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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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CBA off-season carousel in full swing

March 14, 2012

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As the the playoffs rage on come to a grinding halt (thanks, Shanxi), and as we’re back on the blogging trail, now seems as good a time as ever to update everyone on the coaching and front office changes that are going on around the league.

Jim Cleamons not coming back to Guangsha; Wang Fei set to return?

Jim Cleamons, like a lot of foreign coaches over the years who were originally promised long-term stays with their Chinese squads, won’t be back for a second season in Guangsha. Initially brought in to install a program that would promote long-term development, Cleamons was a big reason why Guangsha was able to land Wilson Chandler during the NBA lockout. With his Bulls/Lakers triangle-offense import working well along with his NBA import, the Lions got off to a great 13-4 start that had some people thinking that they were a legit threat to Guangdong.

But once the lockout ended and it became apparent that he had a huge contract waiting for him in the States, Chandler turned on the cruise control, Cleamons turned off the triangle, and Guangsha sputtered to a 2-9 record over their next 11. They eventually made the playoffs, but in order to get back before the March 1st offer-sheet deadline, Chandler left back to the U.S. and Cleamons was left with Rodney White to face Beijing. As most (but not all) would guess, Guangsha was swept out of the playoffs.

With Cleamons out, the team is reportedly considering bringing back former China National Team head coach, Wang Fei, who was in Guangsha from 2007-11. Nothing official has been announced at this time, however.

Liaoning get rejected by Jiang Xingquan, hire Wu Qinglong

It is the official opinion of NiuBBall that Liaoning should be better than they are. Like, way better. After Guangdong’s roster of National Team stars, Liaoning  has the best domestic lineup of players. With Guo Ailun, Zhang Qingpeng, Yang Ming, Han Dejun and Li Xiaoxu among others all healthy this season, there was simply no good reason as to why the Jaguars weren’t in the post-season.

And it’s an opinion that Liaoning management apparently agrees with. They fired Guo Shiqiang midway through the season and after his replacement, Li Ge couldn’t guide them to a better record, they’ve decided they’re done with him too. According to QQ Sports, Liaoning at first had decided to find a foreign coach, but with the National Games coming up in 2013 – a competition that foreigners are not allowed to participate — management felt going with a Chinese coach was the better decision.

Atop their list was Jiang Xingquan, who is from the province and coached Liaoning in 1970 and from 1976-90. Jiang’s homecoming in the twilight of his career seemed like a storybook ending to the most impressive resume in Chinese basketball history, until Liaoning’s master plan hit a snag: Jiang wasn’t down. Jiang has a good deal in Xinjiang and at 72 years-old, he’s not willing to go through the day-to-day grind of head coach.

So in comes Wu Qinglong, who coached at Liaoning from 1997-2001, where he lead the team to two appearances in the CBA Finals in four years. In the years after, he served as head coach in Yunnan, Shaanxi, Shanxi and Fujian among other teams before landing back with Liaoning as their youth coach, and with the China Youth National Teams. Last year, he coached the Chinese U-16 Team (lead by none other than Zhou Qito a gold medal at the FIBA Asia U-16 Championship.

Xinjiang signs Cui Wanjun to five-year deal, Jiang Xingquan to step down (again)

If his re-appointment as head coach just 11 games into the Bob Donewald era was shocking, this is the exact opposite: Jiang Xingquan, after telling Liaoning no thank you, won’t be in his big chair on the Xinjiang bench next season. The Xinmin Evening News is citing an anonymous source who says that Xinjiang has officially signed Cui Wanjun to a five-year deal. The 72 year-old Jiang will go back to his original position as advisor, a role that he agreed upon shortly after the team hired Donewald last summer.

Cui is actually a pretty interesting story. Hardcore Memphis Tigers fans will remember him as the Chinese guy who was with John Calipari and the rest of the Tiger coaching staff for the entire 2007-08 season in Memphis. As an intern, Cui followed Coach Cal and the team so he could learn their practice structure, up-tempo offense, strength and conditioning methods,and overall team management. After the season in June, he received a Final Four ring from Calipari when he and a group of players from Conference USA came to China for a set of exhibition games and coaching clinics.

Careful NiuBBall readers will recognize Cui as the former head coach of the NBL’s Jiangsu Tongxi, who in addition to winning a championship last year, also helped polish the game of NiuBBall.com Rookie of the Year, Zhu Yanxi. I’ve never seen Tongxi play, but they apparently liked to play fast; not surprising given Cui’s connection with Calipari.

Wang Min the latest head to roll at Jiangsu

Joining Liaoning and Bayi on the list of traditional CBA powers not to make the playoffs this season, Jiangsu is busy cleaning house as they try to recover from a dead last place 9-23 season. Longtime head coach, Xu Qiang, was the first to be axed before his replacement, Hu Weidong, was told not to come back after the season. Not content with just clearing out the bench, Dragons general manager, Wang Min, is also stepping down.

After finishing in fourth place last year after Antoine Wright saved their season from Ricky Davis, one would have hoped that Jiangsu had learned how to pick good imports this season. Instead, they signed Dan Gadzuric and Mardy Collins, both of whom didn’t last more than eight games. Gadzuric was replaced by 2010-11 NiuBBall.com First Teamer, Jackson Vroman, who CBA teams should have never let get away in the first place; Collins was replaced by Marcus Williams (the UCONN one), who may have been the worst import in league history.

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Breaking down the CBA playoff picture

January 28, 2012

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Zhejiang Chouzhou’s success will depend on whether or not J.R. Smith is still committed to playing at high level in the Chinese Basketball Association (Photo: Osports, via Sina Sports)

Let’s reflect for a moment on what we’re doing here right now. You’re about to read a post about the very complicated, very indistict Chinese Basketball Association playoff picture. That in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. Why? Never, and I mean never has the CBA enjoyed this much parity down the standings, and never have we seen a finish that we’re about to see starting tomorrow: Seven playoff spots up fo grabs with 11 teams in legitimate contention to fill them up.

