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Tag Archives: Bob Donewald Jr.

Pooh Jeter and Zaid Abbas Interview

February 9, 2013

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For almost eight months in 2006-07 while I was studying abroad at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, I would wake up an extra 15 minutes early to walk in the complete opposite direction from my 8:00am morning class to buy the crown jewel of Chinese street food: Jianbing, a snack that has since been frequently immortalized on these very blog pages.

At night, I would come back to UIBE’s west gate to enjoy another, yet quite different staple of my China-college existence: Niu Da Wan, a 24-hour noodle spot that served beer, chuanr (lamb skewers), chicken wings and a whole bunch of other tasty stuff. On a steamy Beijing summer night, there was in my opinion no place better for this nearly broke language student to hang out, talk with friends and watch China slowly pass me by.

Memories of jianbing and chuanr stayed with me throughout my final year at the University of San Francisco, and I looked forward to the day when I would head back to two of my favorite spots and relive my tasty days of yore. But when I came back over a year later, not only were both places torn down and under construction; the entire west gate block had essentially been subjected to 2008 Olympics demolition, rendering my former stomping ground largely unrecognizable.

People who’ve watched the Shandong Gold Lions this season can relate.

Since their last playoff appearance in 2008-09, the Gold Lions have finished either tantalizingly close to a post-season spot or agonizingly deep down in the standings. Last season, despite a roster full of promising young talent, the team hit a low point, finishing among the last four teams while playing a rhythmless brand of basketball  and generally looking like a franchise without much in the way of short-term optimism.

Oh, how things can change in this country.

On the last day of the Year of the Dragon, the Gold Lions head into the new year on a red hot 15-game win streak and most importantly, having locked up the league’s No. 2 seed after defeating DongGuan on Wednesday at home. At 23-7 with two games remaining in the regular season, Shandong will head into the playoffs with a better record than defending champion Beijing and perennial contender Xinjiang, both of whom were among the list of teams expected to finish towards the top of the league.

The difference between last year and this year for the Gold Lions has been like night and day; or like 2007 and 2008 UIBE west gate. But whereas the Olympics spurred massive change over in NiuBBall.com’s old hood, it’s been a trio of foreign players, Pooh Jeter, Zaid Abbas and Jackson Vroman, who have helped lead the change this year in Jinan.

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Beijing signs 2011-12 CBA Chinese scoring champ, Li Gen

August 19, 2012

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Beijing Ducks fans will be hoping Li Gen’s career season last year in Qingdao will carry over to the capital city in 2012-13. (Photo: CFP.cn)

Beijing’s boosted their chances for a successful title defense by officially signing one of the most explosive scorers in China, Li Gen. According to reports, the contract, originally said to be worth close to CNY 2 million per season, is over three years. Beijing general manger, Yuan Chao, denied that the deal was worth that much.

Last year for Qingdao, Li averaged 18 points a game to lead all Chinese players in scoring. He scored a career high 41 points in a win against Beijing on February 5th. He also won the CBA All-Star Game MVP, scoring 31 points to lead the North All-Stars over the South in Guangzhou.

The 24 year-old was a free-agent after spending the last two seasons on the coast of Shandong province. He made his senior level CBA in 2008-09, where he averaged 9.5 points over 23.5 minutes a game for last-placed Shanghai. The next season, however, he saw a sharp drop in playing time and production as then newly arrived head coach, Bob Donewald Jr. felt his defense needed vast improving. Li was ultimately shipped to Qingdao in 2010-11.

For Beijing, the signing speaks volumes about both their short and long-term ambitions. In the immediate future, the burly 6-5 guard/forward gives them an added scoring punch and a player who can create offense for himself. With Stephon Marbury getting up there in age, Li’s ability to get his own shot will take some of the pressure off of the American point guard to do pretty much everything on the perimeter. Li will also allow Chen Lei, who has also battled age and injuries in recent years, to take a step back in minutes.

Long-term, Beijing now has a very promising trio of young Chinese players to build around. 19 year-old Zhai Xiaochuan and 22 year-old Zhu Yanxi were both critical elements to Beijing’s title run last year as rookies, and both look to have long careers as top-level domestic players with the team. Teamed with Li, the three immediately become one of the best group of young, senior level teammates in the league.

