Tag Archives: Bob MacKinnon Jr.

Tianjin replaces David Harrison with Herve Lamizana

January 29, 2012

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While other teams were either on vacation or doing two-a-day practices during the Spring Festival, Tianjin Ronggang used the period to welcome back a familiar foreigner to the team.

In a move that was rumored for a while before officially coming to fruition just before the holiday, Tianjin released center David Harrison and signed forward Herve Lamizana as his replacement. This will be Lamizana’s fifth year in China and third with Tianjin. He played with Shandong for two seasons from 2006-08 before signing with Tianjin for both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

In 24 games, Harrison averaged 15.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

The timing of the move is odd. With a mere eight games left in the season, Tianjin is currently in 14th place with an 8-17 record and has no chance of making the post-season. Officially, team representatives are saying that the season ending injury to Asian import guard Rony Fahed, who broke his second, third and fourth metatarsal on his right hand in a game against Shanghai on December 28th, left the team without a reliable ball-handler. Lamizana, a versatile forward who plays on the perimeter, can help to offset that issue. Though Tianjin was in search of a new import after Fahed’s injury, they were initially optimistic that his hand would heal by the Spring Festival.

The hand did not heal, however, and the team was forced to make a move. Tianjin has gone 3-6 since Fahed has gone out of the lineup.

But even more odd than the timing is the decision to bring back Lamizana himself. After playing a full season for Tianjin in 2009-10, Lamizana came back last season to play under head coach Bob MacKinnon Jr. Playing alongside Lee Benson, the two never meshed with either each other or their Chinese teammates and the team managed only four wins in their first 26 games.

During Tianjin’s 27th game of the season, a road game against Shandong, Lamizana went 7-20 with 16 points and nine rebounds in a 97-87 loss. After the game, Tianjin announced that Lamizana would be released from the team immediately and gave no official explanation as to why.

Though Tianjin still hasn’t commented on the reason, Chinese media wrote that team management became convinced that Lamizana purposely threw the game for money so that his old team could make a final push for the playoffs.

Though it still floats around in Chinese basketball circles today, the rumor has never been officially proven. And with Lamizana now back to Tianjin, it seems as if the team doesn’t have much time for that story either.

Last year, Lamizana 24.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1. 9 steals and 3.6 blocks. He is currently tied for the CBA single game blocks record with Yao Ming and Sean Williams with 13.

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2011-2012 CBA Preview

November 20, 2011

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J.R. Smith is just one of many reasons why people are more excited than ever to watch the CBA this season.

Technically, the 2011-12 regular season started tonight. Paced by Othello Hunter’s 11 points and 21 rebounds The visiting Shandong Golden Bulls took out the Foshan Dralions in front of a national audience, 93-79.

Normally, that’d take some of the shine off of fresh off the press 2011-12 CBA preview. Thing is though, this preview is anything but normal.

For your viewing pleasure, we’re not only previewing every single team for the new season, we’re putting in a power rankings, too. Yeah — there’s almost 6,000 English words on Chinese basketball in this beast. We don’t want to toot our own horns or anything, but we think that’s got to be a record.

Read it all at once right now, print it out and take it on the go, or break it all up into easy to manage blocks. And as always, if you have any questions, hit up the comments.

Throughout the season, we’ll be updating the power rankings, probably every Monday.

Note: *Indicates an import who is playing his first season in the CBA.

1. Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers
2010-11 record: 25-7 (2nd place, won CBA Championship)
Head Coach: Li Chunjiang (5th year)
Imports: James Singleton, Aaron Brooks*

Rule number one of NiuBBall Chinese Basketball Association power rankings: The champs are put at the top at the beginning of the year — no matter what other teams with Tigers for mascots have done in the off-season.

So like they would have been for the past four years, Guangdong starts the season in pole position. And that decision isn’t solely based on the fact that their reigning champs. As it stands right now, they’re also a lot more talented than they were last year, primarily thanks to an ongoing labor dispute in America.

No team has benefited more from the NBA lockout than Guangdong, who have bolstered their already championship-caliber roster with not one but two players who played in the League last season.

Both will be very familiar to China. After spending five years in the States, Yi Jianlian, has returned to his hometown squad that raised him from youth. Having clearly emerged as the leader of the post-Yao Team China setup at the FIBA Asia Championship this summer in Wuhan, Yi returns to China playing perhaps the best ball of his career. Unlike other NBA-to-CBA hoopers, Ah Lian has a special out-clause that will allow him a free passage back to America if/when the lockout ends.

Joining him will be another lockout casualty, Aaron Brooks, who according to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reportedly committed to joining Guangdong cause.

But, wait! There’s more recognizable faces heading to southern China — after helping Guangdong overcome Xinjiang in six games in the Finals, the team says goodbye to both Lester Hudson and Marcus Haislip, and hello to the guy they were game-planning against, James Singleton. A rugged player whose willing to sacrifice his own numbers for wins, Singleton will be a good fit next to Guangdong’s prolific roster. Besides making for good basketball, his move down south also adds an extra element to the Xinjiang-Guangdong rivalry, which in our eyes is the best in CBA history.

You should know the rest of the roster by now: Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng and Su Wei comprise the team’s core of National Teamers that give them the match-up edge against virtually every team in the league.

If there’s any bones to pick against Guangdong this year, its that there may be too much talent. How a low-percentage chucker like Brooks will mesh with China’s laoda, Yi, and the team’s other Chinese players is a question that is on our minds heading into the season. Brooks will have his 40 point games, but as Guangdong has built its championship formula around its Chinese players, is he really what the team needs?

In any case, just mark Guangdong as a lock to be back in the Finals this year. As to who they’ll face, well that’s pretty much a lock, too…

Jon Pastuszek

2. Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers
2010-11 record: 31-1 (1st place, lost in Finals to Guangdong)
Head Coach: Bob Donewald Jr. (3rd year)
Imports: Kenyon Martin*, Quincy Douby**

What do you do if you’re a basketball-infatuated billionaire owner who’s team has lost in the Finals the last three years in a row? You spend close to USD $10 million in the summer to make sure that losing streak doesn’t become four in a row.

How do you spend 10 mil in the Chinese Basketball Association, you ask? You start by bringing in the head coach of the Chinese National Team and noted CBA miracle worker, Bob Donewald Jr.

What could have been: Douby and K-Mart chat during practice pre-Douby wrist-break.

Donewald, who rose to the top of Team China after leading the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks from the depths of bankruptcy to a magical semi-finals run in 2009, will now be aiming to rise to the top of the CBA in Urumqi, where expectations reside somewhere between championship and championship. If you don’t believe that, think about the guy who he replaces, Jiang Xingquan; he only went 31-1 last regular season. Having spent all this money, there is no room for failure now.

If there’s anyone who’s up for the task though, its Donewald, who had to deal with the “win, or else” pressure that was placed upon him this summer in Wuhan, and media firestorm that came with it. The regular season is just a prelude to a Finals match-up against Guangdong, and the team’s result in that series will determine the success of the season.

Coaches need players to coach, though. And good thing for Donewald, Xinjiang added some good ones. Former NBA number one overall pick, Kenyon Martin, was signed in September to the richest contract in franchise history. He may not score 30 a night, but he won’t need to either — unleashing K-Mart inside an arena near you will be more than enough to deter opponents from even venturing into the lane. Simply China has never seen that type of defensive intensity. While J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler will be making headlines for their offensive outbursts, expect Martin to make his mark on the winning end of the court, the defensive side.

