wei and Wang Zhelin, shouldn’t really be considered as such. Though Su picked it up recent weeks, his confidence and overall play has taken a major hit since his disastrous showing in the CBA Finals last April against Beijing. Limited on offense even on a good day, Su’s ability to finish the simplest of plays around the hoop made him into a major liability on that end of the floor. And with Donewald’s commitment to fielding a more athletic lineup, there was no room in the end for the plodding former rower-turned-hoopster. After having played under Donewald in 2010 at the FIBA World Championship, missing out on the chance to play in his first Olympics will have to sting for Su because with a wealth of talented young Chinese centers primed to make the team in 2016, this may have been his last.

For Wang Zhelin, however, this will very likely be the last time he’s cut for any major international competition at the senior level. Though the 18 year-old performed very well in spots this summer, his inexperience and poor defensive play ultimately sealed his fate.  Though he was eligible to play for Fujian SBS last year in the top division in the CBA, Wang was held back and placed on the youth team to allow his body and game to develop. Not only does Wang not have any experience with the Senior China National Team, he’s never suited up against the top level domestically either. Added to that, Wang’s inability to either guard anybody on the ball or help off of it put him in a bad spot with the defensive-minded Donewald.

Another notable development is the inclusion of Guo Ailun. Guo, who played in Turkey two years ago, fell out of favor with the National Team setup last year after he lead a “blood letter” demanding the removal of China Olympic Team head coach, Fan Bin. Then he found himself off the roster for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship. And this season, it looked like he’d be left in the cold once again when he was left off the preliminary roster in March. However, with limited options at the back-up point guard spit, he was called back up on April 14th. With injuries to Yang Ming and Zhang Bo, Guo will go to London. As the odds-on eventual short-term heir to Liu Wei, a trip to London bodes well for the future of Chinese basketball.

China plays its opening game in the Olympics against Spain on July 29.

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Yi Jianlian reports to National Team, next round of cuts to be in July?

June 19, 2012

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The Chinese National Team now has its full arsenal of players after Yi Jianlian became the final player to report in Beijing over the weekend.  Yi had his first practice with the team on Monday in Beijing and will be with the team full-time from now until the London Olympics in August.

The seven foot forward/center, who played last season in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks, has become the face of Team China since Yao Ming’s final game for the Chinese at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, Yi averaged 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds as China was eliminated in the Round of 16. In 2011, he followed up his strong performance in Turkey with a superb showing at the FIBA Asia Championsihp, where he lead China to a gold medal and automatic qualification for London.

And if China is to have any shot of getting out of their group in the Olympics, Yi will once again have to come up huge. As the only Chinese player who is consistently able to get himself going in isolation sets, Ah Lian is without a doubt Donewald’s most talented and most important player on the roster. Ensuring that he’s healthy and on the top of his game is the team’s biggest goal as they continue to prepare for their first game on July 28.

Yi is a free-agent and for the second year in a row, faces an uncertain future in the NBA. The Mavericks, who are poised at making a big splash this summer in free-agency, are highly unlikely to bring him back on a multi-year deal if at all, which means that he may have to find his fifth team in five six years. Speaking to Chinese media in May, Yi said that he’ll handle contract talks after the Olympics.

Yi played in 30 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 6.8 minutes.

China is preparing for six exhibition games in Jiangsu from June 22-29, where they’ll play games against Montenegro, Serbia and Croatia. They’ll then go to Guangzhou for the annual Stankovic Continental Cup against Tunisia, Russia and Australia, which will be held from July 6-10. According to Sina, the next round of cuts will be made after the team returns from Guangzhou.

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Has Chen Jianghua already booked a ticket to London?

May 25, 2012

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Chen Jianghua last played for the National Team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

There once was a time when the next big thing from China wasn’t so big at all. Listed at 6-2 and 165 pounds, Chen Jianghua was supposed to be the player to bust through the sealed vault of Chinese basketball and shine as the country’s rarest and most precious resource: An elite level point guard.

In 2003 at age 14, Chen, then on the Guangdong Hongyuan youth team, was the subject of a New York Times article that anointed him as a potential “world class” point guard and a key piece to a medal run in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In 2005, he wowed people at the Reebok ABCD camp with his creativity, hops and handles, and left shoe companies and China marketers salivating at the idea of an NBA-caliber streetball-inspired guard who would not only excite Chinese fans because of his nationality, but because of his ankle breaking crossovers and high flying dunks.

In 2006, the hype around Chen continued as he made the final roster for the FIBA World Championship at just 17 years of age, where he played solidly. Sure, he was still pretty raw. But with explosiveness and athleticism rarely seen not only in China, but in the rest of the non-North American world, Chen remained an intriguing prospect if he could improve upon his weaknesses, most notably his general lack of point guard skills.

Unfortunately for everyone, Chen never really improved. Labeled by many basketball-types as the dreaded L-word — lazy — Chen’s stock dropped dramatically as he got older. Although unquestionably quick and agile, Chen failed to get better in his decision making and ability play effectively in the half court. By the time the 2008 Beijing Olympics hit — the competition where he was supposed to be teaming up with Yao Ming to lead China to their first ever medal — Chen’s ship to the NBA had already sailed. A series of injuries from 2008 to 2010 compounded Chen’s problems during his first three seasons in the CBA, the worst of which was a right ACL tear in April 2010 that kept him out of the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

Chen’s six month recovery marked the low point of his career. Staring at a the possibility of a future where neither his health or his National Team future was guaranteed, the man who was once called the Allen Iverson of China was now being called Mr. Glass. And at age 21, Chen’s career was at a breaking point.

The last two seasons though, Chen has bounced back from his ACL to play the first extended healthy stretch of basketball in his senior level career. He played a career high 41 games during Guangdong’s championship run in 2010-11 and this past year, he played in 37. What’s more, over the last two seasons he’s played what is without a doubt the best overall basketball of his life. Still quick, but not as quick pre-injury, Chen has almost had to learn how to play at a slower tempo by necessity. Once a peddle-to-the-metal Lamborghini V12 only capable of driving at high speeds, Chen has evolved into a far more practical BMW V8 — able to maneuver amongst everyday city traffic, yet still adept at turning on the jets when needed.

The analogy was best exemplified last March in the CBA Finals against Beijing. There, he showed his maturation from all glitz-and-go to a more mature player. Thrown out to start the first quarter in all five games, Chen caused the Ducks problems with his ability to both slice into the lane and score either off the pull-up or off of floaters, and draw defenders to dish off to open teammates. And though Guangdong was thoroughly outplayed by their opponents, some of Guangdong’s best looks on offense came with Chen running the show.

Surprising, given where he was at physically only two years ago, and unexpected given his lack of growth in the time before that. But not as surprising as to what the next chapter in Chen’s career likely will be: Representing China at the Olympics this summer in London.

That’s at least what I took away from Yang Ming’s recent departure from the National Team. Yang, who was cut because of injury, was considered to have a good chance to make the final roster as a backup for Liu Wei after having developed into one of the best playmaking point guards in China this season for Liaoning. With Xirelijiang having already been cut, that leaves two traditional point guards on the roster to fight for two backup point guard spots: Chen and Liaoning’s Guo Ailun.

