Tag Archives: 2012 London Olympics

Liaoning to let Guo Ailun play next season in Greece?

August 22, 2012

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Team China point guard, Guo Ailun, is seriously engaged in discussions to join Greek outfit, Panathinaikos. But will his team in China agree to the move?

The list of Chinese players potentially playing in Europe next season just doubled.

Guo Ailun, who played for the Chinese national team at the London Olympics this summer, has received serious interest from Greek basketball superpower, Panathinaikos, according to several reports in Europe and in China. He joins Yi Jianlian on the European basketball negotiation table, who has been in talks with Real Madrid recently. Spanish basketball site, Encestando, first reported Guo to Greece last Saturday and several Chinese sites have followed up confirming the story.

During the Olympics, the 18 year-old Guo appeared in four games, including one start against Brazil. Last year for Liaoning, he averaged 8.1 points and 3.2 assits in 21 minutes over 29 games.

The stakes are high, both for Guo and for Chinese basketball. If the 6’4 point guard was granted permission to play in Greece, he’d be the first Chinese to ever play professionally in Europe and potentially the pioneer who opened the European door for other Chinese players.

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The Legacy of Bob Donewald

August 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The turnaround in Shanghai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The resurrection of Liu Wei

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

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

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

Neither have we.

3. The transformation of Yi Jianlian

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

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

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

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

4. The modernization of the National Team

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

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

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

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

5. The trophies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grading Team China’s Olympics

August 16, 2012

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

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

优- (Excellent) - Yi Jianlian

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

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

Photo: Getty Images

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

良+ (Very good) — Wang Zhizhi

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

Photo: Getty Images

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

良+ (Very good) — Wang Shipeng

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

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

中- (Below average) — Liu Wei

Key Statistic: 1.3 assist to turnover ratio

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

良+ (Very good) — Chen Jianghua

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

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

差 (Bad) — Zhu Fangyu

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

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

差 (Bad) — Sun Yue

Key Statistic: 3/16 FG in 3 games

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

中 (Average) — Zhou Peng, Yi Li

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

Key Statistic: First Olympics

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

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

August 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Losses to Russia and Australia put China in a tough spot

August 4, 2012

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On top of two big losses to Russia and Australia, Yi Jianlian suffered a knee injury in the second half of Thursday’s game against the Aussies. The injury is not serious, however, and Yi is likely to play today against Brazil. (Photo: Reuters)

After a promising opening game against Spain, China lost their last two games against Russia and Australia by a combined 39 points to put their knockout qualification chances seriously in doubt.

China lost 73-54 to the Russians on Tuesday before losing 81-61 to the Aussies.

In both games, China’s inability to run good offense was a major reason why they fell and stayed behind for much of the game. Against Russia, China failed to score more than 15 points in each quarter. And against Australia, China managed to combine for 19 points in the second and fourth quarters.

Meanwhile, the Chinese were also smashed on the offensive glass — 12-2 against the Russians and 19-4 against Australia, the latter of whom shot 27 more shots than their opponents.

So why the differences between the Spain game and the last two? To start, China has shown an inability to play effectively against aggressive, physical defenses. After the Russia game, head coach Bob Donewald Jr. said “we disappeared” and “were manhandled” once the game turned physical.

“Russia is long and physical,” he added. “I am disappointed by the way we played.”

Whereas Spain plays a more conservative style on defense, opting to keep everything in front of them, both the Russians and the Australians ramped up the physicality and the pressure in order to get Big Red out of their comfort zone. Specifically, they’ve ran into problems as their opponents have made it a priority to deny ball reversals.

In Bob Donewald’s motion offense, where pick-and-rolls are mostly eschewed in favor of backcuts, off-ball screens and weak side action, getting good ball reversal from one side to the other is paramount to running good offense. The Russians, both longer and stronger than the Chinese at almost every position, denied passes to China’s favored ball-reversal targets, Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian. With no way to reverse the floor, Russia and Australia limited offensive action to one side of the court. The result: A lot of “random” and a lot of bad shots at the end of the shot clock. Chinese guards have a long reputation of playing poorly against pressure defense, and the past two games have been no exception as both Liu Wei and Chen Jianghua have struggled to get their team into an offensive flow. Ditto for China’s bigs, who haven’t been able to handle double teams on the block.

Further making things difficult is that China doesn’t hit the offensive glass and can’t score in transition, making almost all of their offense half-court reliant. Without ways to get easy buckets, the only method for China to score has been in the half-court. And with two sub-40% shooting nights over the last two games, efficiency in their half-court offense has been a major issue.

Still, basketball is a two-sided game and as Leon Zhang illustrates below, China’s defense — specifically their transition defense — has been poor as well. ( For a better look, check out http://2012.sohu.com/20120731/n349507223.shtml for video.)

In the second quarter, Russia pushes the ball on a fast break after rebounding the ball. With three players back and a fourth on his way to join the action, China looks to be in good position to defend against Russia’s transition offense.

But in less than two seconds, China’s defense falls apart as they forget to account for a trailing Timofey Mozgov. After turning his head back, the ball handler, Victor Khryapa, stops at the left elbow and draws Wang Zhizhi up and away from the basket. The void in the paint left by Wang presents a problem because Yi Jianlian has been beaten down the floor by Mozgov (who is a blur in this photo). After Wang converges on the ball handler…

…Mozgov slips inside for the easy dunk as more than half of China’s team is caught looking on. This play was indicative of China’s poor transition defense, most of which was due to a lack of effort in sprinting back on defense.