Xinjiang also added three domestic players who will play a large role in determining the result of this season. Former three-time MVP, Tang Zhengdong, who’s been wanting to get out Jiangsu since forever, finally got his wish. Though not what he once was when he was with Jiangsu back in the mid-2000s, he’ll be a load for opposing second units to handle when he subs in for current three-time reigning MVP, Mengke Bateer.

Chao Yonggang, a sharp shooting small forward who played with Foshan last year, was also signed for a large transfer fee. The team has big expectations for him: He’s been playing as a starter during pre-season games. China U-23 Olympic Team member, Meng Duo, who has been with DongGuan New Century since his teenage years, has been brought over on a two-year loan. A six-foot guard, Meng is an athletic and capable player who will be relied upon to provide scoring off the bench.

Keep in mind, though: This is a team that lost one game last regular season. There’s still a lot of veteran talent on this team. Bateer is the best Chinese big man in the league and will continue to be a rock inside for the Flying Tigers. Local product, 20 year-old Xirelijiang, spent the entire summer under Donewald with the National Team and looks primed to improve on last year’s promising campaign. The Mai Brothers combo will be short one after Maiwulan went to Foshan via the short-term transfer draft, but Maierdan will be back to smash heads/get called for moving screens under the basket.

There is bad news, though. Xinjiang’s title hopes took a hit when arguably the best import in league history, Quincy Douby, suffered a broken left wrist during a pre-season match last Sunday. Douby has already returned to the States and undergone surgery and it appears that the team is looking at other options to replace him.

Whether they choose to wait it out until he’s healthy or they go with a replacement player right away, Xinjiang will have a healthy and supremely talented import guard at the end of the year to play alongside K-Mart, Bateer and sons. So start getting ready now for Guangdong – Xinjiang, part III.

Jon Pastuszek

3. Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls

2010-11 record: 18-14 (6th place, lost to DongGuan in first round)
Head Coach: Ding Wei (2nd year)
Imports: J.R. Smith*, Josh Boone

Based in the sock capital of the world, Yiwu, the Golden Bulls enjoyed moderate success last season with Marcus Williams and Josh Boone as the focal points of the team. They got off to a slow 2-7 start with Mike James, but finished the year 17-6 once Marcus Williams came over as a replacement. Williams’ dominance ended in the playoffs though, and with it so did Chouzhou’s run as they suffered a disappointing first round playoff sweep at the hands of Jiangsu.

During the off-season, Chouzhou let go of Marcus Williams and made what might be the biggest acquisition in the CBA by signing former Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith. If Marcus Williams could average nearly 30 points a game for Chouzhou, the sky is the limit for Smith, who is one of the best pure scorers in the world. He possesses unbelievable range on his beautiful jump shot and has incredible athleticism that allows him to finish above the rim. With the Nuggets, he was relegated to the sixth man role due to the presence of Carmelo Anthony and his head-scratching shot selection. This won’t be the case with Chouzhou, where he will have the green light as the first, second, and third option.

Alongside Smith will be veteran big man Josh Boone, who is be entering his second season with the Cyclones. Boone is an athletic shot blocker who lacks a refined offensive game. He scores most of his points off of put-backs and broken plays. With J.R. Smith commanding so much defensive attention, Boone should enjoy a productive season on the offensive end. Ding Jinhui has been a National Team regular since Donewald took the reigns for his non-stop motor, and he’s one of the better Chinese forwards in the league.  The Golden Bulls’ success rests on the shoulders of Smith and Boone; if they can get their role players involved, the victories should add up.

Edward Bothfeld

4. Jiangsu Nangang Dragons

2010-11 record: 19-12 (4th place, lost to Xinjiang in semi-finals)
Head Coach: Xu Qiang (13th year)
Imports: Dan Gadzuric*, Luther Head*

The Jiangsu Nangang Dragons are coming off another successful season in which they finished with the fourth best regular season record and an appearance in the semi-finals. With three returning starters and two new imports, the Dragons have a good chance of replicating last year’s success.

Jiangsu's Yi Li took a big step forward this summer with his strong performance for the National Team at the FIBA Asia Championship.

Although he may still be fighting jetlag during the home opener, Luther Head is a capable combo guard who might excel in the CBA’s style of play. He is mostly known for his shooting abilities, but if Head can find some success driving to the hoop and keep defenders honest, he could be in for a big season. While Head makes plays on the perimeter, nine-year NBA veteran Dan Gadzuric will be doing dirty work in the paint. Known for his defensive presence and ability to run the floor, Gadzuric is limited on offense, where he has difficulty creating for himself.

Even with the loss of their force in the middle, three-time CBA MVP, Tang Zhengdong, who was sold to Xinjiang, Jiangsu still has the solid core of Chinese players that have made Jiangsu a perennial threat. The spindly Yi Li, who had a strong showing for the National Team as their sixth man at the Asia Championship this summer, will be asked to play a more prominent role now that Tang is gone. Fan favorite Hu Xuefeng will continue to be ageless at the point guard position and Meng Da, though also getting up there in age, should average double figures in scoring once again.

The culture of winning cannot be understated, and NiuBBall believes Jiangsu will be heading back to playoffs for a ninth straight year.

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

5. Zhejiang Guangsha Lions
2010-11 record: 18-14 (6th place, lost to DongGuan in first round)
Head Coach: Jim Cleamons (1st year)
Imports: Wilson Chandler*, Dwyane Jones 

Hangzhou is home to the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions, a usually mediocre team that annually flirts with being among the CBA’s elite. For the past three seasons, the team has revolved around big man P.J. Ramos, otherwise known as “The Puerto Rican King” (at least that’s what the large tattoo on his wrist says). Ramos enjoyed some success with Guangsha, but after finishing last year with an 18-14 record and a first round playoff exit, the club’s management decided to make drastic changes, and during the off-season they overhauled their roster and coaching staff in an attempt to permanently join the upper-echelon of teams.

In comes Coach Jim Cleamons, who is by far the most experienced and heralded NBA coach in the CBA. He has spent the majority of his coaching career as an assistant in the league under Phil Jackson. He has over a decade of experience teaching some of the most talented players of all time – Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. In his basketball career, he has won a staggering ten championships – ten as a coach and one as a player. Guangsha is hoping Cleamons’ leadership and addiction to winning will transform the Lions into a championship contender.

However, a coach cannot win games by himself. Fortunately for Cleamons, Guangsha was also able to sign Wilson Chandler. Standing at a broad 6-8 (208 cm), Chandler has spent his NBA career with the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets. He possesses a unique skill-set with his ability to shoot from long range and use his size to score inside, thus making him difficult to defend. Look for Cleamons to make Chandler the focal point of the team, and for him to average around thirty points a game.

During training camp, the Lions suffered a significant setback. To complement Chandler, they had recruited fellow NBA star, Earl Clark. After arriving in Hangzhou, Clark received the wonderful news that his girlfriend was pregnant and understandably returned home. With Clark gone, Guangsha turned to former NBA player, Dwayne Jones. While he is not nearly as talented as Clark, he is tall (211 cm), has already spent a year playing professionally in China for Foshan, and is a capable post defender and rebounder.

Expectations are high, but with Chandler filling up the box score, Jones doing the dirty work, a talented supporting cast led by Taiwanese National Lin Chih-Chieh, and Jim Cleamons roaming the sidelines, the Lions should be in for a successful and winning season.

