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

July 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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