Conventional thinking suggests that Chen and Guo have the job locked up. But that apparently is wrong, because at present only Chen is favored to be in London. According to reports, he’s been consistent in practices and played very well in the two exhibition games he played in last week in Qingdao against an American All-Star team. So well in fact, that a report in the Xinmin Evening News says Chen has earned a stamp of approval from head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., and that the battle for third guard will be against Guo and Bayi guard/forward, Zhang Bo.

NiuBBall veterans already know how much of a shot I gave Chen to make the team this summer. If you forgot or are new the site, click here and scroll all the way down to the end of the page below the heading, “No Shot.” Given the emergence of Yang, Chen’s injury history, the fact that he was cut very early from the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship roster, and his slender body, I figured his call-up would be short lived.

But if the news is indeed true, it makes sense. Picking two from Chen-Guo-Zhang opens up a spot for another wing or big, both of which are areas that have better players than those at the point guard spot. Put all three of them on, and there may be some unnecessary redundancies. Put two on, and you can bring in another player with a different position and skill set.

However, the jury remains as to whether Zhang can handle duties at the point full-time. He’s played there in spots both for Bayi and for Donewald, and if he’s on the court with other players who can also bring the ball up court, he can be an effective and versatile option. With Liu Wei likely to see little bench time in London, only bringing one true point guard to back him up could give Donewald that extra slot to bring in a more useful weapon onto the final roster.

If Chen is on the final roster, it would signal a remarkable turnaround in his career and a potential turning point towards greater things in the future. Now if only Li Chunjiang could get him some more minutes for Guangdong…

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Assessing China’s Olympic roster

May 8, 2012

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Confident, versatile and aggressive, Yi Jianlian is the unquestioned centerpiece of the post-Yao Ming Team China. (Photo: Xinhua)

Two.

That’s the amount of years its been since Team China improbably got out of the group stages in Turkey at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, thanks to, of all things, a last second three-point fling from Puerto Rico’s David Huertas against Cote d’Voire.

As China fans know, Huertas’ three caused Group C’s last game to end in a 88-79 win for Cote d’Voire, a score that proved to be significant for two reasons: First, it kept Puerto Rico from getting their second win of the group stage, which would have surpassed one-win China and qualified themselves for the knockout round. But second — and most memorable of all — the scoreline gave China the tie-break on point differential they needed to get past Cote d’Voire. Before the game, China needed the West Africans to win by less than 12 points, and up 88-76 with only seconds remaining, it looked as if the Chinese weren’t going to get their wish. Until, of course, the Huertas swish with just seconds left on the clock.

Unfortunately for China this summer in the 2012 Olympics in London, Cote d’Voire will not be in attendance and Puerto Rico, though still eligible as part of the 12-team Olympic Qualifiers Tournament, may not be there either. And with only two groups and 12 teams, compared to the four groups and 24 teams in the World Championship, the number two has a much greater — and more challenging — meaning.

It’s the number of wins China will require to get out of their group.

Since the Olympics expanded their basketball tournament to 12 teams in 1984, no team has ever made it out with less wins. And no team ever will; mathematically, its impossible. Which means, even if Puerto Rico does qualify for London at the FIBA World Qualifying Tournament, they’ll need more than just one win for a random buzzer-beating three to help push them through.

The good thing is, they’re very capable of that. China played Greece, Puerto Rico and Russia extremely tough in the group stages two years ago in Turkey. Much of that had to do with American head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., and his emphasis on defense. Now in 2012, China is even better on that end, arguably the best they’ve ever been. Whereas China once relied almost solely on Yao Ming to do everything, China now prides itself on helping the helper and quick rotations from all five guys. The belief is that though China doesn’t have the talent it did before, they can stay in games if they’re able to consistently limit opponents’ points. It’s worked both in Turkey and in Wuhan, and it’s something that Donewald has gotten the entire National Team roster to completely believe in heading into London.

Who that roster will be comprised of, however, isn’t exactly clear at this point. As it stands, 22 players are training with the National Team in Beijing, a number that is much smaller than the 37 players that were put on the roster in April 2011 in preparation for the FIBA Asia Championship. Zero play in Europe and only one, Yi Jianlian, plays in the NBA. Everyone else plays for teams in China.

Sounds like a good excuse to go on a 2,800 word tear. We go over every player’s chance at playing in London.

The Locks:

Sun Yue

Yi Jianlian (PF/C, Dallas Mavericks): Now two years past the Yao Ming era, Yi is the unquestioned centerpiece of Team China and will be depended on as their primary option on offense for London and beyond. He played extremely well in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, where he helped China secure an automatic bid in this summer’s Olympics. He’ll probably have to play even better if China is to achieve their goal of making the quarter-finals.

Sun Yue (G/F, Beijing Aoshen Olympians): If Yi is the most important piece of the current National Team setup, then Sun comes in as the squad’s second most indispensable cog. The 6’8 lefty isn’t really a point guard, but he’s good enough with the ball in his hands to alleviate some of the pressure from Liu Wei and he’s skilled enough to create some offense for himself and others. He’s also becoming more reliable from the three-point line with every passing summer, making him arguably China’s second most dangerous offensive player. The problem with Sun, however, remains the same as it always has: Getting him some good reps against good competition so that he can hit his top gear by August. Wasting away with Beijing Aoshen for yet another season, Sun has been playing against fourth and fifth-rate competition in various invitational tournaments that result in nothing more than easy, meaningless wins. The good news is that Donewald has experience in getting Sun’s game where it needs to be, but we — like many others — only can shake our head as to why one of China’s best players is unable to play in China’s best league.

Wang Zhizhi (C, Bayi Fubang Rockets): Although old and creaky, Wang is China’s most experienced player. And he can still ball, too. The lefty may be past his prime, but at 7’1 with killer footwork and cash-money stroke from three, he’s still somebody that has to be accounted for on the offensive end. His minutes won’t be crazy, but like always, he’ll figure out a way to make his mark on at least one game, which may also double as his last.

Liu Wei (PG, Shanghai Dongfang Sharks): Like Da Zhi, Liu Wei is up there in age, but with nobody else even remotely capable of  taking the reigns at point guard, the longtime Team China vet will be playing a significant role for the third straight Olympics. Like Wang, this could very well be Liu’s last go around for the National Team.

Zhou Peng (SF, Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers): Long, versatile and young, Zhou has developed into China’s best perimeter defender and will be a key guy in August for Donewald. His offense is slowly improving and if he can ever consistently knock down an open jumper, watch out.

Not Locks, But Almost:

Ding Jinhui

Yi Li (F, Jiangsu Nangang Dragons): Even if he was a bit disappointing during the domestic season (then again, who on Jiangsu wasn’t?), he was fantastic for China off the bench during the FIBA Asia Championship, a fact that will be very fresh on Donewald’s mind. Like Zhou Peng, he’s young, long, athletic and can defend multiple positions. He won’t start, but I think he’ll get some very meaningful minutes in London.

Ding Jinhui (PF, Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls): There’s a reason why nobody in the CBA looks forward to playing this guy. “The Bulldog,” as he’s known around National Team parts, is a favorite of Donewald for his unmatched energy, physicality, toughness and intensity. He doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional Chinese four because he’s undersized, but he more than makes up for it with his non-stop motor and a decent spot up jumper. He should and will be on the final roster.