It’s impossible to know where Guangdong fits into the CBA title picture as their import situation is still up in the air, but with Li coming on board to join Marbury and Randolph Morris, both of whom have re-signed for next year, as well as Zhai, Zhu, Chen and Lee Hsueh-lin, Beijing — at least for now — looks as the favorite to repeat as champions.

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

August 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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China – 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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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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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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Decision to cut Wang Zhelin makes sense when put into context

July 12, 2012

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To the disappointment of some, Wang Zhelin won’t be dunking in the Olympics. (Photo: Osports)

China has had a couple of nights to sleep on the as-of-Tuesday-released 12-man roster for the London Olympics and yet the primary debate remains the same today as it was when it was first announced: Should Wang Zhelin have been included on the team?

Public opinion is mixed, but a slight majority feels that the 18 year-old should have been brought along to London. On a poll on Sina.com, 59% percent of people felt that among all the players left off the roster, Wang was the one who should not have been cut.

It’s a sentiment that’s being shared by people in Chinese media, too. Longtime Chinese basketball commentator and journalist, Su Quan, writes in today’s Basketball Pioneers in a piece entitled “Wang Zhelin should not be abandoned:”

…But every team competing in the Olympics should include a young, promising player on the 12-man roster, especially a center who shows a lot of potential. You don’t need to hope for instant success, instead you can build him up for future success. The Olympics is the biggest international competition there is, every player is bound to feel nervous, excited and unfamiliar with everything their first time. If you can allow him to go through the process earlier, then when he’s 22 years old and back in the Olympics again, the experience will go much more smoothly. This kind of opportunity for a center is the absolute most important thing because the development of a center is a long-term process. It takes a while to grow into a full sized tree, but the earlier you plant the seed, the deeper the roots will grow and the stronger the tree will become.

Su then points to the history of the various Chinese teams who chose to put a young big man at the end of their bench during previous Olympics or Word Championships: 18 year-old Wang Haibo in the 1984, 19 year-old Wang Zhizhi in 1994, 20 year-old Yao Ming in 2000 and an “even younger” (Su doesn’t write his age… hmmm…) Yi Jianlian in 2004.

All valid points and I get all of them. Su’s argument is further enhance when you consider that neither Wang Haibo nor Wang Zhizhi had any prior experience at the senior international level before making their debuts.

But still, I disagree. And the reason is this: Letting Wang Zhelin sit on the end of the bench does not give China the best chance at winning games this Olympics.

First, let’s go across the Pacific Ocean to introduce my point. The United States, the best team in the world right now, could have brought recent No. 1 overall draft pick and one of the most promising big men to come out in years, Anthony Davis, onto a roster that arguably needs some depth at center. The fact that he sprained his ankle early in training camp certainly had something to do with him not making the roster, but so did another thing: The US wants to field the strongest roster possible so that it can win a gold medal. Ditto for Spain, who also didn’t bring along a young center.

For China, the goal is different — for them it’s to get past the group stage and then go through to the semi-finals for the first time in their country’s history — but the concept is the same: Put forth the best team possible. And with the current players available to Bob Donewald and the rest of the Chinese basketball powers from above, the best team is one full of versatile and more athletic players. If this was the Yao Ming era, when China had the luxury of a NBA All-Star center who could pass and score with equal adeptness and when the rotation was better  was shorter, then there’d be some room for Wang.

But now? At the moment, China lacks one player who is currently signed to an NBA team. Key players like Liu Wei and Wang Zhizhi are all playing way past their primes, while Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng are merely playing just past it. You could make the argument that talent wise, this is the weakest China’s been in over a decade. While there are guys Donewald will depend on heavily — Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Zhou Peng, the aforementioned four guys — there’s other guys like Yi Li, Ding Jinhui and Chen Jianghua who very well could get into the rotation. And that may just be Donewald is counting on, here: Athleticism, depth, versatility and defense.

Let’s go beyond Donewald’s selection preferences, important as they are, and go to another extremely important point: The CBA values results over all else at the Olympics. Seen as the premier stage to show off their country’s ability to the world, the Olympics always have and always will be about proving China to the West. Ensuring its players can develop for Olympic play is the reason why its professional league only allows two imports per team, why those players have minute restrictions and why Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade weren’t allowed to sign here during the NBA lockout. Chinese players, Chinese teams and Chinese appearances — successful appearances — at major international competitions are what the CBA is concerned with.