Edward Bothfeld

6. Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons

2010-11 record: 15-17 (9th place)
Head Coach: Yang Xuezeng (2nd year)
Imports: Marcus Williams, Charles Gaines

As Jim Yardley’s new book on Shanxi will tell us when it his stores in February next year, it’s probably pretty stupid to bet on a team that is owned by a raging lunatic. Still, there’s enough talent here — both American and Chinese — to convince us that this team can overcome that to make the playoffs.

Let’s start with the U.S. guys. After trying to sign Kobe Bryant to a one-month deal before the CBA squashed that idea, Shanxi made two sound decisions in the import market by signing China old-hands Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines. Williams made everyone look really stupid for passing him up at the beginning of the year when he came over to Zhejiang Chouzhou mid-season as a replacement for Mike James. His one man band show that culminated with four straight triple-doubles to end the regular season, parading the Golden Bulls to a playoff birth, and an appearance on the NiuBBall.com All-CBA First Team. Boasting the best all-around game in China, there’s no reason for us to believe he shouldn’t be there again this year.

Gaines is no slouch either. Two years ago for Xinjiang, he averaged over 30 points a game, and last year he led the league with 33.7 per contest on top of 13.5 rebounds. Yet, he remains most famous for slapping the eff out of Du Feng in the 2010 CBA Finals. And probably rightfully so. But Gaines, who was also a NiuBBall.com First Teamer last year, in combination with Williams will probably be famous this season because he’ll be part of one of the most potent import duos in the league this year.

On the Chinese side, swingman Duan Jiangpeng is coming off a strong summer that saw him suit up for the China Under-23 Olympic Team before earning a brief call-up to the Senior National Team. His Brave Dragon teammate, Zhang Xuewen, also averaged double-figures for the Brave Dragons last year and is another young piece expected to help the playoff cause.

If there is one weakness with this team — besides their bumbling mad owner — it’s that this team lacks a point-guard. Williams, who excels when the ball is in his hands, may be enough to compensate for that though. This is a team with a ton of talent and they should make the playoffs, despite an owner that made the late George Steinbrenner seem like Abe Polin.

Jon Pastuszek

7. Liaoning Jiebao Innovators

2010-11 record: 14-18 (10th place)
Head coach: Guo Shiqiang (6th year)
Imports: Rodney Carney, Josh Powell

The normally relevant Liaoning PanPan Dinosaurs were anything but last season, finishing with an unimpressive 14-18 record. Their struggles could be mainly attributed to the poor play from any of the four imports they put on the court during the year, Donta Smith, Anthony Myles, Myles McKay and Chris Richard.

This season, however, could be different. In fact, it’s already different — at least in name. Provincially-owned Liaoning dropped their longtime shareholder sponsor, PanPan Doors, turned around and bought the club themselves. Once dubbed the PanPan Dinosaurs, Liaoning is now the Jiebao (a car company)… Innovators? The name of the team in Chinese is 前瞻, which according to nciku.com means “to look ahead; to forecast.” I don’t think the Liaoning Weathermen sounds very good, so I went with “innovators.” That is very likely 100% wrong. If you know their name in English — if they have one — holler at us in the comments.

It also could be different, because Liaoning looks pretty darn good on paper. Overpowering every other storyline is the return of guard Zhang Qingpeng, who is back after a one-year loan to Xinjiang. A common sight on Team China a few years ago, Zhang has fallen out of favor with Donewald’s National Team. But he’s on the short list of top Chinese guards in the league, and his accuracy from the outside will be a big boost for the team this year.

Former L.A. Laker and two-time NBA champion, Josh Powell, and NBA journeyman Rodney Carney have joined the Hunters. Together, they are hoping to kick start a Liaoning revival (they were finalists in 2008). With poor ball-handling skills, Carney is reliant on his leaping ability and athleticism on the offensive end. The game needs to be played at a frenetic pace for him to be effective. While Powell has size – 6’9 and 240 lbs — he isn’t a banger and gets most of his buckets on midrange jumpers.

Up front, Liaoning can play with anyone. 6-9 power forward Li Xiaoxu played at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. 7-1 Han Dejun, participated in all-you-can-eat pork dumplings competition in Liaoning last year. OK that’s a joke, but the 300+ pound puffer can play a little bit, even if his body weight only allows him to play in short bursts.

If the Innovators can get consistent play from youngster Guo Ailun, one of China’s best prospects at the point-guard position, they’re headed back to the post-season.

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

8. Beijing Shougang Ducks

2010-11 record: 16-16 (8th place)
Head Coach: Min Lulei (14th year)
Imports: Stephon Marbury, Randolph Morris

Like NiuBBall, Starbury is way down with Beijing and Niu Bi.

Stephon Marbury says he’s been happy in China since signing with Shanxi in 2010. That’s impressive given who he’s played for and the cities he’s called home the last two seasons, Taiyuan, Shanxi and Foshan, Guangdong.

Now in Beijing for his third season, Marbury, who had his own feature in China Daily two days ago, is even happier.

Ducks fans should be happier, too. China likes themeslves some Marbury, but it seems that Beijing, who has taken to the Coney Islander with even more reverence, likes him the most. And that was before he officially signed for them in the off-season.

Partered up with Randolph Morris, who put up huge numbers for the Ducks last year, fans are going to like what they see at Shougang Arena this season. Neither have ever played in China with a better import, and seeing how both of them were pretty good on their own last year, logic would suggest that they’ll be pretty good together.

The one concern for Beijing this year is the loss of their Asian import, Zaid Abbas. The tireless forward ran circles around opponents last year rebounding, defending and picking up garbage points. Because there are no rules that restrict Asian import players’ playing time, Abbas is one of the most valuable players in the league and Beijing will definitely miss him.

But, is the loss of Abbas really going to affect the Ducks that much? After all, Beijing snuck into the eight spot last season, despite playing a good portion of the year with only one American. (Steve Francis, that was totally on you, man.) Pint-sized Taiwanese point-guard, Lee Hsueh-lin, likes to push the pace and find open teammates, and him and Marbury will be sharing the same backcourt most of the time. Forward Chen Lei is a good all-around player, and “The Journalist,” Ji Zhe, is a big man who can stretch defenses out with his outside shooting.

I think Abbas’ departure is a big blow, but with two Americans playing alongside what basically amounts to the same roster as last season, the Ducks will be in the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Jon Pastuszek

9. Jilin GBT Northeast Tigers

2010-11 record: 12-20 (13th place)
Head coach: Wang Han
Imports: Cartier Martin*, Jameel Watkins, Osama Dahglas (Asian import)

Unlike our good friend Guan Weijia over at Sheridan Hoops, I’m not hopping on the Jilin post-season express right now. But, get back to me in a few weeks and see what I say then, because Jilin definitely has a ton of potential.

Why? The Northeast Tigers are simply loaded in the backcourt with Dahglas, Martin and Yu Shulong, who has spent considerable time with the National Team over the last two summers. Dahglas, who starts at point for the Jordanian National Team, played well for Shanxi last year. With Daghlas, you know what you’re getting — a good playmaker at the point-guard position who is looking to get in the lane and dish to teammates. But he’s not much of a scorer and that’s where Martin will come in. He didn’t get too much run for them, but some people liked him when he was with the Wizards and he should have a big year scoring the ball in this league.

Up front, Jameel Watkins comes back for his second season with Jilin and his fourth overall in the CBA. The 34 year-old isn’t going to put the ball in the hoop too much, but he protects the paint well and rebounds the ball. With Martin doing most of the scoring, they won’t need him to do much else. Zhong Cheng played with the Chinese U-23 Team this summer.