Wang Shipeng (SG, Guangdong): At one time considered a lock in the not so distant past, Wang has slipped due to his notable post-season struggles this year, especially in the Finals. In five games against Beijing, Wang averaged 4.4 points per game and looked like a completely different player than the cold-blooded assassin that tormented Xinjiang in the 2011 en route to a CBA Finals MVP. Is his spot in London at risk? We don’t think so. Though an unapologetic chucker on offense, he’s one of the only guys on the team who can get his own shot off the dribble. He has also shown on a number of occasions that he is unafraid to take and make big shots (just ask Slovenia and Iran). Unless he has a complete meltdown, 2012 will mark his third straight Olympics.

In The Hunt:

Zhang Bo (G/F, Bayi): He doesn’t do anything noticeably really well, but he also doesn’t do anything noticeably really bad either. Donewald likes him because of his versatility and his high IQ off the ball. He can also be a spot ball handler if the need ever arises. Most helpful to his cause is that he’s played on both the 2010 and 2011 editions of the National Team.

Su Wei (C, Guangdong): Beijing fans will be calling on Donewald to huan Su Wei, but in all likeliness he’ll be included in the final 12-man roster. Increasingly inept offensively, Su is part in the Team Setup for one reason: The man is freaking huge and he plays with a mean streak. With Spain and their huge front line placed with China in Group B, Su could be called on to repeatedly smash his chest into one of the Gasol brothers. Unless Donewald goes with the even more massive Han Dejun (and we doubt he will, more on that later), Su is the guy to fill the defensive enforcer role China needs on the interior — assuming Donewald wants a defensive enforcer, that is.

Zhang Zhaoxu (C, Shanghai): Since signing professionally with Shanghai in 2010, “Max” has gotten noticeably better over the last 18 months and its in no small part to Donewald and the patient work he’s put in with the 7’3 center during his time with the Sharks and the National Team. A walking foul machine in the early stages of his professional career, Zhang has improved his defensive footwork and timing, the latter of which has helped him become an effective rebounder and shot blocker. He’s gaining more confidence with his offense as well, flashing a nice turnaround jumper and jump hook, moves that are both on their way to becoming at least somewhat dependable. Zhang will be with the National Team for a long time this summer, but whether he makes the final cut will depend on how Donewald wants to the shape the roster (i.e. small or big) in response to his group’s opponents.

Zhu Fangyu (SF, Guangdong): The CBA’s all-time leading scorer is a beast during the domestic season, but in international competition Zhu’s game doesn’t translate so well. He’s heavy and slow, which makes him a defensive liability and on the other side of the ball he can’t create his own shot. He can, however, shoot the heck out of the ball, which is always a useful skill. And depending on the match-up, he can occasionally go on the block to outmuscle smaller players. With Sun Yue, Zhou Peng, Yi Li and very possibly Wang Shipeng as well, China is pretty set on the wing so it’s tough to say whether Zhu will be there in London.

Guo Ailun

Guo Ailun (PG, Liaoning Hengye Jaguars): Included on the World Championship roster in 2010, Guo was universally considered China’s most promising prospect at the point guardposition and the virtual heir apparent to Liu Wei. Then, he organized a blood letter against his U-23 head coach, Fan Bin and set his development back a year after he was banned from the senior team for a year. Originally left off the initial 19-man roster in March, Guo got on in April. He didn’t go down with the team on their recent trip to Sanya, instead staying in Beijing to work individually with assistant coach, Li Nan. What all of that means is anyone’s guess, but obviously there is definitely more than just basketball in Guo’s summer equation. He still struggles with his decision making and his shot is a mess, but he’s good at getting into the paint off the bounce and is a solid finisher around the basket. Adding to his cause is his enthusiasm for on-ball defense and occasional ability to pressure guards full court depending on the matchup. He’s got the talent, but with his well-known disciplinary issues, his fate for London might be out of his hands.

Yang Ming (PG, Liaoning): Donewald has gone on the record saying that he’ll take two from the Guo Ailun-Xirelijiang-Yang Ming-Chen Jianghua quartet of guards to backup Liu Wei, but which ones? If we had to predict, we’d say Guo should be one of them. Nobody among the four is the sure-handed, sure-headed point guard that China needs, but Guo is probably the closest guy available.Finishing with averages of 6.4 assists and just 1.5 turnovers this year in Liaoning, the 26 year-old Yang is one of the best playmakers in National Team camp and because of that, is also likely the front runner to spell Liu.

Xirelijiang (G, Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers): The Xinjiang born-and-bred guard made his debut on Team China last summer in Wuhan because he is the best defender at the guard position in all of China and one of few domestic players who can effectively guard imports. But will that be enough this time around in London? Though he lead the league this season in awkward-footed three-point makes, he’s still not a knockdown shooter from the outside (37.5% from three) and as one of the few players in the world who prefers to use his right hand when driving left, he is going to struggle mightily against pressure from longer and more athletic defenders. Of the four previously mentioned guards, Xire has the best singular skill of anyone, but at the same time he also probably has the weakest all-around game. A definite guy to follow this summer and someone who is definitely on the selection fence.

The Longshots:

Han Dejun (C, Liaoning): Han is surprisingly light on his feet, surprisingly athletic and surprisingly pretty consistent with his face-up jumper. Not surprisingly, he’s still fat and poorly conditioned, none of which will sit too well with the defensive-minded Donewald. If the selection process was based on skill alone, Han would be the pick. But given his weight problems and his absence from the National Team last year and in 2010, Han is not going to surpass Su Wei or Zhang Zhaoxu, both of whom are guys Donewald knows and trusts.

Zhu Yanxi (PF/C Beijing Shougang Ducks): The 2012 NiuBBall CBA Rookie of the Year, Zhu endeared himself in these parts due to his out-of-nowhere Chongqing-to-Beijing-to-NBL-to-CBA champion story and his Euro-styled game at the center position — even if he did lose serious points for being stretchered into an ambulance for what amounted to be nothing more than bruised ribs, an injury that didn’t even prevent him from missing practice the next day. Although he’s one of our favorite CBA players, we’ll have to wait labeling him as one of our favorite Chinese National Team players until another year as he’s too young and too inexperienced to be called upon for Olympic service.

Li Xiaoxu (PF, Liaoning): Li rebounds and has a decent spot-up jumper, but he’s not going to London unless there are injuries. He didn’t play in the World Championship or Asia Championship, which hurts his cause.

The No Shots:

Wang Zhelin (C, Fujian SBS Sturgeons): He’s going to be dominant in the CBA and he’s going to be a big part of the National Team, but just not this year. For all the hype surrounding the kid, he’s just 18 years-old and has yet to play a single minute professionally. With China gunning for the best result possible in August, there’s no room for developing young guys, so Wang will have no choice but get up super early and watch Big Red on television like everyone else in China.

Zhai Xiaochuan (F, Beijing): Can’t shoot, can’t play in the half court, can’t play in London. If Stephon Marbury was running point for China, he could reprise his role this season for the Ducks running the wings and finishing in transition. By FIBA rule, Steph can’t, so he won’t. He shouldn’t fret too much, though. He’ll get a major look in 2016 when his skills are more refined.