S. Mageshwaran over at FIBA.com sums it up nicely: “China’s men are aiming to get past the Quarter-Finals for the first time in their history, while the women are looking for a medal. Therefore it is only logical that this pragmatism has stood up in the face of erroneous enthusiasm from certain quarters… the decision to leave [Wang Zhelin] out is one that has arisen out of common sense.”

Wang Zhelin isn’t being abandoned. Donewald has rightfully kept him along for the entire summertime ride and as a result, he’s improved his game immensely from being around the best coaches and best players China has to offer. And with the announcement that 15 players will be going to Poland on July 20th for China’s last set of warm-up games, he very well may stay until the last possible moment. Yet for the good of his team, his Olympic moment will have to wait for another four years. That’s not right or wrong. That’s just the way it is.

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

July 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 19, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why China’s three losses in Australia aren’t a big deal

June 16, 2012

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Forget the three losses, the bigger issue is whether China is going to take these horrible mismatched jerseys to London. (Photo: Osports)

 

China just lost all three of their exhibition games in Australia against the Australian National Team, which means — not surprisingly — that Chinese media and fans are having mild freak outs. Naturally, when there isn’t any meaningful basketball to be played really until the first game of the Olympics, people get excited about three straight losses. Even though…

 

Winning or losing these games mean nothing…
It’s not even the summer yet, which means Donewald is still experimenting with his lineups and strategies…

He’s also trying to figure out which guys have what it takes for Olympic basketball, specifically his players…

China almost always loses pre-major international competition warm-up matches, precisely because of the previous point…
And more importantly, their best player, Yi Jianlian hasn’t reported to the team yet and thus has yet to suit up for Big Red this year.
So, nobody should really be sweating anything at this point expect a few players, some of whom will go home after an expected third round of cuts get announced within the next few days. We know the drama is probably driving you crazy, so to tide you over we’re offering up some thoughts that have crossed our mind post-Australia, in bullet point form.

 

  • If you’re a subscriber to the “Huan Su Wei” movement, you’re probably going to like this: Big Su played in only two of the three games, and when he did he played sparingly and poorly. In 12 total minutes, he put up one point, one rebound, two fouls and three turnovers. No matter what the National Team thinks of the former rower-turned-hoopster, its impossible to deny that he’s regressed since last summer. Against Beijing in the CBA Finals last March, he was too slow to guard to Randolph Morris and was able to offer nothing more than bricked lay-ups on the offensive end to compensate. As a result, he didn’t play too much. Sure, he’s got two years of experience under Donewald, plus he’s enormous, physical and plays the best post defense on the team (if the refs are calling the game loosely enough to keep him on the floor). Basically, he’s the Chinese homeless man’s version of Kendrick Perkins. But will those be enough to hold off challenges from younger guys like Han Dejun and Wang Zhelin? Could be a story worth monitoring.
  • The position battle at point guard, however, is a story we already know is worth keeping an eye on. Guo Ailun played a mixed bag overall, but it was his the loud words of Sun Yue that ended up dominating all of the Guo headlines. Midway through the second quarter of game three when the Aussies were on a big run, Sun reportedly yelled at him to pass the ball more. He finished the game with one assist, only one more than the goose egg he put up in the first game. His main rival, Zhang Bo, picked up a shoulder injury that was severe enough to keep him out of the last game. No word on the extent of Zhang’s injury is as of yet.
  • Kind of a funny off-court story: According to hoopCHINA, Donewald was getting his motivational shoes on Down Under, bringing in three-time NBA champion and Australian national, Luc Longley, to meet and talk with his players. He forgot, however, that there was already an NBA champ among the team, Sun Yue, who reminded him that he won a ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008-09. No offense to Sun, who stands as one of two Chinese players to have won an NBA championship (Mengke Bateer won one with the Spurs in 2003), but I don’t think Donewald forgot… I think he was just talking about someone who actually played and earned their ring.
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Has Chen Jianghua already booked a ticket to London?

May 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yang Ming, Zhu Yanxi cut from National Team roster

May 23, 2012

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Yang Ming and Zhu Yanxi have been cut from the National Team roster. (Photo: Sina)

True to their word, Bob Donewald and the Chinese Basketball Association have announced two cuts on the heels of the first three exhibition games of the Chinese National Team’s summer London warm-up schedule: Yang Ming and Zhu Yanxi.

They are the fourth and fifth players to be released from National Team duty this year. They join Xirelijiang, Duan Jiangpeng and Li Xiaoxu, all of whom were casualties from the team’s first round of cuts on May 8th.