If this sounds like a super negative, anti-China post, its not. China simply doesn’t have the talent to win in what is an extremely difficult Group B.  Whereas teams have multiple NBA players and deep benches, China has Yi Jianlian, a few solid role players and a long list of players who are simply overmatched against elite international competition. China has run into problems in the second quarter when they’re forced to use their bench. Against the Aussies, Donewald played six guys 20+ minutes in an attempt to minimize their disadvantages in depth, but at the end of the day the reality is simple: This is a one-man team in the form of Yi Jianlian. And until the CBA can develop multiple international-level players, they’re always going to have trouble going deep in the Olympics or the World Championship.

The one good news for China: Yi, who hurt his knee in the second half against Australia, is expected to play against Brazil. The bad news, though: With three NBA bigs (Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao) to go alongside Leandro Barbosa, the Chinese are heavy underdogs. If they lose tonight, they’re officially eliminated from the knock-out round.

 

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China – Spain Recap

July 31, 2012

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Yi Jianlian’s game-high 30 points were the highlight of a very respectful performance from the Chinese against Spain. Photo: Sina Sports

China was always a longshot (if a shot at all) in their 2012 Olympics-opening match-up against Spain — also known as the rematch of the 2008 Beijing Olympics preliminary round game that China should have won, but coughed up at the end of regulation before eventually losing in overtime — so it’s tough to feel too down about the 97-81 loss that went down on Sunday night. In fact, people should feel quite the opposite. China played well throughout and kept the game competitive, never once looking overmatched or out of place. Just too much size and skill for Spain, who played tiki-taka in the half-court (an incredible 27 assists on 36 makes) en route to 57% shooting from the field and 11-19 from three.

But there were some positives for Big Red and if they continue to play at this level, they very may well come away with a win (or even two) in the group.  Yi Jianlian was sensational offensively with 30 points and 12 boards, and Chen Jianghua played 30 excellent minutes at the point guard spot. As a team, they only turned the ball over eight times and shot well from the field at nearly 52%.

China plays Russia next at 4:00pm local Beijing time today. If you’re going to miss it, this is your go-to tomorrow and everyday after that.
Here’s eight bullet points, because you know… eight is lucky and all.
  • Is there a guy in this tournament with more irrational confidence than Wang Shipeng? Dude hasn’t played a good stretch of basketball in about eight months, including the entire summer, and then he goes out guns blazing last night and drains every shot he takes in the first quarter (the best of which was a rediculous fadeaway on the left side over Rudy Fernandez that was just…  ridiculous). Good to see Wang back. They’ll need some more performances from him because…
  • Sun Yue did not enjoy one of his better nights. 1-9 from the field, three points and one rebound. He was active on D and came up with four steals, but China needs more from him. Starting with some made lay-ups.
  • If you’re wondering why, based on his performances internationally, why Yi Jianlian hasn’t carved out a niche for himself in the NBA yet, his closeout on Pau Gasol on the three-point line in the first quarter — and the ensuing blow-by that quickly followed it — should provide enough answers for now.
  • That being said though, Yi was great offensively: Perfect from the field in the first half and pretty much unguardable in isolations throughout. We would have liked to see him get to the line more when it mattered (there were a couple of times when he got his man up in the air on a pump fake and chose to fade away instead of drawing contact), but other than that it was pretty tough to come up with anything he could have done better on that end. 
  • How about five assists and zero turnovers for Chen Jianghua, who was thrust into big minutes because of Liu Wei’s foul trouble? We said it in the CBA Finals and during the summer, but it bears repeating now: This guy is the best pure point guard playing in China at the moment. Which is crazy to think about, considering he was once a lightning quick combo guard who couldn’t have played in the half-court at a China KFC 3-on-3 tournament. I don’t think massive knee injuries are ever a good thing, but I do strongly feel that the effects of Chen’s injuries and the quickness that they’ve deprived him of have been a big reason in his evolution from a guy with limited ability in running in an offense to a guy that’s making some really nice reads and decisions (his diagonal pass to Yi in the first half was something he couldn’t do a couple years ago). If he can stay healthy, the bridge from Liu Wei to whoever is next at that position might be sturdier than we once thought.
  • HoopsHype on “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu: “The tallest player of the tournament won’t make any difference. Slow and totally unskilled.” Tell us how you really feel, guys! NiuBBall vets know how we feel about the ever-improving Max, but as Serge Ibaka demonstrated with an emphatic block last night, that turnaround fadeaway needs to stay in Shanghai. He was also posterized by Pau Gasol in the first half off of a baseline reverse dunk.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

  • The Wang Zhizhi-Yi Jianlian front line is nice on offense; not only because of all of the high-low opportunities it can present, but also because it stretches the floor out and keeps the middle open for backcuts — a staple in the Donewald motion offense. Defensively, much different story. Still, I like it and I thought it was a key reason why China was able to play well in this game. But the other effect the lineup has is that it severely weakens China’s bench. When Wang starts, Zhang Zhaoxu is the first big off the bench (and we just saw how that ended up). It’s more necessity than anything when you’re playing against a team as big and as skilled as Spain. But with only three guys capable of playing center, I think Wang needs to stay on the bench against smaller teams.
  • Random thoughts… Always worth noting at the start of these tournaments that FIBA balls are abnormally bouncy… One of the worst non-calls you’ll ever see happened in the fourth quarter… Spain’s uniforms are made by Chinese company, Li-Ning… Yao Ming did a nice job alongside play-by-play guy, Yu Jia, on the CCTV broadcast… 
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Road to the Olympics: Yi Jianlian

July 29, 2012

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As the Chinese men’s basketball team enters the last stage of preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, it is a sad fact that there are not many definitive profiles of these players, let alone ones in the English language. In this light, let us present you a series dedicated to giving a backstory to the players that will no doubt shine on the world’s biggest stage. After profiling Liu Wei, Wang Zhizhi and Wang Shipeng, we profile Yi Jianlian, the centerpiece of the current National Team setup.