Duan Jiangpeng (SG, Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons): Duan is a specialist who’s speciality — shooting — shouldn’t really be considered that special. Adding to things, he can’t get by anybody off the bounce and he can’t defend. He got cooking a few times this year for Shanxi, but more often than not he disappeared from games. Likely to be among the first cuts in May.

Chen Jianghua (PG, Guangdong): Before we go on further, allow us to say this: Chen should have played more in the Finals against Beijing. He was consistently Guangdong’s best player at the point, and caused problems for Beijing with his ability to set his team’s offense and get good looks for everyone. Instead, Li Chunjiang made it a zero-sum game between Chen and Aaron Brooks, and refused to put the two of them on the floor together for any meaningful period of time. So when Chen gets cut (which he will, he’s been ravaged by injuries over the years and is just not a very good international player with his super slight frame), that’s what we’ll be thinking about.

Prediction: Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei, Zhou Peng, Ding Jinhui, Yi Li, Wang Shipeng, Zhang Bo, Su Wei, Yang Ming, Guo Ailun

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DongGuan trying to acquire Yu Shulong?

May 7, 2012

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Just days after announcing a three-year extension with head coach, Brian Goorjian, the DongGuan New Century Leopards are now looking to bolster their backcourt in an attempt to give him the tools he needs to achieve his long-term goal of a CBA title.

According to Sina, DongGuan is in heavy pursuit of Jilin GBT Northeast Tigers point guard, Yu Shulong.

“We have real interest in acquring Yu Shulong,” said DongGuan general manager, Wang Jue to reporters yesterday. “But whether we can succeed in that, we still need to continue to consult with Jiiln.”

Wang added that the team would be open to trading players in exchange for Yu.

A point guard on the National Team for both the 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, Yu was expected to continue his development in Jilin and build towards a run at London this summer. But to the dismay of many, Yu saw his minutes decrease dramatically this season after management elected to sign Jordanian National Team starting point guard, Osama Daghlas, as their specially designated FIBA Asia Import. Averaging 35.5 minutes per game with 29 starts in 32 games in 2010-11, Yu only played 15.5 minutes per game this year and started four games. He also accumulated eight DNP-CDs.

As a result, Yu was not selected for Bob Donewald’s National Team training camp roster and thus will not be playing in the Olympics in August. Instead, he was selected for the Olympic U-23 Team, which essentially acts as the development team for the senior squad.

Jilin finished the season in 12 place with a 14-18 record.

DongGuan’s desire to add Yu is consistent with their emphasis on acquiring and developing young Chinese players over signing high-priced foreign players. Though ownership is not short of cash, DongGuan has been the league’s lowest spenders on imports over the last two seasons. Two seasons ago, they signed Josh Akognon and Jackson Vroman. This past season, they brought back Akognon while replacing Vroman with Shavlik Randolph. But despite not throwing big money at foreign players, DongGuan has enjoyed tremendous success recently: Third place in 2010-11 and fifth in 2011-12.

Yu would be a good fit in DongGuan. The 22 year-old has National Team experience and is one of the better young guards in the CBA. Capable of playing both guard spots, he’d also add some versatility to a DongGuan backcourt that struggled at times with depth issues last year.

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He’s back: Yi Jianlian set to return to Guangdong

October 9, 2011

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The Chinese Basketball Association has just added another NBA player. And this one, every person in China is sure to know.

As confirmed by team general manager, Liu Hongjiang, former Chinese Basketball Association MVP, Yi Jianlian, has agreed to play this season in the CBA with his old team, the Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers. The deal includes an NBA out-clause.

Yi played with the Guangdong senior team from 2003-2007 and helped the team to win three league championships within that span. In 2006, he was awarded as CBA MVP.

The move comes as a major surprise. Up until two weeks ago, it was reported that Yi would stay in the United States during the lockout, and would only consider a return to China if the NBA season was cancelled. However, with negotiations looking less optimistic by the day, Yi only recently decided to rejoin the seven-time CBA champs for another run. The CBA has already confirmed that he has been officially registered for the new season.

But although Yi will start the year with Guangdong, it is unlikely that he’ll finish it. As a free-agent, Yi is committed to playing in the NBA next season and beyond, and will leave the team immediately whenever the lockout ends. Unlike foreign players, who are forbidden to sign back-to-the-NBA out-clauses in any CBA contract this year, Chinese players are allowed to go back to the NBA.

“Although he may not stay for us very long, I am quite sure the move is good for himself, the team and Chinese fans as well,” Liu said. “He could keep his edge in CBA, our team will also benefit from his skills and fans certainly want to see him play at his best years.”

Yi is coming off the heels of an impressive Asia Championship run where he lead China to their 15th Asia Championship title. In a one-point win in the finals against Jordan, Yi lead his team to victory with 25 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks en route to tournament MVP honors.

Yi was drafted sixth overall in 2007 by the Milwaukee Bucks. Over four seasons, he has played with the Bucks, the New Jersey Nets and the Washington Wizards, averaging 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.

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The very late “China is going to London” post

September 28, 2011

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By taking home gold at the FIBA Asia Championship, Bob Donewald got the last laugh over his opponents and his critics. (Photo: Sina Sports)

 

“I know what they are saying and I understand them. Fans get upset because they don’t know what happens in our team. My job is not to make them happy now, but please them in September.” — Bob Donewald, speaking to reporters during the Stankovic Cup on August 11.

If you haven’t heard already, China has qualified for a spot in the 2012 London Olympics after beating Jordan in the FIBA Asia Championship Finals on Sunday. With the win, the Chinese net their first Asia Championship since Yao Ming days of yore in 2005, their 15th title overall. They also keep the Olympic streak alive at ten consecutive appearances, a streak which started in 1976.

If you’ve been following us, you already know that we think China’s triumph comes as somewhat of a surprise. Not earth-shaking, but still surprising nonetheless. Limping into a tournament without two key players, the streak-scoring, clutch-shooting Wang Shipeng, and the rangy, versatile Zhou Peng, China was not only severely shorthanded, they were shorthanded going up against arguably the best competition in Asia Championship history. Two-time defending champ, Iran, added an NCAA All-Conference forward to its championship roster. 2010 Asian Games runner-up, Korea, had its core team intact. Lebanon, Jordan and the Philippines all naturalized a talented American to join alongside their squad. And plus, China just didn’t look very good coming into the tournament, going so far as to losing to Great Britain, a team that didn’t even exist five years ago.

And yet, as evidenced by the quote above, China didn’t care. Speficially, Bob Donewald didn’t care. Throughout the summer, Donewald maintained that none of China’s endless amount of exhibition and warm-up games mattered. Ultimately, the success of China’s summer would be judged on whether him and his team were lifting up a big trophy while wearing special edition “Champions of Asia” t-shirts. Now instead of people clamoring for his removal, fans and media alike are hoping that Donewald will be on board for London in 2012. Good for them, the Chinese Basketball Association has announced that they won’t be replacing their head coach before then.

Would things have been different for Donewald and China if Jordan hadn’t shocked Iran in the quarter-finals? It’s worth asking because Iran is the only team that’s been China on the AsiaBasket stage recently, and they were the only team capable of matching up with China inside.