Starting with Beijing, who at 17-8 currently sits in the No. 2 position, and going all the way down to Jilin, who’s at 11-13 occupying the No. 11 spot, more than half the league will be gunning for the post-season with eight rounds to go. Like I said, that’s just nuts for a league whose final standings can be predicted with stunning accuracy up to six months before the start of the season.

Making things even crazier, everyone pretty much has the same record right now. Only three games in the loss column separate DongGuan (16-9, third place) and Xinjiang (12-12, 10th place), which means that tiebreakers like head-to-head records and head-to-head point differentials will most definitely come into play by the time we hit Round 34. Added to all of the positional jockeying that will be going down in an attempt to avoid Guangdong in the semi-finals, and we should have a highly refreshing, exciting and unpredictable race to the finish.

To help you sort though the madness, NiuBBall is breaking down the post-Spring Festival break schedule while also providing predictions that will likely end up being very wrong.

1. Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers (21-4)
Remaining Games: Jilin, Liaoning, at DongGuan, Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi, Bayi

After losing to J.R. Smith and Zhejiang on December 30th, the Southern Tigers have reeled off eight straight wins to put some major distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. They’ve already clinched a playoff birth, and barring something as catastrophic as the 2012 Mayan Armageddon, they’ll have the No. 1 seed wrapped up with plenty of games to spare. No prediction needed here.

2. Beijing Shougang Ducks (17-8)
Remaining Games: Jiangsu, Tianjin, at Qingdao, at Shandong, Foshan, Shanghai, at Guangsha

The Ducks ran off 13 straight wins to start the year before proceeding to lose eight of their next 12. Yet despite the midseason slip-up, the Ducks are in excellent shape to hold onto their No. 2 spot. Their next five games, three of which are at home, are all against non-playoff teams. Even better, three of those five teams, Jiangsu, Tianjin and Foshan, have the three of the worst records in the CBA.

The Ducks wil also be boosted by the return of Taiwanese point guard, Lee Huseh-lin, who is practicing for the first time since hurting his lower back on December 9th. Lee is a key player for head coach Min Lulei — Playing off the bench this year with Stephon Marbury dominating the point, Lee is the only other guard who is able to take some of the ball handling duties away from their star import. There’s still no timetable on Lee’s return, but it appears as he’s well on his way back onto the court.

Prediction: 23-9, No. 2 seed

3. DongGuan New Century Leopards (16-9)
Games Remaining
: at Guangsha, Jilin, Liaoning, Guangdong, Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi

DongGuan goes back to work after their Year of the Dragon vacation with a visit to the notoriously unfriendly confines of Guangsha Hangzhou Stadium, where the visiting team has walked away with a win only three times this year. It’s a huge game because the winner will put themselves in pole position for the much coveted No. 3 spot, which guarantees that a playoffs matchup with Guangdong will come in the Finals.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Leopards afterwards — five of their last seven are against teams with winning records, and the other two, Jilin and Xinjiang, are teams on the cusp of a playoff spot. If DongGuan can lock up a top two position, nobody can say they didn’t earn it. After starting the year 0-4, third place is impressive. But when you consider that they’ve only beaten five teams with winning records this year, a drop in the standings looks to be the most probable outcome.

Prediction: 20-12, No. 4 seed

4. Zhejiang Guangsha Lions (14-10)
Games Remaining
: DongGuan, Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi, Bayi, Zhejiang, at Jiangsu, Beijing

Considered a potential contender to Guangdong’s throne just three weeks ago, the Lions have dropped six of their last seven, including loses to Foshan, Qingdao and Jilin. Much of that is on the shoulders of Wilson Chandler, who has scored 15.8 points per game over his last four. When Chandler is motivated, there’s not a more versatile player in this league. But the challenge for Guangsha all season has been maintaining a balance between him and the rest of the Chinese squad. Lin Chih-chieh, who put in 15.5 points a game last year, has seen his scoring drop to 11. Jin Lipeng is the only other domestic player to average double figures.

When Guangsha was winning, Chandler was content to let P.J. Ramos and his other teammates share the heavy lifting on offense for the first three quarters before taking over in the fourth. It was a good recipe when Chandler was up to the task. But when he’s coasting and content to throw up jump shots (33 three point attempts over his last five, 14 free-throw attempts over his last four), Guangsha is a highly beatable team.

Unlike most other imports, Chandler, like his inter-province NBA-to-CBAer, J.R. Smith, is heading back to a big payday in the NBA after the season is over. Long-term, this season will not affect anything he does in the NBA as long as he stays healthy. Whether it’s this season or next, Chandler will receive a lucrative multi-year offer from a wing-needy NBA team. That point is something to keep in mind as we close the season — if he’s already decided to play to not get hurt, then Guangsha’s chances at the No. 2 position have taken a big hit. The next few games should be a telling sign as to how dedicated Chandler is to finishing out the CBA season strong.

Guangsha hosts DongGuan tomorrow in the game of Round 26. DongGuan won the first match-up earlier in the year in DongGuan. Guangsha will have to win and win by more than the seven points they were beaten by if they’re to hold the tiebreaker against their opponents — something that will come in handy in sidestepping Guangdong in the semis if the two squads finish with the same record at the end of the year. Behind a rejuvenated Chandler playing at home, Guangsha gets a double-digit win and a leg up on the third seed.