Since the Asian import rule was implemented in 2009, one team has gone from bottom four to the playoffs each season. Of all the teams who qualify for an extra foreigner, Jilin has the best chance to be the third.

Jon Pastuszek

10. Bayi Fubang Rockets

2010-11 record: 17-15 (7th place)
Head Coach: Adijiang (10th year)
Imports: None

You probably know them as the guys who went WWF on the Georgetown Hoyas last August in Beijing. But, in China, they’re mainly known as the team that always wins. If the NiuBBall prophecy is indeed true, however, and the Bayi Rockets do miss the playoffs this year, it will end a 50+ year reign of dominance over Chinese basketball.

Like many people, including a growing number of Chinese, we won’t be needing any tissues when it happens.

Protectors of the old guard, Bayi is primed to miss the playoffs for the first time since the CBA was founded in 1996. Like always, the team that represents the People’s Liberation Army is devoid of any foreigners and will go into battle with a roster comprised entirely of Chinese players. Most famous, of course, is Wang Zhizhi, who will creak into his 15th professional basketball season, his 12th in CBA. The spindly left-hander is running on his last legs — the 2012 London Olympics will be his last international competition for China — and though he’s still capable of throwing up 20-30 points in a game, his best days are way behind him.

That’s not a good thing for the Rockets, who have rode Wang to eight championships since he made his debut in 1995-96. While all solid in their own right, Mo Ke, Zhang Bo and Wang Lei aren’t centerpieces, which means once again the burden will be placed on an aging center who’s played year-round for 15 straight years.

With their superior height advantages all over the court, Bayi will present match-up problems against smaller teams. And like every year, they’ll still get great whistles at home, even when they’re playing bad. Bayi could sneak into the playoffs — especially if the CBA decides that the league still needs soldiers playing under the bright lights — but, I think this is the end of the road for the Rockets as we know them.

Jon Pastuszek

11. DongGuan New Century Leopards
2010-11 record: 25-7 (3rd place)
Head coach: Brian Goorjian (2nd year)
Imports: Josh Akognon, Shavlik Randolph*

The CBA is rarely surprising, which is why DongGuan was such a refreshing team to watch last season. Put under the control of longtime Australian National Team head coach, Brian Goorjian, DongGuan exceeded all pre-season expectations to go 25-7 in the regular season. Goorjian arrived in the spring right after the 2009-10 season and went straight to work on improving the team’s defense. Centering both the offense and defense around Jackson Vroman, whose mobility, passing and versatility made him a organizer and facilitator on both ends, and leaning on Nigerian-American, Josh Akognon, to light the scoreboard from three point-line, the Leopards were able to overcome a young and inexperienced roster to go all the way to the semi-finals, where they lost to eventual champion, Guangdong.

Thing is though, maybe they could have done better. Jackson went down with a fractured hand just before the playoffs and with it, so did DongGuan’s fairy tale season. Was it always unlikely that they were going to beat their DongGuan neighbors? Yes, but it would have been a much more competitive series.

This year, Goorjian is back, but Jackson has left for the Korean Basketball League. Akognon, who took more threes than anyone last year, is also back for another season. He’ll be joined by Shavlik Randolph, has been in-and-out of the NBA the last five years since leaving early from Duke in 2005.

With Goorjian, one of the best coaches in Asia, DongGuan will always be well prepared and will thus win games against teams with more talent. Last year, veterans Zhang Kai and Qiu Biao played arguably the best basketball of their career under him. But, what was already a young team got even younger with the departure of Meng Duo, who went to Xinjiang. Goorjian himself has said that this season is more about the development of DongGuan’s set of promising youngsters Li Muhao, Gu Quan and Sun Tonglin, and not so much about wins.

They’ll take a step backward with the loss of Vroman. But, with Goorjian still at the helm, DongGuan will never be an easy game for opponents and they may even sneak into the playoffs, despite their step back in talent from last year.

Jon Pastuszek

12. Fujian SBS Sturgeons
2010-11 record: 8-24 (16th place)
Head Coach: Joseph Stiebing (1st year)
Imports: Will McDonald, Anthony Roberson*, Zaid Abbas (Asian import)

Zaid Abbas has turned around both Shanghai and Beijing in the two years he's played in the CBA.

The Sturgeons will be happy with any improvements after a pathetic 8-24 record during the 2011 season. As a cellar dweller (bottom four teams), they were eligible to find a third Asian foreign import. Jordan National Zaid Abbas, who is no stranger to turning teams around, will serve as their third import alongside Anthony Roberson and Will McDonald. This will be Abbas’ third stint as the third import for struggling teams, but his previous two teams, Shanghai and Beijing, both improved dramatically with his addition. He doesn’t have a single skill that stands out, but his scrappy play and hustle are infectious.

If Fujian has any hope for a winning season, Abbas will need some help from Anthony Roberson and Will McDonald, who are probably among the least known imports in the CBA. Roberson is a streaky, shoot-first point guard who has occasional lapses on the defensive end. The 32 year-old McDonald has spent the majority of his career playing in Europe and will struggle against the likes of Josh Boone, Randolph Morris, and Kenyon Martin.

Edward Bothfeld 

13. Shandong Kingston Golden Lions
2010-11 record: 14-18 (11th place)
Head Coach: Gong Xiaobin (8th year)
Imports: Alan Anderson*, Othello Hunter*

Last year, Shandong replaced their longtime head coach, Gong Xiaobin, with Bob Weiss, who had coached Shanxi the year before and the Seattle Supersonics before that. Keeping it going with American CBA veterans, Shandong then went with two imports with China experience, Myron Allen and Rodney White.

The end result was not what they were hoping for: 14-18, 11th place.

This season, Shandong is going back with Gong on the bench, but they’re treading in uncharted import territory. Michigan State product, guard Alan Anderson, will mark the beginning of his Chinese career this year, as will power forward, Othello Hunter. Anderson has an impressive resume that includes stints the Charlotte Bobcats, FC Barcelona and Macabbi Tel Aviv. Hunter spent two years with the Atlanta Hawks from 2008-10. Last year he played for Dinamo Basket Sassari in Italy.

The rest we know: Sun Jie is thwacking threes and losing his hair, Sui Ran is flopping all over the place and pissing people off in between the occasional nice drive to the rack, and Ding Yanyuhang is a promising player with a really long name.

Behind Anderson, who I think will do well here, Shandong could be a dangerous match-up against the CBA’s middling teams. But, a lack of dependable Chinese to flank him will once again hold the Golden Lions back from a playoff spot.

Jon Pastuszek

14. Qingdao Double Star Eagles
2010-11 record: 10-22 (15th place)
Head Coach: Zhang Zhengxiu (2nd year)
Imports: Lester Hudson, Peter John Ramos, Sakakini Sani* (Asian import)

Qingdao recovered from their silly initial decision to sign Jarron Collins by first cutting him, and then signing combo guard Lester Hudson. Ike Diogu was on the radar at one point, but the team ultimately settled on 7-3 monster Peter John Ramos, who has spent the last three years with Zhejiang Guangsha.

If the Eagles can get a good big who can score to place alongisde Hudson, then I kind of like this team. Especially when the team’s Asian import, Jordanian forward Sakakini Sani, who played well in China’s second-tier professional league, the National Basketball League, this summer. Though not incredibly skilled, the 6-8 Sani has a big frame which he frequently uses to move bodies under the basket. He’s not on the level of Abbas, but he should have a solid year here playing as many minutes as his coach wants him to.

