In a little over a year, Zhou Qi has become arguably China’s top long-term prospect.
What is it with young Chinese centers tearing it up right now? After 18 year-old Wang Zhelin turned heads at the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, last month, 16 year-old Zhou Qi made some serious noise of his own in Spain at the 2012 Albert Schweitzer Tournament.
The high profile youth tournament, running for the 26th time this year in Mannheim, Germany, has Hall of Fame alumni list who have played over the years including Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Drazen Petrovic and typically attracts the world’s best U-18 talent.
Put in a group with Spain, Australia and Russia China was special for two reasons: One, it was the only nation representing Asia and two, they sent their U-17 team in preparation for the FIBA U-17 World Championship this summer in Lithuania. Matched up against strong teams that were a year older, China went 0-3 to find themselves in the consolation bracket. But once there, China rebounded to beat Greece, Denmark and Sweeden to finish with a very respectable 3-3 record and an 11th place finish.
Spain ended up beating Serbia to take home the championship, but one of the stories of the tournament was the 7-1 Zhou, who finished with averages of 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 blocks in 28.8 minutes per game, wowing spectators with his height, footwork and timing on the weakside.
From David Hein at FIBA.com:
By far the biggest talent at the tournament was 16-year-old Chinese center Zhou Qi.
The Chinese team was made up exclusively of players born in 1995 and 1996 as they prepare for the FIBA U17 World Championship in Lithuania this summer. And Qi, who turned 16 in January, showed that he can already dominate older competition.
While he still needs to build body mass, he already has a strong feeling around the basket offensively, defends adequately for his weight, knows how to block shots and even boasts a bit of a mean streak. He has plenty of tools to work with and if he continues to work hard and with dedication, it’s easy to see him as a future star.
Hein isn’t the only Westerner to write about Zhou; EuropeanProspects.com has a very detailed report from Mannheim:
His shooting mechanics are very fluid and guard-like and he is able to score the jumper from mid-range in both catch-and-shoot and dribble situations. He even was able to adjust his jump shot to a perfect form out of the dribble after being severely hit on his arm. Qi is not very fast (he is fast for a 2m15 tall player but not guard-fast) or explosive though which makes him finish a lot more with technique than force around the basket…. He is definitely one of the players to follow in the future and he will certainly have a huge impact during the upcoming U17 World Championships this summer.
Though his play in Mannenheim has helped boost his stock, Zhou has actually been on the international map for over a year. Barely known in China, Zhou blew up in February 2011 at the Turk Telecom Tourney in Ankara, Turkey after he helped lead China a surprise championship while putting up two stat lines that belong on an NBA Jam arcade screen: 41 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks in a semi-finals game against Germany (which went into triple overtime), and a 30-17-8 in the Finals against Turkey. Zhou finished the tournament with averages of 20.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and a tournament-high 5.4 blocks, the star of a Team China who became the first Chinese basketball team to ever win an international competition.
The then 15 year-old came back to China a hero — and the next young seven-foot prospect to be compared to Yao Ming. He followed up his surprising and impressive performance in Turkey with a good (but not very surprising) showing at the 2nd FIBA Asia U-16 Championship it Vietnam. In the Finals he went for a stupid 43-19-12 in a 92-52 blowout win against Korea, which gave China back-to-back U-16 championships.
Zhou is a stick and will need to bulk up in the years ahead, though not as quickly as some would think. With nice guard-like fluidity to his game, Zhou is a unique prospect who’s advantages would likely be taken away if he were to put on too much bulk. (Although Anthony Tao at Beijing Cream thinks he could at least use second portions at lunch and dinner.)
Yest despite that fact, Zhou continues to be compared to… Yao Ming. I know, what a shock. If we’re only limiting ourselves to Chinese comparisons, a better one would be Wang Zhizhi, who like Zhou is more graceful and perimeter-oriented than the 7-6 Yao.
What’s next for Zhou will depend on his development, how he fills into his frame and how he reacts to the building hype both in China and abroad. What is known right now, however, is that he projects as a better long-term NBA prospect than Wang Zhelin. And that’s not really a knock on Wang, who definitely will have a shot at The League if improves in the coming years, but more of a nod to Zhou, who has proven himself on the international stage to make himself far and away China’s best young player right now.