Prediction: 20-12, No. 3 seed

5. Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons (14-10)
Games Remaining
: at Shandong, Foshan, Shanghai, Guangsha, at Jilin, at Liaoning, Guangdong, DongGuan

The good news for Shanxi: They’re four games over .500 and are in good position to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The bad news: It’s the Year of the Dragon, which means its the Brave Dragons ben ming nian, their Zodiac year, a year that is associated with very bad luck.

Wearing red underwear (or red Under Armour, if you’re a ball player) is one way, according to Chinese tradition, to help off-set the inauspiciousness of your Zodiac year. But for the Brave Dragons, taking care of business right away tomorrow night at Shandong would be the best way. Because after a game against Foshan at home, the schedule toughens up big time. Shanxi’s five of their last six are against teams they lost to earlier in the year. A trip to Liaoning before a home match-up against Guangdong is their most dangerous stretch, because it sets up an all important final game of the year against DongGuan. A three-game losing streak to cap off the year would not be a good way to go about securing that playoff spot.

One guy Shanxi will be counting on to avoid that fate: Marcus Williams. As a trusted CBA confidant dutifully reminded me this week, Williams needs to be included in any NiuBBall MVP talk from now on. Truth is though, he’s been on the short list for a while. 30.5 points, 4.5 rebounds 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals on a 14-10 squad is more than enough to earn that right, even despite the fact that he is most definitely not shooting 69.4% from three. Or 82.4% for that matter. They’ll need him, along with Charles Gaines, to come up with some big performances if the squad is to ward off the dreaded Chinese ben ming nian, and the clump of teams behind them.

Prediction: 18-14, No. 5 seed

6. Liaoning Hengye Jaguars (14-11)
Games Remaining
: at Guangdong, at DongGuan, at Fujian, Xinjiang, Shanxi, at Bayi, at Zhejiang

Liaoning is a team that should be way better than they are. Perhaps other than Guangdong, the Jaguars have the most talented group of Chinese players in the league. Li Xiaoxu, Guo Ailun, Zhang Qingpeng and Yang Ming have all played for the Chinese National Team, while center Han Dejun received an invite to camp last spring. Sensing that there was more to be had from this team, management went ahead and fired favorite son, Guo Shiqiang, from his position as head coach shortly before Christmas. Under the leadership of Li Ge, who was promoted from assistant, Liaoning has gone 7-4 to climb their way into sixth place.

The entire team has been playing better, but it’s been Han whose seen the most improvement. He’s put up 14.5 points and 8.6 boards on 61% shooting under Li, including a 30-20 game that saw him shoot 12-12 from the field and 6-8 from the free-throw line. With Josh Powell struggling so much that the team was seriously considering making a switch, Han’s emergence has been a key development in Northeast China.

Unfortunately however, the way their late season schedule has developed is not a good sign for their playoff hopes. With only two road wins all year, Liaoning is faced with the worrisome predicament of playing five of their last seven away from home. Right away, they’ll head on the road for the annual Southeast China triangle-of-death trip that will see them play Guangdong, DongGuan and Fujian before coming home for two tough ones against Xinjiang and Shanxi. Bayi at home looks to be the only slam dunk of their remaining schedule, which means that in order for them to keep their grasp on a playoff spot, they’ll have to take care of some business on the road. And that’s unlikely to happen.

Prediction: 16-16, out of the playoffs

7. Fujian SBS Sturgeons (14-11)
Games Remaining
: at Shanghai, at Guangsha, Jilin, Liaoning, at Guangdong, at DongGuan, at Xinjiang

Five on seven on the road screams “out of the playoffs,” but let’s break this down for a second: Jilin and Liaoning have won a combined three road games all year; there’s a good chance they win against both teams. A huge game hangs in the balance tomorrow night at Shanghai, a team who like themselves cannot afford any slip-ups at home this late in the season. Something tells us that in his Shanghai return, Zaid Abbas, has something for his old squad. Another road win, in combination with two wins at home, would put Fujian at 18-14, and as Abbas’ third playoff team in as many years, joining Shanghai and Beijing.

Prediction: 18-14, No. 6 seed

8. Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls (13-11)
Games Remaining
: at Tianjin, Qingdao, Shandong, at Foshan, at Shanghai, at Guangsha, Jilin, Liaoning

Even if J.R. Smith has lost his love for the game, it still doesn’t hide the fact that Zhejiang’s remaining schedule is cupcake soft. Even if the Golden Bulls survive a random explosion by Qingdao’s Lester Hudson, not a given by the way, they’ve got three other games against some of the league’s worst teams, Tianjin, Foshan and Shandong. The Golden Bulls will get their haul of wins over the next eight games.

How many they get beyond the games that they should win (at Shanghai, at Guangsha) will depend solely on that guy J.R. The entire league has been mesmerized by his entertainment on the court as well as off the court. So have his teammates, who have reverted to their early season ways of standing around on offense to watch the show. In his last two games, losses to Xinjiang and Beijing, J.R. has racked up a mere one assist. When J.R. is passing, this is a tough team to beat because it’s hard to keep him out of the paint. But like with Wilson, J.R. may have already put his mind and his full basketball repertoire back in the U.S. to prepare for his NBA return in March. That story line, at least to me, remains as the most interesting backdrop to this mad rush to the post-season.

Prediction: 18-14, No. 8 seed

9. Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (13-11)
Games Remaining: Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi, Bayi, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, at Beijing, at Tianjin 

No team other than Xinjiang was devastated as much by injury this year than Shanghai. He never put up insane scoring numbers, but the all-around consistency and offensive awareness of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, to us, was the main reason why Shanghai bucked a NiuBBall bottom four pre-season prognostication. With his familiarity of Dan Pannagio’s triangle offense, Forehan-Kelly fit seamlessly into the Sharks new offense. Marcus Landry, a capable player, has done solid in replacement, but isn’t an ideal fit for the triangle because of his inconsistent stroke from the outside.