Name: Yi Jianlian (易建联)
Height: 7’0’’ (2.13 m)
Weight: 250 pounds (113 kg)
Position: Power Forward/Center
Team: Free Agent

Yi Jianlian is our last entry in this series of previews, and if you’ve been following Chinese sports at all recently, you’ll notice that he is quite important. Other than “tall, handsome, and famous” though, what else makes him a great choice to represent his nation?

Yi was born in 1987 (or 1984, we’ll get to that) to two former professional handball players who transitioned into working as postal workers, moving to Shenzhen when he was two years old. Though at first his parents objected to him attending a sports school, a chance tournament that Yi and his friends entered brought the young athlete into the focus of a coach in Shenzhen. He struggled to adjust to his new surroundings (a well told anecdote relates that he was unable to finish a 400-meter run), but after a while Yi displayed extraordinary speed, flexibility, and raw talent, and at 13 years of age having already surpassed two meters in height, he was promoted to the Guangdong Youth Team. Many call-ups for both club and country followed, including some time for the country’s youth team and at the age of 18, he suited up for the CBA club Guangdong Hongyuan.

Yi would play five seasons in total in the CBA, working his way up from averaging only five points to a 25 point, 11.5 rebound effort each night. His swift ascent was marked by many accolades, including a CBA Rookie of the Year award, inclusion onto the All-Star team in 2004 (making Yi the youngest player to be honored), and a regular season MVP in 2005.

The big man became a focal point on offense, leading his team to three straight CBA championships and in 2006, was named CBA Finals MVP. Yi was simply dominant in the domestic league despite being under 20 years old, overwhelming interior defenses with turn-around jumpers and pure length, height, and athleticism. Joining the National Team in 2004, his playing time was limited to just over 10 minutes per game, but he showed promise at the World Championships in 2006, attracting the eyes of scouts worldwide. Soon, the NBA would come knocking for this young power forward who both drew comparisons to Kevin Garnett and was dubbed “The Next Yao Ming”.

Though the Guangzhou native first declared for the draft in early 2006, he withdrew his name and opted instead to enter the NBA in 2007, citing a need for more experience. Guangdong couldn’t match the success from the previous year, however, and the team lost to the Bayi Rockets in the Finals. Before the ’07 draft, accusations of age-fixing came up after Yi was listed in a previous tournament as being born in 1984 instead of 1987. Later, reporters found similar documents, though Chinese officials have blamed the discrepancy on a typographical error.

Then, an interesting twist occurred when the Milwaukee Bucks selected Yi with the sixth overall pick. The Bucks had not been invited to Yi’s pre-draft workouts and were in fact warned to not pick him on the basis of Milwaukee’s weak Asian community. Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, owner of the Bucks, went as far as travelling to Hong Kong to recruit this new talent. Chinese officials continued to demand a trade to a locality with a larger Asian presence, but in the end, with the Bucks’ promise that Yi would have enough playing time to develop for the 2008 Olympics, the former Southern Tiger started his NBA career with the blessing of his caretakers and the anticipation of many fans.

Neither the Bucks nor Yi would disappoint. Sticking to his organization’s promise, head coach Larry Krystkowiak handed the starting power forward position to the Chinese 7-footer in place of incumbent Charlie Villanueva. Yi delivered, recording 19 points and nine rebounds against Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets, a game that was watched by 200 million Chinese. Averaging 12.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in December, he was named the Rookie of the Month, and drew praise from coaches like Del Harris, who anointed Yi “the most athletic 7-footer in the NBA”. Injuries would derail his promising rookie campaign, though, as a season ending knee injury sidelined him after April 2 as he was hitting his stride. He ended up averaging 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds on the year, though he showed flashes of enormous potential. As assistant coach Brian James related, “the injuries he had bothered him more than people realized”, and Yi was unable to cope.

Yi and Bobby Simmons were traded the very next season to the New Jersey Nets for Richard Jefferson. This came as a rather large surprise for everyone involved, including Yi, who adjusted well and came away averaging 10.5 points and 6.2 rebounds before breaking his little finger. Back after the All-Star Game (where, incidentally, he finished third in voting for forwards), the Net never really found his form, and was removed from the starting lineup. He had a solid 2009-2010 season, averaging 12 points and 7.2 rebounds, but was held to only 52 games after another series of injuries. Traded soon after the end of the 2010 season to the Washington Wizards, Yi was not given a qualifying offer. Faced with the NBA lockout, he found himself turning home to to the CBA and Guangdong. Unfortunately, he was felled with yet another injury just three games in. Returning to the NBA after the lockout, Yi found a home in Dallas, spending much of the season at the Mavericks’ D-League affiliate before playing in the first playoff game of his career against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Through his struggles as an NBA player though, the talented forward cemented his place as the unmistakable centerpiece of the post-Yao Chinese National Team. In the 2010 World Championships, he logged over 20 points per game and was also the top rebounder tournament-wide. Yi further cemented his place as one of Asia’s best, earning MVP honors in the 2011 Asian Games while leading China to a championship. The national team will certainly need his soft touch and interior presence this summer. Just as Yi Jianlian will carry the flag for the Chinese Olympic delegation, as the star of the team, he will symbolize all that the Wu Xing Hong Qi represents on the court.

Fun Facts: Yi has his own logo; he likes Range Rovers and hip-hop; he was ranked fourth on Forbes’ Chinese celebrities list; known for a relatively bland personality, reporter Wang Meng relates that when asking Yi a question, “you’ll know what kind of answers he’ll give. You don’t even have to ask the question. You can just write it down.”