One cool thing about this team is that their head coach is Korean and the only non-American foreign coach in the league.

Part of me wants to put this team up further because of their nice trio of foreigners, but this squad’s Chinese roster is just too poor. Swingman Li Gen, who averaged a touch over 10 points a game last  year, is the only one I’d tell my friends about. Wang Gang moves to the coast from Shandong, and he’ll step into the point-guard slot. I guess I’ll have to go against impulse and instead settle with merely labeling the Eagles as a potential sleeper.

15. Shanghai Dongfang Sharks
2010-11 record: 12-20 (12th place)
Head Coach: Daniel Panaggio (1st year)
Imports: Mike Harris, Ryan Forehan-Kelly

After a failed attempt to sign with Shanghai last year, Taiwanese national Tseng Wen-ting is finally all set to go in China.

It is now ten years since the Sharks last finished as CBA champions and it remains to be seen if the notoriously fickle Shanghanese will pay much attention to the Sharks now that the days of Yao Ming averaging thirty-points a game seem so far away. These days, the shadow of Yao quite literally hovers over the Sharks team as the now-retired, newly-repatriated Chinese icon watches over the team he famously rescued from bankruptcy in 2009.

The 2011 side is very much one in transition as the Sharks adjust to life without the influential John Lucas III and the popular coach, Bob Donewald. The new man at the helm, former D-League coach, Daniel Panaggio, has arrived with intentions of utilizing the triangle offense, something that has taken a bit of getting used to. Panaggio’s hiring also coincides with the arrivals of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who previously played for the Jiangsu Dragons in 2007-08, and Taiwanese forward, Tseng Wen-ting, both of whom featured prominently in the Sharks’ final pre-season games in Zhejiang province. Tseng’s addition will be particularly welcome — he was supposed to come over last year, but the deal fell apart after the transfer deadline passed.

Predicting how the Sharks’ will do this season very much depends on how full or empty your glass generally tends to be. Cynics will point to the departure of Donewald and lack of big name signings as symptomatic of the club’s lack of ambition. Those of a more positive persuasion can get excited about a new coach bringing fresh ideas to a side that already boasts experienced veterans like Liu Wei and Mike Harris as well as up-and-coming Chinese internationals, “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu, Peng Fei and Zhou Zhang. A mid table finish is the most likely outcome, anything higher would be a decidedly unexpected bonus.

Andrew Crawford 

16. Guangdong Foshan Dralions
2010-11 record: 11-21 (14th place)
Head coach: Jay Humphries (2nd year)
Imports: Marcus Douthit*, Gerald Green*, Michael Maadanly (Asian import)

Gerald Green will be bummed to know that the Chinese don’t typically do cupcakes.

–Jon Pastuszek

17. Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions
2010-11 record: 5-27 (17th place)
Head Coach: Zhang Jian (11th year)
Imports: David Harrison, Donnell Harvey, Rony Fahed (Asian import)

After finishing at the bottom of the league last year, Tianjin opted not to retain American head coach, Bob MacKinnon Jr., instead going with the guy who coached them in 2009-10, Zhang Jian. They also decided against bringing back NiuBBall.com CBA Defensive Player of the Year, American guard Vernon Hamilton, despite his string of strong performances to end the year.

Instead they went with a familiar strategy — going with two big men as their Americans. Last year it was Lee Benson and Herve Lamizana, this year its David Harrison and Donnell Harvey. They used their Asian import spot on Lebanese point guard, Rony Fahed. If they’re lucky, they may get 40 points a night out of the three. Harrison is not even one year removed from a broken fibula and hasn’t looked good in pre-season games. Harvey, who enjoyed two great seasons for Jiangsu in 2008-09 and 2009-10, will do what he does best, attacking the offensive glass, but isn’t someone who they’ll be able to throw the ball into on the low block.

With their poor choices in the foreign market and their deplorable Chinese roster, look for Tianjin to once again finish at the bottom of the league.

–Jon Pastuszek

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Weekend Jianbing

October 9, 2011

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Getting your weekend going with China’s best and most versatile street snack.
  • Kenyon Martin is in Urumqi with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers and he’s talking to Yahoo!’s Marc Spears about his decision to come to China, his old NBA squad, the Denver Nuggets, and his future in the NBA. Definitely worth the read, but just know that unless the CBA has suddenly decided to extend the season by two months (and given the league’s propensity to do stuff at the last minute, that wouldn’t surprise us) the playoffs end in March, not May.
  • K-Mart’s not the only China Nugget to be talking, though. HoopsHype did an interview with Wilson Chandler, who will play this season with the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions.
  • Earl Clark, who was supposed to be Chandler’s teammate in Hangzhou, is officially back in the United States. Once the lockout ends, he’ll be an unrestricted free-agent.
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim Yardley has written a very informative and detailed breakdown of the Bayi Rockets, aka the team that brawled against the Georgetown Hoyas back in August, on Grantland. Yardley, who was based in Beijing for the New York Times a few years before moving to India, is coming out with a book called “Brave Dragons,” which chronicles the Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons’ season in 2008-09. To say that we’re excited would be an understatement.
  • Guan Weijia, a Chinese writer for the China-based Titan Sports, is writing in English for former AP and ESPN basketball writer Chris Sherdian’s new website, SheridanHoops.com. We think that’s great — the more informed and accurate information/analysis the Western English-speaking world can get about Chinese hoops, the better. Guan’s must-read column will appear on the site every Wednesday. We’re looking forward to next Wednesday already.
  • And we’re not the only ones who think that, either. Truth About It’s Kyle Weide wrote a solid piece about Yi Jianlian and failed expectations in reaction to Guan’s piece on Yi written two weeks ago. Is Yi still worthy of the NBA? Our two cents: Yes, simply because teams will be willing to sign him to a deal in the hopes of penetrating the all important China market. Even if NBA ratings across China are down, there’s still a lot of Yi interest in his home province of Guangdong, population 100 million. And although he’s never really proven himself yet, with that body and athleticism, I’m sure there’s some GM’s who’d be willing to take a cheap flyer on him in the hopes that he can blossom into a solid role player.
  • AmericaPacers, we’re eagerly awaiting your reply.
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Bob MacKinnon Jr. Interview

September 29, 2011

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Bob MacKinnon Jr., who spent last season in the Chinese Basketball Association with Tianjin Rongcheng, takes a moment to instruct a player during a late season game against Jiangsu in March.(Photo: Sina Sports)

The wild world of the Chinese Basketball Association has had a long, noticeable history of foreign players, numbers of which have only increased not just in size, but also in star-power as the league has developed over the years. In the last two seasons, Bonzi Wells, Stephon Marbury, Ricky Davis, Steve Francis, Rafer Alston and more have all flew over the Pacific Ocean to the Middle Kingdom in hopes of extending their careers, tapping into a huge market, and ultimately making some nice cash. Countless others of NBA D-Leaguers and fringe NBA players have also made the jump as well.

But, while some people know who is playing on the court, many don’t know that the league and Chinese basketball as a whole has made a push to bring in more foreigners on the sidelines, too. Last year, five six foreign head coaches, Bob Weiss (Shandong), Jay Humphries (Guangdong), Bob MacKinnon Jr. (Tianjin), Bob Donewald  Jr. (Shanghai), Casey Owens (Fujian) and Brian Goorjian (DongGuan), roamed the sidelines in their respective Chinese cities, brought in to not only get wins, but to establish Western training methods into a country that is still very much behind the curve in that area.