Thankfully, China doesn’t have to find that answer out. That’s what winning does. A week ago, Donewald headed into the knockout stage as a man balancing delicately on his Chinese National Team tightrope. A loss would have sent him plummeting from his position atop the Chinese basketball world. Now that he’s won, he can go back indoors where he’ll be free to leave on his own terms after the Olympics.

But, let’s say China and Donewald had lost. Would it have been Donewald’s fault? Would it have been his fault that the CBA needlessly scheduled over 20 exhibition matches to get ready for the competition? Would it have been his fault that two of his most important players, Wang and Zhou, were hurt largely as a biproduct of year-round training? Would it have been his fault that China still doesn’t have a point-guard who is capable even in the Asian arena?

If you’re going to ask a question about Iran — and again, we think its valid considering that China just didn’t match up that well against them — then we think you also need to ask those questions above. Because at the end of the day, without Yao Ming, China just isn’t that good. Sure, youngsters like Yi Li and Ding Jinhui stepped up in big moments against Jordan, and Yi Jianlian gave a dominant performance when his team needed it the most. But, the core that played around Yao Ming is still intact. And that’s not because they’re still really good, its because there’s no adequate replacements behind them. Forced to depend on the creaky Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei and Zhu Fangyu, Donewald had no choice but to jog lightly through the summer and save his team’s strength for one final push in September.

Which is why, to us, Donewald is a great hire for Xinjiang. Because of the tremendous gap between the top tier (Xinjiang and Guangdong) and everyone else, the CBA regular season and the first two rounds of the Playoffs are nothing more than a glorified schedule of warm-up matches, an unavoidable prelude to what will be the only competitive and meaningful set of games that will be played all season — a Finals match-up between Xinjiang and Guangdong. Though Xinjiang will win all but one or two of these games, the concept is quite similar to the Chinese National Team: pace yourself, don’t get anyone hurt, and save up all energy for the big game.

Last season, Xinjiang’s militaristic head coach, the old-school Jiang Xingquan, would flip out about, well pretty much everything. His tight grip on the team instilled discipline, but it also created a level of self-doubt inside his own players that caused them to freeze up in critical moments during the Flying Tigers’ eventual loss to Guangdong. This year with Donewald, he’ll likely have his team focusing on the big picture, a philosophy that he’s already put into practice this summer.

The pressure at Xinjiang will be the same as it was with the National Team in Wuhan: Win, or find another job. With team ownership spending upwards of US $10 million to bring in Donewald, Kenyon Martin, Tang Zhengdong, Meng Duo and Zhao Yonggang this year, anything less but a championship will be unacceptable.

Off on tightrope, and on to another.

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China enters Asia Championship quarterfinals unscathed, undefeated… and untested

September 22, 2011

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As expected, the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan preliminary rounds went off without a hitch for the Chinese, who blew past every opponent in all of their five games en route to tomorrow night’s quarterfinals match against Lebanon.

Playing against the likes of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Syria, head coach Bob Donewald Jr. has wisely decided to liberally spread out the minutes in order to save his trusted, yet older, core group of players for the inevitable bigger games against Korea and Iran.

So with big wins against every opponent, has their been any highlights for the first round? Words to you, my friends: there’s highlights in everything if you know where to look. And this being basketball, we definitely know where to look.

And if you want to check out game recaps and box scores from China’s first five games, we know where to look for those, too.

First Round:
9/15: China 101 – Bahrain 49     Recap | Box Score
9/16: China 75 – Philippines 60     Recap | Box Score
9/17: China 75 – United Arab Emirates 60     Recap | Box Score

Second Round:
9/19:
China 70 – Syria 51     Recap | Box Score
9/20:
China 93 – Jordan 60      Recap | Box Score
9/21: China 84 – Japan 58      Recap | Box Score

Wang Zhizhi can still dunk

On Monday night, a noticeably springy Wang came out of the gate in the first quarter with something to prove, showing he’s still got game at 34 years of age by throwing a silly-stupid post move around a hapless Syrian defender before hitting a vintage stepback three in the first quarter.

And then, not content to just rely on crafty old-man YMCA/JCC moves, Da Zhi showed everyone he’s still got some ups, (barely) flushing home a dunk on a breakaway. Heck, we didn’t even know he had ups in the first place. Video below.

Yao Ming is a pretty good announcer

One of the highlights of the earlier rounds has been listening to Yao Ming’s color commentary on CCTV-5. Sitting alongside play-by-play mainstay, Yu Jia, Yao has provided audiences with the clear, intelligible and unique analysis that often goes missing on Chinese broadcasts. Yao not only explains the what, he explains the why and he does it without all of the ranting and rambling that usually accompanies all of that with other announcers both in China and the States. His postgame interviews of players have been good too, though it’s easy to see that players feel a little weird answering questions from one of their recent former teammates.

Now, we say this with somewhat of a heavy heart, because there’s defintely a part of us that misses Zhang Weiping. A longtime basketball commentator who once coached the Chinese National Team in the 1980s, Zhang has been calling and reporting the game for over two decades. And doing so with the objectivity of Tommy Heinsohn. But, that’s not a bad thing.  As people who grew up watching the Celtics with Tommy’s unapologetic homerism blaring out of our television speakers, Zhang’s blatant pro-China commentary makes us feel more nostalgic than anything. Plus, in a tournament that has lacked excitement, we’d gladly welcome some added entertainment, intentional or unintentional.

Maybe a three man booth would do the trick?

South Korea unhappy with the way China is running the tournament

Korean national team head coach, Jae Hur, is upset with the way the Chinese have been handing out practice times during the tournament. According to Asia-Basket, Korea has been complaining that they have been able to get access to good practice facilities, nor have they given enough time to train.

Said the coach, “Yesterday, I asked a practice time on the main court. However, that request was denied. Organizing committee explained that every team can not practice on the main court. But we already knew that Chinese National team has been playing on the main court everyday.”

He is also wary of the living arrangemetns for the FIBA refs, who are apparently staying in the same hotel as the Chinese National Team. Whoa, whoa. China? Corrupt referees? Get out of here…

Qatar protests FIBA ruling by fouling out its entire team

One of the most bizarre things to ever hit international basketball occurred in the tournament’s first round when FIBA ruled five of Qatar’s 11 players ineligible just before their first game against Uzbekestan on September 15th. The players were found to have dual-nationality, and as FIBA rules state that only one player per roster can be naturalized, the organization stepped in and disallowed the offending players from participating.

To protest, Qatari coach Ali Fakhroo ordered his players to intentionally foul out of the game as quickly as possible. Qatar was eventually disqualified midway through the first quarter when they were unable to put more than three players on the floor. The same thing happened in their next game in Iran before they eventually played a real game against Taiwan, which they lost.

As you’re likely never to see anything stranger on paper, the box score is definitely worth a look.

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Injured Zhou Peng left off 12-man Asia Championship roster

September 13, 2011

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After five months of closed door practices, international tournaments and warm-up games, the Chinese National Team roster is finally set for the FIBA Asia Championship, which starts on September 15 in Wuhan, China.