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Road to the Olympics: Wang Shipeng

July 29, 2012

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As the Chinese men’s basketball team enters the last stage of preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, it is a sad fact that there are not many definitive profiles of these players, let alone ones in the English language. In this light, let us present you a series dedicated to giving a backstory to the players that will no doubt shine on the world’s biggest stage. After profiling Liu Wei and Wang Zhizhi, we go to the player who knows no concept of shot selection, the ever-confident and proven clutch shooter, Wang Shipeng.

Name: Wang Shipeng (王仕鹏)
Height: 6’6’’ (1.97 meters)
Weight: 210 pounds (95 kg)
Position: Shooting Guard
Team: Guangdong Hongyuan

From a youth team reject to a national hero on one of basketball’s biggest stages, Wang Shipeng has certainly come far. Across all his exploits, whether at Guangdong where he fought tooth and nail for playing time, or the inconceivable buzzer-beating shot against Slovenia at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, the shooting guard with the deadly long-rage shot has made a habit of beating the odds through hard work and a never-say-die attitude.

Wang had a rather unorthodox upbringing. Raised as a swimmer in Liaoning, a sudden growth spurt in his teens put basketball in his life. He was brought to a sports school but ultimately was not offered admission. At this point, he faced a crossroads: go to traditional school, or try to enter another youth team. Supported by his father, who Wang credits his success to, the teenager took a gamble and applied to Guangdong, which was recruiting in his home province of Liaoning.

Luckily, he was picked up by the new Guangdong team in 1997, a group that was populated by castaways like himself. Though at first this resulted in a rather lax attitude towards practice, the newcomers implemented harsh and ambitious training programs, including a focus on full court defense and three-a-day practices, a plan that is still in place today at the Hongyuan club. Through all this work, though, Wang was unable to stand out. One memory that stuck out to him was when the team had travelled away to a game, but he had not been chosen. Alone in an empty dormitory, he chose to hit the gym.

His resilience resulted in promotion to Guangdong’s first team in 2002, where he was able to cement his position as a solid contributor, slashing and shooting his team into the CBA Finals in 2003, 2007, and 2011, as well as several league championships between the years 2004-2006 and 2008-2011. This unprecedented run, as well as his stranglehold on the starting shooting guard position, brought him to the attention of the National Team. In 2005, he entered training camp in competition with Bian Qiang for a spot on the team, and for the most part was kept on the bench. At the Stankovic Cup, though, with pressure abating, Wang played his best ball, and with the team needing someone who could penetrate and open the floor with accurate shooting, he not only made the team, but also ascended to the starting position. Thinking back on his experience, he recalls that after seeing first-rate guards at the international level, the realization came that players without overwhelming talent and physical attributes like himself had to increase their off-ball movement.

Wang’s time came sooner than anyone could have thought. Down two to Slovenia with less than five seconds to go and needing a win to advance to the knockout stages in the 2006 World Championship, the sharpshooter received the pass behind the three-point line and made the shot, beating the buzzer and putting China in the final 16. His reputation as a cold-blooded marksman was bolstered by the fact that he had not a single point to his name in the game before that shot. He helped the team to an 8th place finish in the 2008 Olympics, and his last-second field goal again proved to be crucial against Iran in the Asian Games semi-finals.

Though he had always been humble and low-key off the court, Wang’s assertion that he was the best domestic shooting guard was rather unexpected. He backed this claim up, though, bringing his career scoring total to over 6000 points, good for 11th all-time in the CBA, while making over half his shots and averaging over 15 points in his prime between 2007-2011. What is more remarkable is that only recently has Wang been hitting his stride, leading China when much of the team was not in their best form, especially at the World Championship in 2010 where he logged 25 points against Cote D’voire.

Staying relatively healthy in 2011, he led a banged up Guangdong team to the championship behind 23.8 points per game, earning him the Finals MVP. Already a veteran of many contests, Wang will have to struggle through a fracture on his right hand. Though we hope China won’t be put into a do-or-die situation, you can be sure that if they are down with little time to go, Wang Shipeng will be there, spotting up for his magical jumper.

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Your NiuBBall Olympics Primer

July 28, 2012

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 If the United States is going to overcome the interior size of Spain, they’re going to need big minutes at the power forward spot from Carmelo Anthony.

One day away, and you’re worried that NiuBBall ain’t going to hook you up with a little Olympics preview? Well, stop worrying. Because we got you.

It’s not as comprehensive as let’s say, a 5,000+ word tome previewing the start of the CBA season, but it should give you a nice introduction to what’s going on in London starting on the 29th. And because we like you a lot, we’re even including both the schedule for the entire tournament and the television schedule in China. So boom and boom. Enjoy.

Olympics Schedule: http://www.london2012.com/basketball/event/men/index.html
China TV Schedule: http://match.2012.sina.com.cn/tvguide/date/

Group A:

Argentina
Head Coach: Julio Lamas
NBA Players:
Manu Ginobili (San Antonio); Pablo Prigioni (New York); Andres Nocioni (Free Agent); Luis Scola (Phoenix); Carlos Delfino (Free Agent)

The Argentines will creak into the start of their 2012 Olympic run with the oldest average age of all the teams participating this year in London. And while that will give cause for alarm among media, fans and handicappers, that fact won’t allow their opponents to relax and take it easy. Even with a 35 year-old Ginobili leading the way, Argentina is one of the most talented and experienced teams in the field and should still be considered a threat to medal. Not only because they can, but because they must: Most certainly the last Olympics for the aforementioned Ginobili, Nocioni and the newly NBA-bound Prigioni, London will represent the last run for this “Golden Generation” who shook the world by winning gold in Athens in 2004.