Last season, the Tianjin Ronggang Golden Lions were one of those teams. With a young roster full of potential, Tianjin went with MacKinnon, someone who has had his fair share of experience developing players. The son of former NBA/ABA general manager, Bob MacKinnon Sr., the younger MacKinnon has spent time in the NBA D-League, guiding the Colorado 14ers to a title in 2008-09 before moving on to coach the Idaho Stampede in 2009-10. Before Colorado, MacKinnon worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers. He also worked as an assistant under Matt Doherty in Notre Dame and North Carolina, and coached as well as at Marshall.

Arriving with optimism, MacKinnon was quickly introduced to basketball with Chinese characteristics. One of the smallest budget teams in the league, Tianjin couldn’t afford to hire assistant coaches, athletic trainers, video coordinators or any other person who could take some of the load off of MacKinnon. After hearing about his situation early in the year, we at NiuBBall unofficially announced ourselves as volunteer team video coordinator, a job which required helping the non-Chinese reading Coach Mac get online video of his next opponents.

Our first professional gig didn’t go so well: Tianjin finished the year in last place at 5-27 and after a lengthy, drawn out off-season decision making process, management elected not to bring back MacKinnon for another season. They are instead going with the Chinese coach who preceded him the year before.

Good for MacKinnon though, people in the States recognize that the man is a heck of a coach. Two weeks ago, MacKinnon was announced as the new head coach of the D-League’s Springfield Armor. The Armor are run by the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets, making the new job an impressive opportunity. Based on his track record, MacKinnon should be an excellent fit with the franchise.

But most impressive is how Coach MacKinnon can now enjoy the highly honorable distinction of being the first ever CBA coach — foreign or Chinese — to be interviewed by NiuBBall.com. We chatted with him last weekend to reflect on last year with Tianjin, the state of Chinese basketball, the quality of the CBA and more.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk about Tianjin. How did you first find out about the job?

Bob MacKinnon Jr.: A friend of mine who is a scout with the Minnesota Timberwolves, J.T. Prada, who had coached over in China, called me about it last year in late September and just picked up on it from there. I went back and forth a little bit and decided to do it and came out in late October.

NiuBBall: What ultimately led you to deciding to take the job?

BM: I wanted to see what the CBA was all about. I had never been to China and I thought it would be a great opportunity to coach internationally and experience international basketball and a new a culture.

NiuBBall: What kind of impressions did you have of China and of Chinese basketball before you came out? Did you have any initial expectations?

BM: I knew that the country was huge and I knew that basketball was huge in China and I was excited about the excitement level of basketball in China. And obviously what someone like Yao Ming has meant to Chinese basketball and I kind of felt like basketball in China was on the up rise and gaining popularity and gaining exposure. And I think its going to keep getting better and better.

NiuBBall: Before you flew out to China and then once you got to Tianjin, what were your thoughts about the team? What kind of expectations did ownership have for the team?

BM: Well its interesting. Everything is done through an agent and I never really talked to the people in Tianjin. Its all done through intermediaries and basically I found out when I first got there that I was hired as a consultant first. They wanted me to watch and observe, then they asked me to take over practices in the pre-season. So I did that for a couple of weeks and I guess after doing that for a few weeks and doing a few exhibition games, I passed the test. And then they decided to take me on for the rest of the year [laughing].

NiuBBall: So when you arrived in Tianjin were you expecting to be head coach?

BM: I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was coming out to coach, but then I learned that I guess I was on a tryout, which I wasn’t aware of when I first got there. But, I learned that’s kind of the way its done. I was confident in my abilities and I’m confident in what I know from a basketball standpoint, that I can teach it. We had a very, very young and inexperienced team and I think they wanted someone who could teach and put in a system that they could grow on for the next five or ten years.

NiuBBall: After the adjustment period and once things got settled in, what did you begin to realize about the team and Chinese basketball as a whole?

BM: After going through the exhibition games and stuff, we actually were above .500 in our exhibition games. We had played well. But, I realized that we were very thin and inexperienced in the backcourt. I saw around the league that the best teams have good backcourts, as with most teams. You have to get good guard play. And we just weren’t on that level.

We had some good wing players, I thought Herve [Lamizana] was a good four-man for us who could play as a perimeter four. And I thought we could get by with the big kids we had, the Chinese players, but we need to be stronger in the backcourt. And I think that’s where we had problems. But, you know we played the exhibition games very well and started off the season with a great win against Shanghai. And then our best point-guard, our best Chinese point-guard, got hurt and we was out for about the next month and a half with a back injury. And we just didn’t have enough depth to sustain that.

NiuBBall: Were you then looking to bring in a foreign guard? Was that something you talked to management about?

BM: Well I had talked to management from the first time I saw them play. I told them that the guy they should be looking to sign was a good backcourt player to go along with Herve. They thought that we needed to bring in more of a center. And that’s when they decided to sign Lee Benson. Lee just wasn’t a good fit and it took me about 19 games for me to convince them of that [laughing].

Luckily, we were able to get Vernon Hamilton over. Had we had Vernon from the beginning of the year, I think that the season would have turned out much differently and the Chinese players around him would have gotten much better as the year went on because Vernon helps his teammates get better and he’s a great teammate. And not only could he hold his own against the better guards in the league, but he would have made everyone else around him better. And I think to be honest, you would have seen a drastic difference in how we played.

NiuBBall: Why do you think management was so unwilling to make that switch, even as the games went on and you continued to drop in the standings?

BM: I don’t know. I think they had it in their mind what they wanted to do, and it just took some realistic facts to get them to come around. They told me they wanted two bigs from the beginning and I again, I didn’t think that was the way to go. But, that was their choice.

NiuBBall: Unlike some of the other teams with foreign head coaches, you did not have a foreign assistant coach on your staff. What was it like to work with your Chinese staff?

BM: Well, there was the GM and the assistant GM and those two were really good people. They tried to do their best with the financial constraints that the team was under. You know, I did not really have an assistant coach per se. During practices, I was the only coach. We did not have a strength coach, so I was the one who took the team in and did the stuff in the weight room with them. We didn’t have a video coordinator as you well know. So I had to rely on you to get videos [laughing]. So the financial constraints kind of limited what the GM was able to do and what he was able to provide me.

That’s fine. I enjoy coaching players. And I enjoy being with the players everyday. I did every single individual workout with the players, I did every practice with the players, every film breakdown, every weight room workout. I really enjoyed working with the players.

NiuBBall: One of the things I’ve heard foreign coaches and players say about the Chinese is that there’s a big difference in the level of effort given in practice compared to players in the Western world. After coaching a full season here, what are your thoughts on that?

BM: I think the Chinese system… they practice for long periods of time several times a day. And I think that the Chinese players learn how to pace themselves. Basketball is bang-bang-bang, and moving from one play to the next quickly. It’s quick movements and quick actions.

So what I did when I got there, through time, I cut our practices down and I asked them to give me maximum effort for a shorter amount of time. And I think as time went on, our players saw the sense in that and adjusted to that and really did a great job of doing that, of just giving maximum effort over a shorter period of time. And I think they got better.

NiuBBall: Players have gone on the record in previous interviews talking about the various day-to-day adjustments they have to make while playing here. As a coach, what were some of the things you had to adjust to off the court while you were in Tianjin?