The loss of RFK, plus more road games than they have home and I don’t see this team going anywhere over 4-4 over their last eight, which puts them out of the playoff picture.

Prediction: 17-15, out of the playoffs

10. Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers (12-12)
Remaining Games
: Foshan, Shanghai, Guangsha, at Liaoning, at Jilin, DongGuan, Guangdong, Fujian

I mentioned DongGuan only has five wins against teams with winning records, so therefore I have to bring up the humiliating fact that the Flying Tigers, runners-up the last three years, have beaten a mere three teams with over-.500 records. Oh, and that they’ve only won three road games all year. I guess that’s what US $10 mil buys you in Urumqi.

But no matter how disastrous this season has been, Xinjiang finds itself in good position to get into the playoffs. Their six home games to close the year is the most of out of any team in the league and with a home record of 9-1, they’ve got a chance to start piling up some wins. A loss against Guangdong in Round 31 is likely, so at least a split on their Liaoning-Jilin road trip will be needed if they’re to get into the No. 6 spot — another piece of prime real estate in the standings because it avoids Guangdong until the finals.

If Gani Lawal and Tim Pickett keep putting up the numbers and they can some sort of production from either Mengke Bateer or Tang Zhengdong, Xinjiang will find themselves in the post-season. The fact that I even have to write that, however, underlines what a miserable season it’s been for a team that thought of themselves as championship material.

Prediction:  18-14, No. 7 seed

11. Jilin GBT Northeast Tigers (11-13)
Games Remaining
: at Guangdong, at DongGuan, at Fujian, Xinjiang, Shanxi, at Zhejiang, at Jiangsu

How does an 0-3 start to the New Year sound? Sounds a lot like racking up mahjong tiles, which will be exactly what the Northeast Tigers, the Chinese ones at least, will be doing when they’re sitting at their houses in early March.

Prediction: 12-18, out of the playoffs

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China’s future at the guard spot is on hold

December 18, 2011

2 Comments

For me, there’s no bigger question mark for the Chinese National Team going forward than the on that’s stamped in bold at the end of “point guard.” For now — just like it’s been for years and years and years — there’s Liu Wei, who will once again carry the load at the position for China at the 2012 London Olympics. But, the soon-to-be 32 year-old is clearly dribbling a basketball on borrowed time and his retirement from the National Team could come right after London.

Which means, for the first time in a while, China has to worry about a successor. Over the last two years, the young duo of Jilin’s Yu Shulong and Liaoning’s Guo Ailun have both played on Team China and have been widely tabbed as the front runners as Liu’s heir apparent. But, apparently northeast China hasn’t gotten the memo yet, because both Guo and Yu have found themselves buried on the bench for most of the domestic season.

For Yu, the situation has to be especially puzzling. The (listed as) 21 year-old point guard has averaged 35 minutes per game over the last two seasons and on paper heading into this year, was expected to remain on the court for around that time, even after Jilin signed Jordanian National Team starting point guard, Osahma Dahglas, as their Asian import this season. Instead though, Dahglas has taken most of Yu’s minutes and Yu has clocked a mere 15 minutes per game. Yu sat on the bench the entire game against DongGuan on Friday night.

When asked for a reason why, head coach Wang Han pointed to the match-ups and an overall preference to Dahglas at the point: “If Yu had played,” said Wang after the game, “and he had guarded Josh [Akognon], we would have been at a disadvantage defensively. Dahglas has a connection with the team, he runs the team well.”

Meanwhile in Liaoning, Guo finds himself in a similar situation. After playing on pretty much every international stage possible, Guo made the final roster in 2010 at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey as a 16 year-old. Because of that, Guo was able to bypass the 18-and-over age limit to play for the Liaoning senior team last season as a 17 year-old, becoming the youngest player in CBA history while simultaneously creating his own special clause. In his rookie year, Guo played in 31 games,  including 12 stars, and played 25 minutes, averaging 10.2 points and 3.1 assists.

This year, Guo was expected to build upon his promising campaign from last season and develop into an even more prominent member of the team’s backcourt rotation. But like Yu, Guo’s minutes have decreased. He’s only getting 17 minutes of run per game and has only hit the court for more than 20 minutes three times.

Some of that may have to do with the return of combo-guard Zhang Qingpeng, who is back with Liaoning after spending last season on loan with Xinjiang. It also might have to do with his involvement in a highly controversial “blood letter” signed to oust China U-19 head coach, Fan Bin, from the team. But at least officially, according to his head coach — and his uncle — Guo Shiqiang, Guo’s increased bench time is directly related to a lack of commitment of the defensive end.

“People are saying that I have no way to control the situation,” said Guo (the coach) on Friday. “Everyone knows our relationship. I’ll use whoever I want, I’m not going to give into selfishness. Our goal is to win games. Whoever is useful to the team will play more. If you don’t play well, then you’re off. Everyone’s the same, Guo is not an exception. Everytime he steps on the court, I’m always telling him to play defense. If you can’t get out there and guard someone, then you’re out of the game.”

Whatever the reasons really are, one thing is for certain: the National Team’s point guard depth chart for the Olympics is being messed with in a big way. Which to me strikes me as ironic, since the CBA’s official logo this season, which can be seen all over stadiums and on the cover of the official handbook, has “London” in both English and Chinese plastered onto it. CBA officials like to talk about the long-term development of its Chinese players and the success of its National Team. They view those two tenets so seriously in fact, that they blocked Kobe Bryant’s temporary NBA-to-China lockout vacation.