France
Head Coach: 
Vincent Collet
NBA Players:
Tony Parker (San Antonio); Boris Diaw (San Antonio); Ronny Turiaf (Free Agent); Kevin Seraphim (Washington); Nicolas Batum (Portland); Nando de Colo (San Antonio)

France was an odds-on-favorite to medal before Parker found his way in the middle of a bottle tossing battle royale between the posses of Chris Brown and Drake at a New York nightclub in June. A shard of glass made it into the French point guard’s eye, which first casted doubt on his long-term vision, then on his eligibility for the Olympics. Fortunately for both, he’s fine, but as he recently disclosed to the media, the accident has affected his conditioning and preparation level for the tournament (and with an uncomfortable pair of protective goggles). Even with all of their NBAers, France will go as far as their former-ace-turned-wild-card takes them.

Lithuania
Head Coach: Kestutis Kemzura
NBA Players:
Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto); Linas Kleiza (Toronto)

NiuBBall’s basketball soft spot and closet favorite international team, Lithuania and their plethora of traveling fans who paint and/or dress themselves from head-to-toe in green and gold will once again be providing viewers with a clinic on “basketball, the right way.” But will Lithuania live up to its four-year expectations of medaling? The old guard is still represented by Sarunas Jasikevicius, the timeless crafty point guard who has won on every level there is to win at in Europe. He doesn’t start anymore, but he’ll get all the big minutes down the stretch. Kleiza will be joined up front by familiar face Darius Songalia, but it’s the new guy, Valanciunas, who will be making the heads turn and talk. Drafted by Toronto last year, he was stashed away in Europe this year before the team bought out his contract and signed him to a rookie deal. He’s tall, long and athletic with improving skills and he — along with Donatas Motiejunas, who is not on this year’s roster — represents the future of Lithuanian basketball. They’re maybe not going to medal, but they’re definitely a team nobody wants to see in the knock-out round.

Nigeria
Head Coach: Ayo Bakare
NBA Players: Al-Farouq Aminu (New Orleans)

Nigeria surprised just about everyone by qualifying for the Olympics as the third team in the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela earlier this month. First by shocking Greece in the quarters, then by beating the Dominican Republic in the third-place game, Nigeria won its first ever Olympic berth and a chance to show the world that their nation’s basketball has truly arrived. Farouq Aminu, who played NCAA ball at Wake Forest and now plays for New Orleans in the NBA, is the guy most people probably know, but there’s other recognizable talent here, too. Ike Diogu, who’s played some years in the League, is the team’s best interior player and like his teammate, is on this team for the first time because of his parents’ Nigerian passports. Guard Tony Skinn will be familiar to those who watched George Mason go the Final Four in 2006, too. Getting out of the group won’t be impossible, but probably a longshot given their lack of experience on this stage.

Tunisia
Head Coach: Adel Tlatli
NBA Players:
 None

Tunisia has already accomplished their goal by winning AfroBasket 2011 and automatically qualifying for this year’s Olympics. With the win last year, the northern Africans ended Angola’s continental dynasty and a run that saw them go undefeated in Africa for a decade, marking the start of a new era. So anything that happens in London is gravy. They won’t win a game and will likely get blown out by every team they face, but again — this isn’t about 2012. It’s about the process, and Tunisia has to feel pretty good about where that’s going.

United States
Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
NBA Players: LeBron James (Miami); Carmelo Anthony (New York); Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers); Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers); Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City); Deron Williams (Brooklyn); Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City); James Harden (Oklahoma City); Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia); Tyson Chandler (New York); Kevin Love (Minnesotta); Anthony Davis (New Orleans)

The clear favorite, the U.S. boasts what is without a doubt the most talented, versatile and deep roster this tournament has to offer. The only doubt about this team is their inside play, which is represented solely by Chandler. Anthony, James, Iguodala and Durant will all be counted on to log minutes at center and power forward, and whether they can rebound and defend while playing outside of their favored wing positions will determine their end fate. But with oodles of athleticism and guys who can play multiple positions, the Red, White and Blue should be able to make up for it by pushing a non-stop pace and wearing teams down. Anything less than gold will be a failure.

Group B:

Australia
Head Coach: Brett Brown
NBA Players: Patty Mills (San Antonio)

The Boomers come into London at less than 100% with Andrew Bogut sidelined with an ankle. But with a side that plays as hard as anybody in the world, the Green and Gold still have to be given a very realistic shot to get out Group B. Mills, who played part of this season in China with Xinjiang before ultimately signing back in the NBA with San Antonio, makes this team go. Quick, tough and aggressive, the 6-0 point guard will be counted upon to do the bulk of the scoring and playmaking. Center David Anderson, who played in the NBA for a few years with Houston, Toronto and New Orleans, is one of the better bigs playing professionally in Europe right now and will also be an important player for this year’s team.

Brazil
Head Coach: Ruben Magnano
NBA Players: Leandro Barbosa (Indiana); Tiago Splitter (San Antonio); Anderson Varejao (Cleveland); Nene (Washington)

After years of wondering “what if,” fans will finally have the chance to see a Brazil team with a full-strength roster now that Nene is in the fold. The Brazilians’ NBA trio of big men — Nene, Varejao and Splitter — are one of the tournament’s best and will present major issues on the glass for their smaller opponents. In the backcourt, Barbosa will blur while Marcelinho Huertas will score and create. They’ve got the talent on paper to challenge for a medal, but we’ve said that about Brazil before. Is this the year where expectations finally come to fruition?

China
Head Coach: Bob Donewald Jr.
NBA Players: Yi Jianlian (Free Agent)

Playing without Yao in Olympic play for the first time since 2000, this is the weakest Chinese roster we’ve seen in some time. Which makes the fact that Tunisia and Nigeria — two teams China would likely beat — are opposite them in Group A. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Bob Donewald Jr. has gotten the most of this Team China the last two years and even if Big Red doesn’t get through to the knock-out stages in the end, it certainly won’t be because they rolled over and got blown out every game. Yi is the guy post-Yao, and he’ll be relied upon to as their No. 1 option on offense. He’ll need help though, which means either Liu Wei, Zhu Fangyu, Wang Zhizhi or Sun Yue will have to step up and take pressure off at some point.