BM: I think the biggest thing is the food.  And getting used to eating with chopsticks was a challenge, I’m not sure the players ever thought I mastered that skill.  Also the time difference is a big adjustment.  Calling home on a totally opposite clock is somewhat different and at times confusing. Lastly one of the things that I never quite got used to was that in most of the hotels you sleep on what I consider to be a box spring here in the States, no real mattresses.  That took some getting used to.

NiuBBall: The CBA suffers from a number of issues that holds the league back. If you could magically press a button and change one thing about the league, what would you change?

BM: I think there has to be a uniform agreement among all the teams on facilities. You go from one facility to the next and some are heated, some are not. Some were clean and great to play, and some were dirty. So I think there has to be some sort of uniform commitment to facilities and making sure people have adequate practice time and practice availability, and that it’s the same temperature in every arena for every game. It might seem like a little thing, but when you got guys sitting on your bench in parkas, that’s just not the way to play the game.

And then I think the level of officiating needs to get better. I think they need to get someone in there who is going to be strong to head the officials, and train them and teach them. And again, I think its a financial obligation that the league has to make to officials and to train and to teach. And I think if they do that, the officiating will get better and the league will get better.

NiuBBall: There’s a lot of NBA players coming to the league this season, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, and now Kenyon Martin among others, what would be your advice to them as they start the year here in China?

BM: I would say enjoy the experience and enjoy the people. Because the people love basketball and overall I found the people to be very generous and outgoing. And you know there’s so many people. And enjoy going out and seeing a different culture. It’s different. Different isn’t bad and it isn’t good, it’s just different. I enjoyed my experience in getting to know people out there. I’d go out for a run in different cities and it’s funny, I think I’m the only person who runs or jogs in China [laughing]. People are looking at me and cars are honking at me and stuff and it’s just good to get out and see the different culture.

NiuBBall: A lot of foreign players, especially ones fresh off playing in the NBA, find the adjustment to China difficult. Do you think these guys can stay the whole year?

BM: That’s all personal circumstance. I don’t see why not. The season is short. Again, it’s great to go around to see the culture. There’s such a variation of culture just within China, from Shanghai to some of these other provincies. Or Beijing, which is almost more of a Western city, to some of these more outlaying places. To me, it was just very fascinating to see and just the size of the country itself to travel and see. In one place, its almost totally different than another place, yet you’re still in China. It was really fascinating to see all of that.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk really quickly about your new job with Springfield. Are you excited to return to the D-League and coach the Armor?

BM: I’m extremely happy. This is a great opportunity. The NBA Development League, in my mind, is the second best league in the world behind the NBA. The players play hard all the time because they know they’re being looked at all the time. And its to great to coach guys on the level that they’re on that are motivated. And for me to be with the Springfield Armor, whose basketball operations are owned and operated by the New Jersey Nets, is a great opportunity because I am an extension of Avery Johnson’s staff now. For me to have the experience to learn from Coach Johnson and Tom Barise and Popeye Jones, Sam Mitchell, is just a great opportunity.

NiuBBall: Coach, we wish you the best of luck in Springfield this season. Thanks a lot for the chat.

BM: Thanks, Jon.

Follow Jon Pastuszek on Twitter @NiuBBall or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall

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Vernon Hamilton Interview

March 7, 2011

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Hungry: It’s the feeling most foreigners living in China experience a mere two hours after chowing down on a plate of some cheap Chinese food.  It’s also the adjective best used to describe Tianjin’s newest import guard, Vernon Hamilton, who has come to play in China this season with the intention of coming back next season.

Judging from the last three and a half weeks, he looks good on fulfilling that goal.

Flying out to Northeast China on short notice in early February at the request of Tianjin head coach, Bob MacKinnon, who coached Hamilton while with the Colorado 14ers in 2008-09, the 6-foot guard has quickly established himself in the country as a difference maker in the win column, and as arguably the best one-on-one perimeter defenders in the CBA.

Actually, it just took one game for the former All-ACC Defensive standout to make claim to those titles.  In his Tianjin debut, Hamilton went right to work on the defensive end, limiting the streak scoring Josh Akognon to just 17 points on 5-19 shooting, while scoring 23 points, dishing out eight assists and swiping five steals himself to pace the Gold Lions’ upset win at home against second placed DongGuan.

Since then, Hamilton has locked up Guangdong’s Lester Hudson (who shot 10-25 for 28 points under Hamilton’s keen watch), Qingdao’s Dee Brown (4-15, 12 points) Jilin’s Tim Pickett (5-12, 18 points) and Shandong’s Myron Allen (0-7, 1 point).  And although Tianjin still sits in last place entering the last two games of the year, the team has won two games with Hamilton over his 11 games in China, which is almost as many as the three they won in their previous 21 without him.

Playing shorthanded from injuries and an unexpected split with their other import last week, forward Herve Lamizana, Hamilton has done his best to shoulder the offensive load too, averaging 35.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists over his last three games as the team’s lone import.  On the season, he’s averaging 26.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5 assists and 3.3 steals.

And when we recently sat down with Vernon in Beijing to get his take on the CBA, the D-League and late-night delivery options in Tianjin, we learned that after tasting a partial season in the China, he’s hungry for even more.

NiuBBall: Just watching you two interact during practice and off the court, its easy to tell that you and Coach MacKinnon feel really comfortable with each other.  What has it been like to reunite with him in Tianjin?

Vernon Hamilton: Getting back with Coach was great because he’s so familiar with my style of play.  It’s not like I was going to a new coach for the first time where we both would have had to learn from each other.  I know [Coach MacKinnon] as well as he knows me and I also know what he expects out of me night in and night out.  He’s a great coach and me being a defensive minded guard fits right into his style of play with his many defensive schemes.

NiuBBall: What did he tell you about the league when you first got here?

VH: He told me not to expect to get a lot of calls. It’s tough playing in the away gyms, but nothing I haven’t seen before. He told me just mainly continue to find the time to take care of my body because I wouldn’t have access to as many things that I do have in the States.  But, I like China.  I was telling my agent I’m trying to get back over here to play [next year] and just try to finish these next games up strong so that will happen.

NiuBBall: So you’re definitely trying to come back to the CBA next season?

VH: I am.  I like the country.  This team has been very good with helping me to get as organized and as comfortable as possible.  Making sure I have meal money, telling me where I can eat, I have a translator that really helps me out… And the coaches have really given me the freedom to be a leader.  You know, just being able to make decisions on the court with these guys.  I would love to return.  I think with a full season over here and a training camp, I would be able to offer a team a lot.  I want to be a playoff contender next season I know Tianjin has the capabilities as well as a lot of other teams here in the CBA.  I look forward to working out a deal soon to get back playing in the CBA next season.

NiuBBall: You came out real short notice.  Coach MacKinnon reached out to you, your D-League team put you on waivers and then you were playing in China. Is that pretty much how it went?

VH: Yeah, at first I didn’t think it was going to get done for a little bit.  My D-League team (the Dakota Wizards) wasn’t really comfortable with that.  But, they understood it was an opportunity.  That’s what that league is for, to open up doors.  So, eventually they were able to be alright with it.  Coach had contacted me… I check in with Coach every two or three weeks anyways, just to say hello and to see how he’s doing out here, and then when he told me that they were ready to make a change, and that they wanted to go with a guard, he thought I could come out here and really help.  I said “Please!” and I jumped right on it [laughing].  I flew back with him [to China] and I made my decision right when we talked and I was on a plane [to China] on the following Saturday.  So it was quick.