The roster consists of Yi Jianlian (Washington Wizards), Su Wei (Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers), Wang Zhizhi (Bayi Fubang Rockets), Zhang Zhaoxu (Shanghai Dongfang Sharks), Ding Jinhui (Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls), Yi Li (Nanjing Nangang Dragons), Zhu Fangyu (Guangdong Hongyuan), Zhang Bo (Bayi Fubang), Sun Yue (Beijing Aoshen Olympians), Liu Wei (Shanghai Dongfang), Xirelijiang (Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers) and Yu Shulong (Jilin Changchun Northeast Tigers).

The Chinese will open their tournament against Bahrain in Group D on Friday at 8pm.

Though considered as one of the teams who will contend for the tournament’s only automatic bid to the 2012 London Olympics, China is coming into Wuhan severely shorthanded. As expected, Guangdong Hongyuan forward, Zhou Peng, who played a prominent role for China off the bench during the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, has been left off the roster due to an injured elbow. National team regular, Wang Shipeng, is also off the roster after the sharp-shooting guard broke his wrist during a game against Australia in London.

Without two key wing players, head coach Bob Donewald told media that he’s bringing a bigger, more inside oriented lineup to better matchup against opponents. Guard Zhang Qingpeng, who played for the National Team for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou before enjoying a solid year in the CBA this season for Xinjiang, was left off in favor of 7’3 center, Zhang Zhaoxu. As a result, China will sport the tournament’s biggest roster, an advantage the team hopes to capitalize on when they play rivals Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and South Korea.

The winner of the Asia Championship will automatically qualify for a spot in the 2012 London Olympics, while the second and third placed teams will enter the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2012.

亚锦赛官网男篮12人名单

(via Sina Sports)

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Is China in danger of missing out on the 2012 Olympics?

September 8, 2011

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The FIBA Asia Championship starts on September 15th in Wuhan, Hubei province in China. Like the FIBA Americas, FIBA Oceania and FIBA EuroBasket Championships that already underway, and the FIBA Africa Championship that concluded on August 26, the winner of the Asia Championship receives an automatic berth into the 2012 London Olympics.

Throughout the tournament’s history, the Asia Championship’s result and a spot in the Olympics has generally been guaranteed for the Chinese, who have won the competition a record 14 times. But, this year things look to be vastly different for Big Red, who enter Wuhan as consensus underdogs for perhaps the only time other than the 2007 Asia Championship when they sent their “B team” to Tokushima, Japan, since their participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics had already been guaranteed as the host nation.

After all, why should they be considered favorites? For the first time since 1997, China will not be defending its FIBA Asia Championship crown. Instead, they’ll be trying to deny Iran from lifting their third straight championship, an image that many — including us — feel is the tournament’s most likely result.

If Iran does indeed win the Asian crown, China would find itself in a pretty big mess. Assuming at least a top-three finish, their next shot at Olympic qualification would come in July 2012 at  the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. There, the top three teams out of 12 will advance on to London. Since those spots are typically grabbed up by European teams, China would be faced with the very real scenario of missing out on the 2012 Olympics altogether. Which is why this tournament is so important and why the Chinese Basketball Association has been hell-bent on getting Team China ready.

Ready or not, though, China will head into Wuhan clearly behind Iran. Why the change from perennial favorites to sudden underdogs? Let’s break it down.

Injuries

Be patient, there’s a lot of them.

On August 16th, reigning CBA Finals MVP, Wang Shipeng, broke his wrist in an exhibition game against Australia in London. Initially expected to be out 4-6 weeks, there was a small glimmer of hope that Wang would be ready for the team’s opening match against Bahrain on September 15th. However, on August 26th doctors announced that Wang will not be able to play in any of the Asia Championship.

It’s a huge blow for the Chinese. Not only is Wang one of China’s best and most experienced players, he’s the only guard who can consistently create his own shot off the dribble. Without Wang’s scoring on the perimeter, Yi Jianlian is now option A through Z on offense, which is why opposing teams are likely to send even more defenders in his direction in an attempt to keep him from taking over on that end.

To replace Wang, the team decided to call up Duan Jiangpeng, a soon to be 22 year-old guard/forward who plays domestically for Shanxi Zhongyu. Duan played well for the Chinese U-23 Team this summer in their three-game exhibition series against the Duke Blue Devils and is someone who like Wang can create some offense for himself on the wing. But, let’s be honest — if Duan was good enough for the Senior Team, he wouldn’t have been cut from the roster altogether earlier this summer. Maybe he surprises, but we doubt he’ll be seeing any playing time in any of China’s “must-wins” against Iran and South Korea.

As unfortunate as Wang Shipeng’s injury is, what’s more unfortunate is that he’s not the only guy who is injured. Wang’s Guangdong teammate, Zhou Peng, who played Quincy Douby in the CBA Finals as well as anyone had all season last year, dislocated his elbow during training in early July and has been on the sidelines since trying to get right for the Asia Championship. According to a report yesterday on Sina Sports though, Zhou’s recovery isn’t going well and his status is in major doubt as he has yet to participate in any full-team practices.

There’s more: Zhejiang Chouzhou’s and NiuBBall’s favorite Chinese undersized power forward, Ding Jinhui, ruptured an ankle ligament earlier in the summer and although he has healed well enough to train with the team, team doctor Du Wenliang told reporters yesterday that there has the ankle is flaring up after practices and that Ding “is a little scared he might re-injure it, during practice he’s still playing tentatively.”

All of this is quite problematic. Healthy, China is thin enough as it is. At the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, China went only seven deep throughout the tournament, relying heavily on Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhizhi, Sun Yue, Wang Shipeng and Liu Wei to carry most of the minutes, with Zhou Peng and Ding Jinhui playing in spots off the bench. With China’s core seven definitely down to six and possibly five depending on Zhou Peng’s elbow, other less experienced and less talented players are going to have to step up for the Chinese, especially in games against lesser opponents so that the starters can get some rest in the preliminary rounds. Possible? Maybe. Likely? No.

Better competition

Though China has won the Asia Championship a record 14 times, they haven’t won a title since 2005 when they had a healthy Yao Ming leading the way. Some people will be quick to point out that China, who had automatically qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the host nation, sent out its young “B team” in 2007, which opened the door for Iran to win gold. And that’s valid.

But in 2009, China sent out its best squad to regain the country’s Asian glory. They were famously destroyed by Hamed Haddadi and Iran in the Finals, a result that still haunts the team today. Some of the same people who were quick to point to China’s B teammers in 2007 will be equally quick to point out that Yao Ming was hurt in 2009. That point is also valid, but Yao’s injury was and still is the cold reality of a Chinese system that leaned too much upon one player to deliver gold medals to the country. And this year, that cold reality is going to be made even more frigid when China goes up against the toughest field in Asia Championship history.

In addition to their already strong roster led by Haddadi and Mahdi Kamrani, tournament favorite Iran is adding Rice University standout, Arsalan Kazemi, who has been granted permission by his school to play in Wuhan. The addition of the 6’7 Kazemi, a Second-Team All-Conference USA selection last year and the only player in his conference to average a double-double, will make Iran even more of a favorite when the tournament starts up on the 15th.

There’s other teams that will challenge China on the top-tier as well. Lebanon, who has finished in the top four in each of the last five tournaments, will be joined by 32 year-old 6’9 American forward Sam Hoskin, who naturalized this summer and has officially been put on the team’s 12-man roster. Though past his prime, Hoskin was once a very good player in Europe, playing EuroLeague ball with Greek power Olympiacos and Croatain outfit Cibona Zagreb.