Great Britain
Head Coach:
Chris Finch
NBA Players: 
Joel Freeland (Portland); Luol Deng (Chicago)

The host nation will participate in their first ever Olympics with a lineup that is by far the best they’ve ever put forward. Even if he’s banged up, Deng is one of the most versatile wings in London this year and figures to be towards the top of the leaderboard in total scoring. Freeland, who’s been in Europe the last few years after being drafted by Portland in 2006, is finally heading to the Pacific Northwest next year. Daniel Clark, who plays in Spain, is a big man who can rebound and stretch the floor. Team GB suffers with their guard play however, and anyone who’s ever watched international ball knows how important that position is. Since nobody cares about basketball in the UK, I wonder just how effective the home court will be and thus I wonder if they’re good enough to get out of the group.

Russia
Head Coach: 
David Blatt
NBA Players:
 Andrei Kirilenko (Minnesotta); Alexey Shved (Minnesotta); Timofey Mozgov (Denver)

Kirilenko is the tournament’s best all-around player not named LeBron James and as Tom Ziller over at SB Nation says simply, he “is the difference between not making the tournament and winning a medal.” Blatt, an American who has enjoyed an extremely impressive run at the helm of Russia over the last several years, will also have something to do with all of that if the Russians can medal, too. Point guard Shved was just recently signed by Minnesotta and his play will also dictate the team’s fortunes in London as well. Sasha Kaun and Mozgov give Russia a massive rotation at center and Viktor Khryapa is a versatile scorer.

Spain
Head Coach: Sergio Scariolo
NBA Players:
Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers); Marc Gasol (Memphis); Rudy Fernandez (Denver); Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City), Jose Calderon (Toronto)

The sliver medalists at the 2008 Beijing Olympics are once again the United States’ biggest challenger to gold this year. The addition of the naturalized Ibaka, who made his Spain debut at the 2011 EuroBasket, gives the Spainards a three-headed monster inside along with the Gasol brothers that is far and away their biggest advantage against the strapped-for-size Americans. But it’s not all roses in London: Ricky Rubio’s torn ACL prevents him from joining the team and “La Bomba,” Juan Carlos Navarro is not at full strength as he’s been battling injuries in Europe this year. Still, Spain has 2008 fresh on their mind and a team that has lots of talent and chemistry to make 2012 a different outcome. Expect another gold medal game against the States.

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Su Wei got married

July 28, 2012

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Su Wei and his new wife.

It’s been a rough few months for Guangdong center, Su Wei.

Back in April during Game 1 of the CBA Finals against Beijing, the big seven-footer was caught on live television cursing out Stephon Marbury after Su’s teammate, Zhou Peng, tried to intentionally injure Marbury with a Kobra Kai sweep the leg reenactment.

That incident then gave rise to “Su Wei Sha Bi” — Su Wei is a stupid cunt — which was yelled at the highest possible volume by each and everyone of Wukesong Arena’s 18,000 Ducks fans before the CBA stepped in and threatened to move Beijing’s home Game 5 to a third-tier city if fans couldn’t clean up their mouths.

By the time Game 4 came back to Beijing, Su, had lost his spot in the Guangdong rotation altogether thanks to some truly awful play on both ends and thus found himself strapped to the bench for the entire game and the rest of series. And so ”Huan Su Wei,” — sub Su Wei — was born, becoming the chant/movement/slogan that defined the series and will continue to haunt him every time he plays in Beijing (and possibly other cities, too).

It got worse for Su, though. After losing their title to Beijing, Su then lost something arguably of greater value: His spot on the National Team. On the roster for both the 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, Su was one of the final cuts for London as head coach Bob Donewald Jr. opted for a smaller, more athletic team in where all 12 players could catch passes and make open lay-ups.

But after being made a national mockery and losing his spot in London, it appears things are looking up for Big Su: Dude apparently got married earlier this week.

A set of photos, which were sent into Sina Sports by a Sina Weibo user on July 23rd, show Su and his new wife at a wedding ceremony somewhere in China. No word as to what the bride’s name is or where she’s from. Congrats to dude and the new wife, who hopefully won’t want to “Huan Su Wei” if he loses his minutes again.

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Yi Jianlian to hold Chinese flag at Olympics opening ceremony

July 26, 2012

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Yi Jianlian will bear the Chinese flag at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony on July 27th, according to a report published by Titan Sports Weekly. It’s the first time that Yi will carry the five-star flag, signifying his place as the unquestioned centerpiece of Chinese basketball.

According to Titan, a shortlist had been made up by Chinese officials that included hurdler Liu Xiang and badminton player, Lin Dan as well as Yi.  CRI English fills us in on why Yi was the pick: “According to Xiao Tian, the team’s deputy chef de mission, China’s Olympic flag bearer will be tall, handsome and famous in order to provide a positive image for the Asian sporting power.”

Since 1984, when Wang Libin led Team China out in Los Angeles, only male basketball players have been given the honor of carrying the flag in each and every Summer Olympics. On top of that, they’ve all been centers. In 1988, Wang carried it again. In 1992 it was Song Ligang. In 1996 and 2000, Liu Yudong, who before getting surpassed by Zhu Fangyu this season, was the CBA’s all-time leading scorer, carried it out. Finally, Yao Ming was the man in 2004 and 2008.