Whereas Donewald’s cut downs earlier this month were met with a relatively high degree of controversy inside China, the decision to release Yang and Zhu will give critics little to complain about. Yang, a point guard who plays for Liaoning Hengye, was in serious contention to land a spot on the team as a back-up to longtime National Team point guard, Liu Wei. Hailed by some as the best Chinese point guard in the CBA this past season, Yang averaged  12.2 points and 6.5 assists for the Jaguars.

But Yang had been battling injury throughout training camp and did not play in any of Team China’s three exhibition games in Qingdao against an American All-Star team last week. Already behind the curve with the injury reportedly serious enough to keep him out for a further period of time, the decision to release Yang was a relatively easy as Donewald looks to clear up the team’s biggest position battle. The fact that Yang has never represented China on the senior level internationally also contributed to his dismissal.

Zhu, a power forward who played his first season for CBA champion Beijing Shougang last year, was never considered to have a realistic shot at London this summer. Known as a knockdown stretch-four shooter, Zhu failed to score a single point in any of the three games, going a combined 0-7 from the field in 15 total minutes.

China went 2-1 against the Americans, winning the first two games before losing the finale on May 20th.

The current roster stands at 17 players. The remaining players are as follows:

Center: Yi Jianlian, Han Dejun, Zhang Zhaoxu, Wang Zhelin, Wang Zhizhi, Su Wei

Forward: Yi Li, Sun Yue, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng, Ding Jinhui, Zhai Xiaochuan, Zhang Bo

Guard: Guo Ailun, Wang Shipeng, Chen Jianghua, Liu Wei

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Change in plans: Donewald cuts three from Olympic roster

May 8, 2012

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Together for over a month, Bob Donewald Jr. has seen enough to know which players he can do without this August in London. So much in fact, that he doesn’t even need to watch them play a single warm-up game.

In a surprise move, Donewald announced three cuts from the National Team team today: Guards Xirelijiang and Duan Jiangpeng, and forward Li Xiaoxu.

At present, 19 players remain on the roster.

Originally, Donewald planned to make his first cuts after Team China’s set of three exhibition games against a United States All-Star team in mid-May. But talking to media today, Donewald said that it had become clear in recent practices which players were having trouble keeping up with the increased intensity and that a change in plan was needed.

The one player who’s dismissal comes as somewhat unexpected is Xirelijiang. The 6’0 guard from Xinjiang played under Donewald in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship and was expected to battle for a spot backing up long-time National Team stalwart, Liu Wei. Though far from a lock to make the final 12-man roster, many thought he’d last into the summer.

Instead, he won’t even last until China plays its first warm-up game. According to quotes from Donewald (translated by Chinese media into Chinese), Xirelijiang lacks the requisite point guard skills to be effective at the one, and is too short to play at the two. In the eyes of Donewald, those deficiencies were enough to overshadow his on-ball defense, which ranks among the best in China.

In three years with Team China, Donewald has overseen a 9th 16th place finish in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, a gold medal in the 2010 Asia Games and a gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, which automatically qualified China for the 2012 London Olympics.

In 38 games for Xinjiang this year, Xirelijiang averaged 33.7 minutes, 11.5 points, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game on 39% shooting.

The remaining 19 players are as follows:

Centers:

Wang Zhizhi (Bayi), Yi Jianlian (Dallas Mavericks), Zhang Zhaoxu (Shanghai), Su Wei (Guangdong), Han Dejun (Liaoning), Wang Zhelin (Fujian)

Forwards:

Zhou Peng (Guangdong), Yi Li (Jiangsu), Zhang Bo (Bayi), Zhu Fangyu (Guangdong), Ding Jinhui (Zhejiang), Zhu Yanxi (Beijing), Zhai Xiaochuan (Beijing)

Guards:

Liu Wei (Shanghai), Wang Shipeng (Guangdong), Chen Jianghua (Guangdong), Sun Yue (Beijing Aoshen), Guo Ailun (Liaoning), Yang Ming (Liaoning)

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Assessing China’s Olympic roster

May 8, 2012

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

Two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Locks:

Sun Yue

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

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

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

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

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

Not Locks, But Almost:

Ding Jinhui

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

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

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

In The Hunt:

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

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

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

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

Guo Ailun

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

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

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

The Longshots:

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

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

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

The No Shots:

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

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

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

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

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

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