South Korea, who China narrowly beat last year in Guangzhou at the 2010 Asia Championship, will also be very much in the mix, too. Yes, as there are 16 teams in the Asia Championship, there are still plenty of cupcakes like India, Bahrain, Indonesia and Malaysia that will make up the majority of the tournament’s early stages. But at the top, there has never been this many good teams. And that’s not good news for China.

Age

We wrote about it over at Shanghai City Weekend and Bob Donewald went on the record about it in the New York Times, but really it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to anyone who’s even casually followed Team China over the years: The Chinese basketball system simply cannot develop a crop of young, talented basketball players.

Case in point: 32 year-old Wang Zhizhi and 31 year-old Liu Wei, whose odometer reads somewhere between  250,000 and 300,000 miles after playing domestic and national team basketball year-round for the last decade or so, are still playing major roles for the team in 2011. We’re not saying that these guys shouldn’t still be playing because Wang Zhizhi clearly demonstrated he can definitely still hoop last year during China’s run to gold at the Asia Games. We just think they shouldn’t be playing 25+ minutes a game. Ideally, we think both would be great in small doses of concentrated court-time — think Lithuania’s highly seasoned 31 year-old point guard, Sarunas Jasikevicius, who is playing an average of 15.6 very effective minutes per game at EuroBasket backing up Lithuania’s 24 year-old young-ishblood Mantas Kalnietis.

Of course, China has nobody who can allow Big Wang and Liu to ease into roles more suitable for their senior citizen statuses. China’s next-gen guard combo of Guo Ailun and Yu Shulong aren’t ready yet and the development of big men Max Zhang and Su Wei haven’t gone as well as initially hoped. No matter how much is done in the garage to keep Wang and Liu running somewhat smoothly, these two rickety players will eventually either show their obsolescence or just completely break down for good.

Chinese fans are just hoping that doesn’t happen in Hubei.

They’re just not that good

Maybe its a product of all of the things mentioned above, maybe its because they’re tired from playing basketball all year, or maybe its just that this group of Team China just isn’t that good. Or maybe its a combination of everything.

Whatever it is, China has been losing games way more than they’ve been winning them this summer during their long schedule of “warm-up games” in preparation for the Asia Championship. And we don’t think that’s a very good sign of things to come.

In late June, China lost two close games against Australia in the 2011 YouYi Games, one of which was played in Perth and the other in Singapore. From August 1-9, China went 1-7 in the Stankovic Cup, losing all four of their games in Haining to Russia (twice), Angola and Australia before losing  their next three to New Zealand, Angola and Australia in the Guangzhou tournament. In the tournament’s last game, China managed to eek one out against Angola. From August 16-21, China went 0-5 in the London International Basketball Festival, losing by an average of 24.3 points to Australia, Serbia, Croatia, France and yes, even Great Britain, who did not even have a basketball team six years ago. During the festival, China put up a 43 point stinker against the Aussies in the opener, and never cracked the 60 point plateau in any of the four games after.

We’ve watched Team China throughout the summer and the results have confirmed our beliefs — this just isn’t a very good team as currently constructed. On offense, China’s motion offense looks like a pile of wet leaves. Like always, their guards are still to easily flustered by on-ball pressure, which makes it difficult for them to get into any kind of rhythm on offense. Defensively, though Donewald praised this group back in June for being “the best defensive team in Chinese history,” the team just looks plain tired in September. And while Yi will get his stats as he is a tough matchup for most teams in the international game, China is going to have major problems getting consistent offense from anyone else, especially without Wang Shipeng.

Donewald has tried to search for answers in these tough times, giving hard looks to Yi Li, Mo Ke, Xirelijiang, Zhang Bo, Zhang Qingpeng and Yu Shulong in the hope that someone is ready to make the jump into a trusted player Donewald can rely upon in Wuhan. So far, no dice. Which could mean come next year, no Olympics.

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Jeremy Lin added to Taiwanese national team roster

June 28, 2011

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Golden State Warriors guard, Jeremy Lin, may be headed to the FIBA Asia Championship this September – with a Taiwanese passport.

According to NetEase, Lin has been added to the 24-player training camp roster for the Taiwanese national team. An official announcement was made on Monday by Taiwan Basketball Association chairman, Ting Shou-chung.

Though Lin’s participation for Taiwan this summer is largely up in the air at this point, it appears as if the opportunity will be there if he wants it.  With little progress having been made in negotiations between owners and players, it appears inevitable that the NBA is heading towards a lockout once the current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30th.  If a lockout extends into September and October, which some feel it may, then Lin would be able to play for Taiwan at the Asia Championship.  And since the NBA Summer League has already been cancelled, Lin would also have time in the summer to train and practice with the team.

Lin is expected to notify Taiwan of his decision when he visits the island in August.  According to Ting, Lin told rated his chances of playing for the team this summer at 50%.

People inside the Taiwanese national team are more optimistic.  Newly appointed technical consultant to the team, Bob Hill, who spent a combined nine years in the NBA as head coach of the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Supersonics, told a reporter in an interview for Sohu that he accepted the position based on his relationship with Lin and on the understanding that Lin probably be playing for the team this summer.  Hill has worked with Lin the past two summers, and said that it was Lin who initially introduced him to the idea of working with the Taiwanese.

In addition to Taiwan, who has publicly expressed interest in Lin since the end of the NBA regular season, China has also investigated the feasibility of convincing the former Harvard standout to join the Chinese national team. However, since Chinese law prohibits dual citizenship, the Chinese Basketball Association was quickly refused by the American-born player and his family.

Lin was in China for about a week earlier this month making appearances.

“It’s not only Taiwan, the mainland [China] is also hoping that Lin will represent them in international play,” said Ting. “But, playing for China would mean that he’d have to give up his American citizenship and there is no chance of that happening.”

Both of Lin’s parents were born in Taiwan, which makes him eligible under FIBA rules to represent them in international play.

“His father is really happy about the opportunity for him to play for Taiwan, but his mother is still hoping that her son will focus on securing long term stability in the NBA,” said Ting.

In his rookie season for the Warriors, Lin appeared in 29 games and averaged 2.6 points and 1.4 assists per game.

The FIBA Asia Championship will be held in Wuhan, Hubei province from September 15-25.

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Catching up on all things China National Team

June 24, 2011

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June 14th: China’s young “second team” goes down to Japan in East Asian Championship semi-finals

Coming off of a solid win against South Korea on June 12th in the last game of the group stage, young Team China entered their semi-finals game last Tuesday against Japan with a marquee win over one of their biggest Asian rivals. Knowing that a rematch in the Finals was all but assured after the Koreans beat China Taipei in the game before, the Chinese knew that their toughest work still lay ahead of them.

If only they knew.

Forcing the Chinese into 17 second-half turnovers, Japan spoiled any thoughts of a China-Korea Round Two as they stormed back from a 12 point halftime deficit to upset the hosts 72-62 in Nanjing. Though the loss is a bitter disappointment for the Chinese, their failure to win won’t have any effect on their qualification for the FIBA Asia Championship in September. As the host nation, China has already received an automatic bid and will be assured the chance to play in the official Asian qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics.