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Road to the Olympics: Wang Zhizhi

July 25, 2012

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As the Chinese men’s basketball team enters the last stage of preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, it is a sad fact that there are not many definitive profiles of these players, let alone ones in the English language. In this light, let us present you a series dedicated to giving a backstory to the players that will no doubt shine on the world’s biggest stage. After profiling Liu Wei last week, we go to the ageless seven foot lefty with the killer footwork and sweet stroke from downtown, Wang Zhizhi.

Name: Wang Zhizhi (王治郅)
Height: 7’1’’ (214 cm)
Weight:  275 pounds (125 kg)
Position: Center
Team: Bayi Rockets

The first Chinese athlete to play in the NBA, the cornerstone of a Bayi Rockets dynasty, a star for the national team since before this century started, and the one whose ban from the team and subsequent reconciliation with officials sparked a great deal of controversy. Suffice to say, Wang Zhizhi has been around for quite a while. A living legend of Chinese basketball, Da Zhi’s legend will grow this July and August as the seven footer will continue to play a great role for Team China in the 2012 London Olympics.

Wang’s journey started all the way back in 1977, when he was born in Beijing to two basketball athlete parents. Standing 6’9 at the age of 14, Wang was recruited by the People’s Liberation Army into the Bayi Rockets. Subject to harsh training, with practice hours sometimes extending to eight hours, Wang was forced to undergo massive lifestyle changes, with even his birthdate moved up to 1979 to allow him to dominate youth competitions. He was awarded places on several Chinese select teams, including the awkwardly named and roughly translated Youth Special Height Team, Chinese Youth National Team, and then the senior Bayi team.

No matter where in the world he went, the crafty center impressed with his nimble footwork, often confusing opponents with a spin and finish with his left hand. He was named the best center in Greece’s Youth Basketball Championships, then went on to deliver a solid performance, including a memorable block on David Robinson, in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that earned him six scholarship offers from US schools and a Nike endorsement. Though Wang garnered interest from such high profile schools as Georgetown and LSU, Wang ultimately stayed in China due to the sensitivities involved in letting a PLA soldier and key basketball player go the States for four years. Instead, he returned to Bayi for the inaugural CBA season, catalyzing a dynasty that would run to six CBA championships and a league MVP. He seemed destined for a run of unrivaled dominance, entering the start of his prime by averaging 26.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in the 2000-01 season.

Dallas Mavericks owner H. Ross Perot Jr., though, had a different plan in mind.

Notoriously stingy about giving up their players to foreign organizations, Wang’s materials had to be smuggled to the Mavericks and Perot, who wished to draft the first Chinese player ever and thus make history. With the 36th pick of the 1999 NBA draft, and to the surprise of all involved, Wang Zhizhi was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. The People’s Liberation Army would loath to let go of its prized center, and only when its hand was forced as China’s bid to host the Beijing Olympics was put to a final vote did it allow Wang to play in the NBA. With just ten games left in the season, Wang was able to fit in quickly as a role player, recording 4.8 points and 1.4 rebounds. Wang made the playoff roster; then, duty called, and Wang returned to China, Bayi and the National Team. China won gold at the Asian Championship, Bayi was crowned the champion of the National Games, and Wang played an unmistakable leading role on both teams.

But as his contract in the NBA expired, he began making a series of decisions that would endanger his position in China.

Wang, hoping to participate in the NBA Summer League to work on his game, moved to Los Angeles, leaving little behind in China. Chinese officials urged him to return to the country to practice, as various national team tournaments were on the horizon. But his constant refusals followed by rumors that he was planning on defecting to the US gave the team — and army officials — much to worry about.

PLA officers met him one month later in America, with Wang laying down an ultimatum: he would play in the World Championship, but would not disrupt his season for the the third-tier Asian Games, a relatively unimportant continental tournament. This did not go over well, and Wang was banned from the National Team on October 9th. Shortly after, he served short stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat, but was unable to find consistent playing time. By the end of 2005, the center did not have a team to play for, and after an expulsion of four years, finally returned to his homeland, attempting to make amends for what amounted to betrayal in the Army’s eyes.

The good soldier was forced to attend “self-criticism” meetings, becoming politically “reeducated”, and published a three-page letter of apology. Returning to the army, he remarked, “It feels sacred to be in an army uniform again”. With the 2008 Beijing Olympics fast approaching, the Chinese government took a more lenient stance towards Wang, and “Dodger,” his American nickname, came full circle when he led China to first place in the Asian Championships with the other side of “The Walking Great Wall,” Yao Ming, out of the lineup. Wang found himself as the undoubted leader and mentor of a suddenly youthful and inexperienced Bayi team, yet found a way to win another CBA title and a Finals MVP in 2007.

Wang’s strong play still holds up today, and in 2012 was a CBA All-Star team starter. He is very much still a major contributor to the national team, winning yet another Asia Games in 2010 with critical plays against Iran, Korea and Qatar. After the game, his 11 teammates draped their medals around his neck, bowing in respect; Wang returned the favor by splitting his championship purse with them.

Fun Facts: the talented lefty started a camp to develop lefties like himself; his favorite car is the Lincoln Navigator; he loves to eat large Texas steaks and enjoys listening to Britney Spears; he enjoys watching movies and tried his hand at film himself, hosting a tourism show on Beijing; former CBA slam dunk champion; and he loves collecting rare china, jade, and metals.

Here’s hoping Wang comes home from London with what will amount to the most valuable metal of them all.

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Road to the Olympics: Liu Wei

July 17, 2012

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Recently, NiuBBall put up an open call for new writers with a passion for Chinese hoops. Fortunately for us and everyone else, someone answered that call. World, meet Leon Zhang. Originally from the Bay Area, Leon moved to Shanghai almost seven years ago where he’s been studying and living ever since. He’s a self-professed hoops addict who’s been devoutly playing since he first learned how to dribble as a wee lad and will be teaming up with Sharks enthusiast and NiuBBall contributor, Andrew Crawford, to give us the what’s what down in Shanghai. Which means we need to find someone up here in Beijing so we can get a game of two-on-two…

Leon’s first piece will be one of several in a series that profiles China’s key players as the team gets ready for the 2012 London Olympics.