But if the two point guards who are being etched as the future of the postion aren’t getting on the court, what does that say about the CBA? And what does that say about the post-Yao, post-Liu Team China?

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2011-2012 CBA Preview

November 20, 2011

8 Comments


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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Breaking down the 2011-12 CBA schedule

November 18, 2011

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Thumbs up if you’re excited to watch Xinjiang – Guangdong in December. (Photo: Osports)

China can be complicated and foreign place to the newly arrived; the Chinese Basketball Association arguably more so. So to make things easier for those who are new to the China basketball game, we’ve broken down the 2011-12 schedule and not only bolded each interesting match-up, we’ve italicized them as well. That’s how excited we are about the season starting up.

We’re also excited about the latest addition to NiuBBall, Andrew Crawford. Andrew is based in Shanghai, where he’s recently started his own blog about the Shanghai Sharks, Shark Fin Hoops. He also writes for one of NiuBBall’s comrades, Wild East Football, the only English-speaking/writing website about Chinese soccer.

He’ll be checking in from Shanghai frequently this season with Sharks updates, analysis and first-hand accounts from every home game. Working in combination with our man in Hangzhou, Edward Bothfeld, who will have the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions on equal lock this year, and NiuBBall is looking way more… well, niu bi, than ever.

And if you’re not new to the CBA, take these viewing recommendations as you will and of course, if you’re into leaving comments, feel free to leave some of your own opinions on some intriguing games this season.

Round 4: Zhejiang Chouzhou @ Xinjiang (11/27)

Former teammates in Denver, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin, match-up in what should be a very entertaining encounter in Urumqi. J.R. has vowed to put up nightly triple-doubles while he’s here in China — if he’s going to live up that claim, he’ll possibly have to do it at the expense of K-Mart, who very well could switch onto him in the second half if Swish is ripping the nets.

Jon Pastuszek

Round 5: Zhejiang Chouzhou @ Shanxi (11/29)

As evidenced by his 30-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist stat-line in only one half of a preseason game, J.R. Smith can fill it up. Even in the NBA, he was known as one of the best pure scorers in the league. On November 29th he will make a visit to Shanxi Zhongyu and square off head to head with last year’s scoring champ, Charles Gaines, who will be looking to defend his title.

NiuBBall’s guess? Smith: 53 points, Gaines: 44.

Edward Bothfeld

Round 6: Liaoning @ Zhejiang Guangsha (12/6)

On December 6th, Josh Powell of Liaoning Panpan will visit his former assistant coach, Jim Cleamons, who is now the head coach of Zhejiang Guangsha. Powell and Cleamons were together with the L.A. Lakers for their back-to-back title runs in 2009 and 2010.  Both will be trying to use their championship experience to elevate their respective teams to the upper-echelon of the CBA. On this night they will have to put their personal relationship on the backburner to focus on willing their teams to victory.

Edward Bothfeld

Round 8: Shanghai @ Guangdong (12/7)

Guangdong did an accomplished job of disposing of the Sharks in their recent preseason clash and will be looking to repeat the feat come round eight.  The headline will be the clash between the former face of Chinese basketball, Yao Ming, here embodied by the team he now owns, and his heir apparent, Guangdong’s Yi Jianlian.

The Tigers, who can also call upon the services of players like experienced National Teamers, Zhu Fangyu, Wang Shipeng and Zhou Peng, as well as forward James Singleton, are amongst the favourites to take home the CBA title come the spring. Their home clash with the Sharks will be a test of their championship credentials and Guangdong will have to be weary of a Shanghai team that are more than capable of causing an upset.

Andrew Crawford

Round 13: Foshan @ Zhejiang Chouzhou (12/18)

Who’s the better dunker? Gerald Green won the 2007 NBA Dunk Contest by doing a windmill over a table. The next year, he blew out a candle stuck inside of a cupcake perched on top of the rim. J.R. Smith went behind his back while in the air in 2009 and caught a 360 alley-oop during a game in 2010.

Either choice is fine with me. But if you’re still undecided, watch their game on December 18th in Yiwu, where there should be dunks galore.

Jon Pastuszek

Round 15: Zhejiang Guangsha @ Zhejiang Chouzhou (12/23) 

The first battle in the war for Zhejiang provincial supremacy will take place on December 23rd. Last season, the two games between these bitter rivals was decided by a combined nine points (which by CBA standards is remarkably low). During the off-season, Zhejiang Guangsha and Zhejiang Chouzhou both signed high profile NBA players to the roster, Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith, respectively. Fans always bring a lot of energy to this match-up, and as teammates last season in the NBA, expect Chandler and Smith to bring their best efforts in a game of provincial and personal importance.

Edward Bothfeld

Round 15: Xinjiang @ Guangdong (12/23), Round 29: Guangdong @ Xinjiang (2/3)

In a league has seldom, if ever, enjoys any amount of parity or excitement, in its 16 year history, either in the regular season or the playoffs, the Xinjiang-Guangdong rivalry should feel like the Super Bowl, Hannukah, your 21st birthday, March Madness, Thanksgiving, the NBA Finals, Christmas Day and New Year’s all wrapped into one.

The two teams have met up in the Finals each of the last three seasons, the latest of which turned into intense series went to six games. Once again, the result went to Guangdong. But, not content to give up on their title aspiration, Xinjiang spent almost $US 10 million to bring over Bob Donewald Jr., Kenyon Martin and Tang Zhengdong among others to put them over the hump. In an attempt to one-up their northwestern rivals in the summer arms race, Guangdong signed locked-out Yi Jianlian and Aaron Books, and former Flying Tiger James Singleton.

Finally, the CBA’s champion isn’t pre-determined. These two teams will meet again for a fourth time at the Finals in March. We, like every other CBA fan, can’t wait.