Kenta Hirose, Shinsuke Kashigawi and Kosuke Takeuchi all scored 13 points to lead the Japenese. “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu led the Chinese with 16 points.  The Chinese Second Team hasn’t beat Japan in six years, dating back to when they lost to the Japanese in the 2005 East Asia Games semi-finals.

Yu Shulong, Meng Duo, Yi Li, Dong Hanlin and Su Wei started for Team China, but with the Chinese’s spot in the FIBA Asia Championship locked up as the host nation, substitute head coach Li Nan subbed in and out freely in order to give all players ample time to showcase their ability.  Yu, Meng, Zhang Bo and Han Shuo interchanged throughout the first half in a three-guard attack, with China’s four-headed inside combo of Su, Dong, Zhang and Mo Ke doing the dirty work up front.  Facilitating mostly out of the high-post, the Chinese offense looked decent at best and positively terrible at worst.

But, by the end of the first half, China’s huge size advantage up front translated into numerous offensive rebounds and putbacks.  On the defensive side, the Japanese couldn’t get anything going in their offensive sets, and when it got late in the shot clock, the Japanese guards had trouble breaking down anybody off the dribble for clean looks.  With their domination on the glass and solid defense, China went into the locker room up 38-24, despite turning the ball over nine times.

Coming out in the second half, Japan made a few key adjustments on both ends. Ramping up the effort on the defensive end, Japan swarmed China’s big men on the catch, sending two and sometimes three men into the post. Though all of China’s bigs struggled to do anything positive offensively in the second half, Su Wei stood out as the team’s worst performer.  Looking equally inept at either scoring or passing, Su charged into defenders, lost the ball in traffic, threw the ball away and got his shot blocked en route to six turnovers.

It didn’t get much better for China’s guards.  Meng coughed up the rock seven times, most of which came as a result of forcing reckless drives into traffic.  Yu, who threw a couple of loopy passes that were picked off and converted into points on the other end, didn’t fare much better, finishing with four himself.

When Japan wasn’t racing out in transition off turnovers, they were calmly executing in their half court offense off of dribble penetration and ball screens.  Confounded by Japan’s steady second half diet of pick-and-rolls, the Chinese allowed their opponents easy access into the lane for simple lay-ups or kick outs.  Japan purposely picked on the immobile Su and Zhang on pick-and-rolls, and with the plodding duo slow to both show out and recover, Hirose and Kashigawi ran amok as China’s helpside defense refused to make even the most basic rotations.

Though the loss is disappointing, its key to remember that this was not even close to China’s best team.  Bob Donewald was back in Beijing with the team’s best players preparing for China’s trip to Australia, so this was a chance for China’s young and inexperienced players to pick up some game action.  But, don’t try telling that to Chinese fans. On a poll after the game on Sina.com, 76% of voters said the game was “a dissapointment, there’s no way they should have lost.”

In the third-place game, China beat Chinese Taipei, and Korea beat Japan in the championship.

June 16th: Before team heads off to Australia, Donewald trims National Team roster to 20

Forced to do another round of cuts in the days prior to China leaving for a an exhibition series in Australia, Bob Donewald released seven players from National Team duty.

Liu Ziqiu, Peng Fei, Duan Jiangpeng, Han Shuo, Zhang Kai, Dong Hanlin and Zhang Sontao were all axed.  Yao Ming, despite publicly contemplating retirement, remains on the roster.

The remaining players:

Guards: Wang Shipeng (王仕鹏), Zhang Bo (张博), Liu Wei (刘炜), Zhang Qingpeng (张庆鹏), Xirelijiang (西热力江), Meng Duo (孟铎), Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Yu Shulong (于澍龙)

Forwards: Sun Yue (孙悦), Zhou Peng (周鹏), Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨), Wang Lei (王磊), Ding Jinhui (丁锦辉), Yi Li (易立)

Centers: Mo Ke (莫科), Su Wei (苏伟), Wang Zhizhi (王治郅), Zhang Zhaoxu (张兆旭), Yi Jianlian (易建联), Yao Ming (姚明)

All except Yao, Yi, Guo and Meng went on the trip.  Yao is injured, Yi is back in the States training privately, and Guo is with the U-19 National Team preparing for the FIBA U-19 Championship.  Meng did not make the trip for undisclosed reasons.

China beat Austrailian professional club team, the Perth Wildcats, on Wednesday and will play the Australian National Team tonight.  The two teams will play again on Sunday in Singapore.

June 20th: CBA announces roster for FIBA U-19 World Championship

With the FIBA U-19 World Championship set to tip off in Latvia on June 30th, the CBA announced the official roster for the tournament.

Guards: Wang Zirui (王子瑞), Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Luo Hanshen (罗汉琛)

Forwards: Zhai Xiaochuan (翟晓川), Gu Quan (顾全), Ju Mingxin (鞠明欣), Wang Pu (王璞), Zhu Xuhang (朱旭航), Sun Tonglin (孙桐林)

Centers: Xu Tao (徐韬), Wang Zhenglin (王哲林), Li Muhao (李慕豪)

China has been drawn in Group D with U.S.A., Egypt and Serbia.

This is considered to be one of the best U-19 teams China has ever fielded.  Beyond Guo, who should be one of the better players in the tournament, China also boasts Li Muhao, Gu Quan and Zhai Xiaochuan among a roster that is expected to at the very least make it out of the group stages.

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Monday Night Chuanr

June 20, 2011

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Nighttime links served up proper with a hearty helping of lamb on a stick.  The beer is on you, though.
  • Great stuff by Sam Amick over at SI.com on Antoine Wright, who played this past season for the Jiangsu Dragons.  The brutally honest Wright touches on a number of subjects, including his own failure to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he went into college and then the NBA.  But the most eye-opening of all is his choice words for his last NBA team, the Sacramento Kings.  Wright also talks a bit about his stay in Nanjing, which he claims helped him put things more into perspective.  We caught up with Antoine last Febuary in Nanjing — if you haven’t read that yet, go here.
  • Speaking of brutally honest, you know Stephon Marbury is always going to speak his mind when presented the opportunity.  Speaking to the New York Post’s Marc Berman, Marbury confirms that he’s happy in China and will be back for another season next year.  Also worth checking out for his pretty spot on appraisal of LeBron James. Is it just us, or does it seem like Steph really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the League?
  • After months and months of anticipation over who the Duke Blue Devils will play when they come to China this summer for an exhibition tour, the school has announced their official schedule.  And their opponent will be… the Chinese Men’s National Second Team! No official dates have been set, but the Dukies will arrive sometime in mid-August and will play a three-game series against a second-tier National Team that will include everybody who’s not good enough to play on the Senior National Team.  Which means Duke is going to win by a lot.  Why not play against the Senior Team, you ask?  Because the Senior team will be gearing up for the September FIBA Asia World Championships, and a loss to an American college team ahead of the big tournament would probably be a big face-loser for the Chinese.  There’s just not a whole lot to gain from the process.  At least, that’s our take on it.
  • If you’ve always wanted to follow an NBA cheerleading team as they hit the road in China, the Philadelphia 76ers dancers are in Chongqing… and they’re blogging about it.
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