As the Chinese men’s basketball team enters the last stage of preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, it is a sad fact that there are not many definitive profiles of these players, let alone ones in the English language. In this light, let us present you a series dedicated to giving a backstory to the players that will no doubt shine on the world’s biggest stage. We’ll start with Liu Wei, the captain of the team and veteran starting point guard.

Name: Liu Wei (刘伟)
Height:
 6’3” (190 cm)
Weight: 198 pounds (90 kg)
Position: Point guard
Team: Shanghai Sharks

Liu Wei was a relative latecomer to the game of basketball. As a young child in Shanghai, he was perceived as fat, but his height was too much for the youth coaches to ignore, entering the Luwan District sports school at the age of 12. Training alongside his best friend, a fellow by the name of Yao Ming, he quickly shot up the ranks, playing for the Shanghai Sharks and Chinese junior team in 1996. Liu was a highly valued prospect, expanding his game with various experiences like a visit to the US to attend a Nike summer camp and play for an AAU team. The future national team guard went through tough times in America, recalling that he “couldn’t get enough to eat. Our expenses were limited and there were three days when we ate lunch and dinner combined.”

All this paid off when, at the age of 22, Liu was selected to play for the National Team, undoubtedly a great honor. He became a cornerstone of the Shanghai Sharks professional team, and with Yao broke the years-long hegemony that Bayi had had on the CBA playoffs with a championship in 2002. The year 2004 was an exciting time for him, as he earned the starting point guard position on the national team, and was able to play for the Sacaramento Kings in the preseason. Liu and Yao together brought pride to many of their countrymen as the “NBA China Games,” which pitted Liu’s Kings against Yao’s Rockets, a first in the NBA for any two Chinese players. Though Liu generated some hype (assistant coach Elston Turner called him an “our best passer in training camp”), he was unable to make much of an impact, recording just two points and four rebounds in three games.

Though his role continued to expand for both club and country, recording 8.5 points and 1.6 assists in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, things went south as the Sharks’ decline, which started with the departure of Yao Ming, became more and more evident before the team — and Liu — eventually the team hit rock bottom in 2008.

On the verge of bankruptcy, Shanghai stripped its roster and became committed to rebuilding. In turn, the Sharks’ record took a huge dive and Liu’s apparent frustration with losing boiled over when, on November 28th, he attacked American Gabe Muoneke of the Yunnan Running Bulls outside the locker room inside Yuanshen Stadium. Along with several of his teammates, Liu chased, cornered and hit Muoneke. The incident as caught on stadium security cameras, and Liu paid a hefty fine and served a 10-game suspension. Shanghai finished the season in last place with a 6-44 record.

But in the off-season, the Sharks got the assist they needed when Yao Ming reentered the Shanghai Sharks, this time as an owner. With the team having been saved from going bankrupt, the team went forward with a number of changes designed to bring the Sharks back to respectability. Bob Donewald Jr., hired in the summer of 2009, brought an entertaining run-and-gun style to the Sharks, and along with a revitalized Liu in combination with American import John Lucas III, the trio brought Shanghai an unexpected fourth-place regular finish and a semi-finals berth.

These days, Liu plays in the triangle system of Coach Dan Panaggio, serving a key role as a facilitator and scorer, and also remains as an indispensable cog under Donewald in the National Team. The combo guard brings to Team China unquestioned leadership and extensive experience, and his importance to the team is evident by the fact that he logged the most minutes of any player on the Chinese team in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. In 2012, Liu may need for more time on the bench to rest, as he is too often run into the ground due to a lack of point guard depth. When healthy and rested, though, he is still one of the best guards in Asia, and as the only guard to score over 7000 points in CBA history, his resume is unquestioned. Liu’s strengths include his size, which allows him to play stifling defense, and his steady hand at the point guard position, which will be needed if China is to go far in London this year.

At age 32, this will very likely be the last time Liu suits up for Olympic basketball. As one of the key players of his generation, you can bet he’ll leave it all on the line in London this July and August as he tries to get China into the knockout stages for the third straight time.

Some fun facts about Liu: his favorite Korean drama is Full House, starring the Korean pop star Rain; his favorite drink is tea; he is married to Wang Weiting, a fellow basketball player; his biggest dream is to spend time with friends and family; and when asked of the country he wants to go to most, he emphasizes that he would want to visit all of the beautiful sights in China.

Spoken like a true patriot.

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Hu Jiashi: Success of Olympics not based on wins and losses

July 16, 2012

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Placed in a tough group and with a roster that has the least amount of elite level talent in the last ten years, the Chinese Basketball Association appears to be tempering their own expectations for the Chinese National Team as directors and other higher ups prepare for the likely reality that China will not get through to the knockout stages.

Deputy Director of the National Team, Hu Jiashi, indicated that the CBA will not be judging the team’s performance based on wins on losses, but rather that the team gives its full effort while playing at an “high international level” in every game of the preliminary round.

“Spain is an Olympic runner-up, and Russia and Brazil are clearly on a level up compared to where we’re at,” said Hu. “We’ve never beaten Australia at a major international competition and Great Britain are the host nation. In the past few years we’ve only played these two teams once, but we lost both times. Some people think in order to get through the group stages we have to come up against Great Britain and Australia, but we’re not even assured that we’ll win one game. So with that in mind, we only expect the team to play satisfactorily.”

China’s opening game is on July 29th against Spain.

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