NiuBBall: Sounds like you wanted to get out and play somewhere else.

VH: Yeah, I did.  I noticed that there’s a lot of good players over here, especially with the Americans.  And I was just like, if you can go over there and hold your own against those guys, it’ll speak volumes.  I was just ready for something different.

NiuBBall: If another team in China reached out to you, do you think you still would have been as eager to play here?  Or was Coach MacKinnon one of the main reasons?

VH: Coach Mac definitely played a role because I knew what he expected from me.  With another coach that I had never played under before, I wouldn’t have known exactly what he wanted me to do, if he just wanted defense out of me or some offense or both.  I knew Coach Mac was familiar with me, so we could just go right from the start.  But, I wouldn’t have minded playing for a Chinese coach either.  At the end of the day, you just gotta win out here… and put up numbers.  So yeah, I still would have came.

NiuBBall: What were some of your goals when you first arrived in China?

VH: Well, Coach MacKinnon told me that we had 13 games left and we wanted to win as many as we could out of those 13.  Our goal was to play somewhere around .500 or higher.  We tried to set a realistic goal, to try to get some upsets and to mainly carry some momentum over into next season.  That first DongGuan game was big.  To win at home, it kind of gave me some momentum going forward.  We lost a very close game to Marcus Williams and his team (Zhejiang Chouzhou), that one came down to the stretch.  And of course we got that win against Jilin, and the game before that (against Liaoning) we should have won that, but I struggled.  That was tough on me, it was one of my first bad games out here. I had 12 points, didn’t shoot well from the field and I knew me making a few more shots could have been the difference in the game.  But, it allowed me to refocus for Jilin.

NiuBBall: Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that DongGuan game.  Your first game for Tianjin, playing against one of the best teams in the league, going up against one of the top scoring guards in the league, Josh Akognon, tell us what that was like to get off to such a great start in a new league.

VH: You know, sometimes when you just go play and you don’t have time to think it, you almost do better.  Because [when you are thinking], you’re so busy worrying about everything, you end up playing like a robot.  But, I had been in training camp earlier this year [with the Detroit Pistons], guarding guys like Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey.  One is 6-4 who can bang on you down in the post, and then you got Will Bynum who can jump out of the gym.  It kind of prepared me for a lot.  And then there’s a lot of good guards in the D-League, me and Scottie Reynolds had some good matchups, Zabian Dowdell… you know, so I was ready for it.  That’s the main thing I wanted to do when I got out here, was to establish myself on defense.  I think [Akognon] was averaging 25 or 26 and I held him to 17.  I’m noticing what Coach Mac wants out of me, it was the same thing against [Jilin’s] Tim Pickett.  He had 18 [points] and I was just trying to frustrate him.  So over here with those guards, just to be able to get off the plane and play right away, it worked out because I’ve been able to play so freely.

NiuBBall: You mentioned your experience in camp with the Pistons as something that’s helped you prepare for playing overseas, do you think the D-League has also done a good job in preparing you to play against higher levels of competition?

VH: The D-League has.  It’s good because it allows guys to get signed up and down [from their NBA].  From my team, Chris Johnson got called up, DeMarre Carroll got sent down from the Grizzlies, so you have a lot of guys who are coming to the D-League now who are being sent down, and it makes the competition better.  In the D-League, the main issue obviously is the fan base and the support, because a lot of these cities already have professional teams, so they don’t need minor league teams. But outside of that, it was good for me.  But, I was ready for a change, something different.

NiuBBall: A lot of D-League guys have played before in China, did you talk to them at all before you flew out or were you thinking you were just going to come out first and figure things out for yourself later?

VH: It was more figure it out later.  I know some guys that have been over here in their career, and they’ve told me just how important it is to win over here.  Because a lot of guys come here and they put up big numbers and they still gone.  I think what it is, is that it’s got to be the right fit.  You gotta be making the players around you better.  If you’re not a difference maker, you’re going to have a short career in China.  It’s a great league though, good competition.  You know what, I did talk to somebody. I talked to John Lucas pretty often.  He’s a good friend of mine, because he was on that 14ers team, too.  I worked out with him my junior year in college, I spent the whole summer with him and his Dad.  John’s a great guy.  He told me what to expect and what to do, so it was good to have John kind of get in my ear early and tell me what to do over here.

NiuBBall: What have you been eating mostly since you’ve been here?

VH: I’ve had my share of noodles.  I haven’t tried any raw food, I haven’t gone that route yet.  No chicken heads for me [laughing].  Typically, I’ll eat pasta.  I eat at Friday’s a lot.  My Mom told me to get some Chinese food [laughing].  It’s not too bad.  I haven’t really stepped too far out, but I think before I leave I’m going to try and experience some more.  I’ve noticed I’m hungrier a lot more often.  You know, because it’s hard to find food late at night.  Most things shut down, and then it’s over for the night.

NiuBBall: I see you’ve figured out that after 10pm everything pretty much closes around here.

VH: Right, so I gotta order my food before I go to the game so I can have it after.

NiuBBall: Vernon, thanks again for hanging out, good luck with everything this season and beyond.

VH: No problem, thanks a lot.

Follow NiuBBall on Twitter @NiuBBall, or on Sina Weibo @NiuBBall.

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Vernon Hamilton stars in Tianjin debut, Anthony Myles signs with Liaoning

February 11, 2011

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After officially signing with Tianjin for the remainder of the season two days ago in replacement of Lee Benson, Vernon Hamilton led the Golden Lions to a huge 111-104 upset last night over second place DongGuan last night in Tianjin.

The former All-ACC Defensive standout at Clemson, who holds school records for single season and career steals, immediately lived up to his reputation as a pesky ball-hawker, accumulating a total of five steals while limiting DongGuan’s sharpshooting guard, Josh Akognon, to just 5-19 from the field.  Akognon had entered the game as the league’s eighth leading scorer, averaging an even 26 points per contest.  Tianjin’s Zhang Nan led all scorers with 27 and Herve Laminzana delivered a double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.

The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Lions and puts their overall record at 4-16, while DongGuan drops to 17-4.

Hamilton, who comes into the team after playing part of this season in the D-League with the Dakota Wizards and Austin Toros, is being counted on by Coach Bob MacKinnon to bring stability to a point-guard position that has caused trouble for Tianjin all season.  Hamilton played under MacKinnon in the D-League in 2008-09 for the Colorado 14ers, who went on to win the championship that year.  Shortly after, the team announced they would be relocating to Frisco, Texas to resume play in 2010-11 as the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks’ affiliate team, and the team broke up.

Given MacKinnon and Hamilton’s experience and familiarity with each other and the fact that Tianjin desperately needed a solid point-guard who could control tempo, the move seems like an ideal fit for all player, coach and team.  If his debut was no fluke, Hamilton and Tianjin may no longer be an easy win for opponents.

While in the D-League this year, Hamilton played 12 games for the Wizards, averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists, and 4 games for the Toros, averaging 13.5-3.5-3.8.  Last year, he played abroad in Europe in Ukraine and Switzerland.

In other player movement news, Liaoning has announced that they have signed forward Anthony Myles for the rest of the season.  He will replace Chris Richard.

This is not Myles’ first stint in China.  Nor it is even is second.  Myles played in both 2006-2007 with DongGuan where led the league in scoring with 32.1 points per game, before playing the following season alongside current Shanghai Sharks forward, Mike Harris.  Myles comes over to China from playing in Greece.

Myles will make his first start tonight against Bayi.

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