Jon Pastuszek

Round 16: Beijing @ Shanghai (12/25), Round 33: Shanghai @ Beijing (2/12)

Depending on who you talk to, one of these cities is a cold, stuffy, bureaucratic smog hole, whilst the other is a noisy neighbor with no history, tradition or class. The Shanghai and Beijing populaces love to beat each other in anything and everything so these two fixtures will generate a lot of interest in both cities.

Fittingly, the first skirmish will be played on Christmas Day and the visiting Beijing players can look forward to a variety of festive heckles about their mothers’ sexual preferences and the Ducks’ overall lack of talent. The opposition, plus the visit of Stephon Marbury will ensure a bumper crowd at the Yunshan. Moreover, the return visit to the Celestial City will be so late in the season that it may well have play-off implications, not only for the two sides on the court but other teams around them in the CBA rankings.

Andrew Crawford

Round 22: Xinjiang @ Jiangsu (1/8/)

Tang Zhengdong, who finally got out of Jiangsu after years of pouting, returns to play against the team that he’s played with his entire basketball career. Oh, and it could also be a pretty good game, too. Even without Tang, Jiangsu still has a nice squad led by National Team up-and-comer, Yi Li, and local products Hu Xuefeng and Meng Da.

Jon Pastuszek

Round 24: Beijing @ Shanxi (1/13)

Shanxi’s favorite foreign son, Stephon Marbury, returns to play for the team that he started his Chinese career with. The divorce was a messy one, but Steph and the city of Taiyuan still have lots of mutual love for each other.

–Jon Pastuszek

Round 25: Jiangsu @ Zhejiang Chouzhou (1/15)

Jiangsu eliminated Chozhou from the first round of the playoffs last year thanks to an incredible Antoine Wright buzzer beater — and a hometown time-keeper who started the clock about two seconds too late. With a chance for some revenge, Chouzhou coaches, players and fans are likely to have this rematch circled in bold on their schedules.

Jon Pastuszek

Round 30: Guangdong @ DongGuan (2/5)

The local DongGuan derby has always been must-see down in basketball-crazed Guangdong province, but the always one-sided rivalry took a competitive turn for the better last year as DongGuan transformed from an occasional playoff team into a legitimate semi-finals contender. For the first time in years, the Leopards beat their crosstown rivals last season in an epic overtime encounter in December. They met in the semi-finals, but by then key import Jackson Vroman had already suffered a season ending injury, and what could have been a great series ended undramatically with a 4-1 Guangdong triumph.

After having lost a few players this year, DongGuan won’t be as good as they were last year, but there’s still enough intrigue left to make this a good game.

Jon Pastuszek

Round 31: Xinjiang @ Liaoning (2/8)

Current National Team head man, Bob Donewald, who coaches Xinjiang domestically, and Liaoning’s Guo Shiqiang, the guy who Donewald replaced, don’t like each other. The two cursed at each other in English and in Chinese from opposite sides of the scorers table last year in a game at Shanghai, an altercation that nearly turned into a fist fight. The two’s relationship has detoriated so much as a result, that some people speculated Donewald cut every Liaoning player from the National Team roster as a way to stick it to Guo.

It’ll be Donewald’s first trip to Liaoning since the incident and I’m sure the fans will have something for him when he gets there.

Jon Pastuszek

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Politics as usual: Liaoning’s Yang Ming laughs off National Team exclusion as “a joke”

May 18, 2011

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Since Chinese National Team head coach, Bob Donewald, surprisingly announced that 2010 Asian Games gold medalist, Li Xiaoxu, and two of his Liaoning PanPan teammates, Han Dejun and He Tianju, had been amongst the first six players cut from the 37-player training camp roster last week, insiders and media have been questioning the motives behind the three teammates’ early departure.

Li, Han and He’s teammate, however, point guard Yang Ming, is just laughing.

The National Team’s quest for gold in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship got off to a strange start this year when the CBA announced its 37-player roster in April.  Most odd was the inclusion of Yao Ming, who despite playing just five games in the last two years for the Houston Rockets, was placed on the name list.  Though privately the CBA is hoping that he’ll be a go in September, it’s unclear if the 7-6 center will be healed and in game condition in time for the tournament.

The release of Li Xiaoxu, who has been an important piece of the bench the last two years for Team China, along with his two Liaoning teammates, further added to the unpredictability.  Li was a CBA All-Star this season and was expected by many to be a near lock for the final roster.

When asked by reporters, Donewald blamed a multitude of injuries that prevented the Liaoning trio from even practicing with the team during the closed door training sessions.  Donewald said He Tianju was battling a bum knee, Han Dejun a bad back, and Li Xiaoxu an irregular heartbeat.

But, there has been serious speculation in the media that the decision to rid the National Team of most of Liaoning’s team is due completely to politics, not health.

Earlier this season in Shanghai, Donewald, who coaches the Shanghai Sharks during the CBA season, and Liaoning head coach, Guo Shiqiang, were involved in a high-profile sideline altercation during their game, with both coaches hurling swears at each other in Chinese and English.  The spat received a lot of attention in the media.  Besides being CBA rivals, Donewald replaced Guo as the head coach of the National Team in April 2009.

With Liaoning and Shanghai’s tenuous relationship, rumors have swirled about Liaoning refusing to send their players to the National Team to practice with Donewald.  Unlike Shanghai, which is privately owned by Yao Ming, Liaoning is owned by the Liaoning Provincial Sports Bureau.  Though it has been confirmed that He Tianju is in Hong Kong receiving surgery on his knee, there have been no official reports about injuries to Li Xiaoxu and Han Dejun.

Further fueling speculation is the absence of another Liaoning player from the National Team roster altogether, Yang Ming.  Yang, who averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 assists in almost 33 minutes a game this year for the Dinosaurs, is considered to be one of the better young point guards in China and his omission from the original 37-player list has led people to further believe politics are playing a major role in National Team affairs this summer.

When pressed about leaving off Yang, Donewald also said he was injured and unable to come to Beijing.

Upon hearing that, Yang laughed.

“That’s a joke,” said Yang to reporters over the weekend.  ”I have no idea what’s going on with that one.  Right now I’m just with [Liaoning] practicing, eating and sleeping.  I haven’t been worrying about anything else.  I’m not hurt, I feel great.  I guess I just have to wait until next year.”

In public, Liaoning’s story has been consistent with Donewald and the CBA’s, stating that injuries kept their players from reporting to camp.  And they have also been quick to point out that Zhang Qingpeng, who returned to Liaoning after playing this season for CBA runner-up Xinjiang, is training with the team and has not been cut yet.

“Guo Ailun also hasn’t been cut yet either,” said Liaoning assitant coach, Jie Jun last Saturday.  ”Liaoning has two players with the National Team right now.”

Whatever the real case behind the seasons, it’s evident that basketball with Chinese characteristics is in full bloom, and the drama is sure to continue on into the hot summer months in the lead-up to the FIBA Asia Championship.

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Li Xiaoxu, five others cut from National Team roster

May 13, 2011

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Li Xiaoxu was a National Team regular since 2009, winning a gold medal in the 2010 Asian Games.

Chinese National Team head coach, Bob Donewald, sprung his first surprise of the international season earlier today when he announced that 2010 FIBA World Championship participant and Asian Games gold medalist, Liaoning PanPan’s Li Xiaoxu, was amongst the first six players cut from the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship roster.

In addition to Li, two other Liaoning players were sent home, center Han Dejun and small forward He Tianju. The other three players were Shandong guard Sun Jie, Shanxi power forward Zhang Xuewen and Jilin forward Zhong Cheng.  The roster, which originally stood at 37 players, is now down to 31.

Dismissing Li Xiaoxu, a two-time CBA All-Star and a regular fixture with the National Team since 2009, was largely unexpected.  The 6-9 power forward played big minutes off the bench for Team China last year during the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, and was seen by some as an improving young big man who would continue to back up Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian at the four and five spots this summer. Li helped China bring home gold in the Asian Games.

Donewald, however, obviously wasn’t one of those people.  Talking to the media earlier today, Donewald blamed Li’s early exit on an injury that kept the player from even reporting to training camp, and expressed remorse that the Asian Games gold medalist couldn’t be on the team this year.

But, Chinese media is reporting there are reasons surrounding Li’s unexpected cut.  Sourcing insiders, Sina Sports’ Chen Xi is reporting that Li’s club team, Liaoning, communicated to the National Team that Li’s physical and mental condition would make it unable for the player to adapt to Donewald’s high intensity training, and told the team he would need some time to get himself back into playing shape.  Thus, Li never reported to Beijing and the decision to cut him wasn’t Donewald’s, but rather Liaoning and the Chinese Basketball Association’s.

Still, some people remain convinced politics played a role in the decision, especially considering that Li’s Liaoning teammates, Han Dejun and He Tianju, were also cut.  Donewald and Liaoning’s head coach, Guo Shiqiang, were involved in a high-profile sideline spat during the CBA season, and the two’s relationship is rumored to have deteriorated greatly.  Donewald replaced Guo as head coach of the National Team in April 2010.

All that aside, clearly Han and He were clearly never going to be even seriously considered for a final roster spot.  As anyone who has seen the 7-foot 320 pound play, Han is amongst the worst conditioned big men in the country and tires himself out after a couple of trips up and down the court.

Donewald and the rest of Team China will head to Hainan next Tuesday for more training before they leave for a set of friendly games in Australia in late June.  More cuts are expected in the next couple of weeks as the team gets ready for a 30-game warm-up schedule that will prepare them for the Asia Championship in September.

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Are young referees to blame for CBA’s dip in officiating?

March 18, 2011

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Go to a game in China and almost upon arrival you’ll  hear the words hei shao — “black whistle,” meaning the refs are in somebody’s pocket — being yelled by loud mouthed, outspoken (and usually tipsy/drunk) fans who have a particular disdain for the way the referees are calling the match. As the game goes on and the home crowd becomes more disgusted with the calls (or the scoreboard), the noise crescendos with more oraganized, in unison chants of huan caipan, “change the referee.” And when that request is ultimately refused by the men in stripes, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and China’s favorite in-arena projectile, lighters, are hurled at the court in a final dramatic display of discontent.

Though never formally proven, bribery, corruption and game-fixing have all suspected for years, and it’s considered common knowledge by many — lighter-throwing fans obviously included — that referees engage in dishonest, under the table behavior.

In soccer, however, widespread corruption has left a permanent black eye on both the domestic leagues and the national team.  The Chinese Super League, China’s professional domestic soccer league, has repeatedly been plagued by match-fixing and corruption scandals over the last several years, with both players and officials accepting bribes at various times from gambling syndicates and influential bookies.  Match-fixing so serious in fact, that it goes all the way back to a referee who took the field at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

This year in the CBA, while all of those issues haven’t exactly gone away, they’ve taken shotgun to another problem that’s steered this season onto a rocky road: Quality.

Ongoing frustration with the way games are being called, especially late in tight games, have led some to believe that the root of these problems stem from poorly trained or poorly developed refs who are simply in over their heads.  And instead of trudging down the same tired, endless road of zebra corruption, an article posted on NetEase’s CBA site is blaming the league’s new crop of young refs for that drop in officiating quality this year.

According to the article, there are 342 referees registered with the CBA this season, 35 of which are international level. However, the CBA demands that 42 international level refs are needed in order to guarantee every match over the course of the year  is officiated at the highest level.  That means seven so-called “young referees,” referees who are inexperienced and presumably unqualified for the job, have been running up and down the courts with whistles in their mouths making, as an an anonymous senior official put it to the author, “more calls than the other [veteran] referees,” disrupting the flow of the game, and ruining the quality of in-game officiating.  And even among those who are on an international level, there is a huge gap in the level and quality in which games are officiated.

But, most of the article’s wrath is directed towards these so-called nianqing caipan, “young referees,” who are ruining the game with their brash overconfidence and unwillingness to improve:

…Some young referees can be cocky, they don’t pay attention to their [on-court] positioning or try to correct their attitude.  They feel they’ve already made it and they feel extremely good about themselves… To add, some referees only strive to improve elements that exist only on the surface, things just for show. They want to become these big-name high-profile names, but they lack the essential basic skills.

“We point out these shortcomings and insufficiencies with the hope that they can improve as quickly as possible.  That way they can quickly develop,” said an anonymous CBA figure.

The article also mentions a change this year in preparatory pre-game official meetings.  Before, “the lead official used to do most of the talking,” but now when officials meet before games to discuss things “like the two teams’ position in the standings, prior history, players and coaches’ tendencies, it’s the deputy official who’s speaking the most.”  What’s more, officials constantly disagree with each other during these meetings and generally don’t pay attention, which also affects their work on the court.

Finally, the author points out that refs are “soft,” especially the younger ones who are more likely to be swayed by an expressive and argumentative head coach on the sideline.  He points to a specific situation in Shanghai’s home match against Liaoning in Round 23 where the league had to do an internal investigation on that team of referees after they failed to control a sideline altercation between Liaoning head coach, Guo Shiqiang, and Shanghai head coach, Bob Donewald.

Donewald, an American who also acts as head coach of the Chinese National Team, has been the league’s most outspoken critic of Chinese refs.  He apparently set a record for most technicals in a season, seven, and only missed out on an opportunity to make more history because he was suspended for a match late in the season after he repeatedly berated officials during the Sharks’ Round 29 loss against Fujian SBS.  His chief issue, which he has brought up several times during the year, is the Chinese refs’ inability or unwillingness to protect their own players from overly aggressive and dangerous play.  Team China’s brawl with a Brazilian club team in October went down largely in part because the ref didn’t blow the whistle on an obvious intentional foul, and Donewald’s suspension for Round 30 was a result of a ref not calling a foul on a hard collision that left Team China’s captian, Liu Wei, writhing on the ground with a severely bruised chest.

If the CBA is to ever reach credible status in the minds of its fans, getting control over how games are reffed should be its priority.  Problem is, however, in this still largely bureaucratic league, change comes from the top and it often comes slow.  And seeing that officiating is getting worse instead of better, the CBA — as the NBA has found out in the last few years — still has quite a ways to go if they’re ever going to be a sustainable and respectable league in China.

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Monday Morning Jianbing

February 14, 2011

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Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links…

  • Tang Zhengdong out for the year?  That’s what the Modern Express is speculating (via Sina) after Tang told a reporter last night that an recent examination on his troublesome right knee was “not good.”  According to the article, the knee has been bothering Big Tang for most of the year and the pain has gotten more and more severe as the season has progressed.  Tang played a mere eight minutes, scoring six points and grabbing one rebound in Jiangsu’s 107-100 home win against Beijing last night.
  • Worth mentioning because NiuBBall.com was in the house last night in Shanghai for the Sharks’ 113-95 win against Liaoning last night: Liaoning’s He Tianju set a career high with 31 points, which was also a game-high.  Also worth noting that he coupled up with teammate Bian Qiang in “can you top this” flopping contest in an effort to draw a few cheapies against Shanghai import guard in, John Lucas, in the third quarter that culminated not with a whistle, but with Bob Donewald getting up in the face of an official.  Not one to miss out, Liaoning’s head coach, Guo Shiqiang also got up into the ref to make it an official party in front of the scorer’s table.  Continued frustration with Liaoning’s tactics resulted in Donewald swearing very loudly in English at Bian in the fourth quarter.  I think you can guess what happened next: Guo and Donewald yelled at each other in different languages from opposite sides of the scorer’s table and a Liaoning assistant coach had to be held back from charging the Shanghai bench.  Basketball with Chinese characteristics — it’s not just our slogan, it’s  a reality.
  • Though people are talking up Europe as a possible destination for NBAers next year in the event of a lockout, we think given the market out here, China is also going to be on players’ minds.  Especially after seeing this: Asked by a German reporter for derwesten.de about his lockout plans for next year, Dallas Mavericks All-Star forward, Dirk Nowitzki replied “I may go to China and play there.” “China?,” the reporter asked.  “Why not? Or South America.” (H/T HoopCHINA)
  • Hey Cleveland fans, looking for someone to blame for your historically awful season other than LeBron James?  Do what this guy did, and blame China.  Let’s just say I disagree with this argument on a number of levels.  First, there is no reason to find blame for a “basketball-talent shortage,” because there isn’t a shortage of basketball talent in the NBA right now.  But, if we are to consider the author’s idea that the increase in foreign players is to blame for Cleveland’s epic fall from grace, let’s first consider this:  The 2010/11 All-Star roster includes internationals Pau Gasol, Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Al Horford and yes, even the oft-injured but very talented Yao Ming.  Sorry, we’re just not buying it.
  • The New Jersey Nets hosted “An Evening of Chinese Culture” for the third time last Wednesday against the Hornets, which in our experience, was just a long way to say “acrobatics show.”
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