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Tag Archives: Mengke Bateer

Sichuan Blue Whales win promotion to CBA, round out new foreign lineup

October 7, 2013

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The CBA’s newest expansion team, the Sichuan Whales, will enter their inagural season with three foreign players, Hamed Haddadi, Herve Lamizana and Johnny Flynn, as well as a foreign head coach, J.T. Prada.

Southwestern China has been starving for some top level basketball for a long time. They won’t have to wait any longer.

Last month, the CBA officially announced the promotion of the Sichuan Jinqiang Blue Whales to the Chinese Basketball Association, and will become the 18th team in the league.

The decision, which was officially announced on September 29th, ends what had been a long-time rumored end-result to the league’s expansion plans. Dating as far back as summer 2012, the CBA had been evaluation expansion plans with the idea of promoting a team from the second-tier professional league, the National Basketball League. For various reasons, those plans were put on hold and the once-in-a-few year opportunity for teams to rise up to the top professional level was carried over to 2013. Even then, it wouldn’t be until several months after the conclusion of the NBL season for a final decision to be announced.

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American dreams – Non-mainstream Chinese players crossing over to the NBA

September 23, 2013

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Yi and Yao

 

He lives in Beijing, reads Chinese, is a self-described basketball degenerate who has watched his fair share of CBA games and really wants to write about Chinese basketball. And as we know better than almost anyone else, anybody who willingly watches CBA games is definitely a basketball degenerate.

Yeah, James Hsu is a perfect fit for NiuBBall.

From here on out, James will be writing about really anything that comes to mind about Chinese hoops. Based on our lengthy email conversations, NiuBBall readers will like that stuff that comes to his mind. His first piece delves into the deep and dusty part of the China basketball library: Former players, some more obscure than others, who have tried their shot at the NBA. Here’s hoping that book will be updated with a new player by 2020.

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“Who got next?”

Kobe Bryant. LeBron James.

Yao Ming. Yi Jianlian. Jeremy Lin.

These are household names in professional basketball. My mother knows these names. Their faces are all over TV and the news. The other day, I found a blog that tracks what Yao Ming is doing right now, after his basketball career has ended! That’s an insane amount of coverage.

But what about the unsung heroes? The other Chinese players that crossed over, or attempted to cross over to the NBA? What are their stories?

There’s a whole world out there of Chinese basketball players hustling, scrapping, trying to face the best competition the world has to offer. In many cases, the NBA has validated them and given them a shot. There are many reasons why some players make it and others don’t.

I’ve narrowed my focus to players from the past 15 years. Not to say that there weren’t players that paved the way in the 90′s – I simply wanted to focus on the most recent era.

Here are their stories.

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Zhang Zhaoxu… CBA’s highest paid Chinese player?

April 22, 2013

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How many Subway footlongs could 8 million RMB buy? Depends on if you’re eating the Sub of the Day, but the answer is a lot.

Is “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu on his way to becoming Chinese basketball’s first eight million RMB man?

Could be, according to several recent reports. The Shanghai Sharks 7’3 center is reportedly being offered big money from both the Beijing Ducks and the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

Last Thursday, Sina Sports, citing an unnamed source, reported that the Ducks are poised to offer a multi-year deal worth CNY 5 million anually (US $808,767) plus a Beijing hukou, while the Tigers will go as high as 8 million ($1,294,027) to get Zhang’s signature.

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Stephon Marbury to act as Beijing assistant coach for National Games

March 18, 2013

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Stephon Marbury’s Beijing Ducks may have been sent home packing earlier than expected, but Marbury will be sticking around in Beijing to start another China career: coaching.

In an interview on BTV, the 36 year-old guard announced that he will serve as an assistant coach for Beijing as they prepare to participate in the 2013 China National Games. He will work under his CBA head coach Min Lulei, who serves the same position for the Beijing Ducks.

The National Games, which happen once every four years, are completely separate from the Chinese Basketball Association season. As a sort of intra-China Olympics, the National Games pit the country’s different provinces against each other in various athletic events, including basketball.

The two-week competition will start in late August in host-province Liaoning. However, there will be a qualifying tournament in late April for basketball. Guangdong won the basketball tournament in 2009, which was held in various cities in Shandong.

Marbury’s addition to the coaching staff comes on the heels of other big news this week. The Beijing team got a boost when it was announced that Sun Yue, who plays for Beijing Aoshen — a team that is not part of the Chinese Basketball Association — will be representing Beijing at the Games, in addition to several other Aoshen players. A longtime key contributor for the National Team, Sun will be one of the best players in the tournament.

The National Games, though technically centered around athletic competition  are the epitome of not only basketball, but sports with Chinese characteristics. With the eyes of provincial governments focused directly on their teams, the Games’ main purpose serves government officials, who can be gain status and be promoted to bigger and better positions if their teams achieve good results. Though the Olympics trump all in terms of importance, the National Games is a major event and one that places great pressure on athletes to perform for the glory of their province.

In general, athletes represent the provinces in where they were registered as a professional athlete. For example, although Wang Shipeng hails from Liaoning, he was registered in Guangdong as part of the Southern Tigers and will thus represent them this summer. However, as provincial officials are always looking towards the next National Games, under the table agreements can be made between different provinces are not uncommon. Mengke Bateer, who is from Inner Mongolia and got his start in the CBA with Beijing, will be playing for neither team this summer; instead, he’ll be suiting up for Liaoning. Though not reported, it is speculated that his player registration forms were transferred over to Liaoning as part of the deal that sent Zhang Qingpeng over to Xinjiang three years ago. These deals are not illegal, but they part culture that make Chinese sports unlike anything in the United States or other Western countries.

The Beijing team will be comprised of a combination of Beijing Aoshen and Beijing Ducks players. Final rosters have not yet been announced and likely will not be made public until sometime in April.

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Xinjiang signs Von Wafer, attempts to reload for title run

August 20, 2012

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Von Wafter, who most Chinese will remember from his days with the Rockets, has signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

Xinjiang certainly recovered quickly after its failure to resign Quincy Douby.

With a contract reportedly worth US $2 million dollars, the Flying Tigers have officially signed six-year NBA pro, Von Wafer.

Chinese fans will recognize Wafer for his play on the Rockets while sharing the floor with Yao Ming in in 2008-09. Some may even remember that two years ago, he was linked to Xinjiang before they eventually signed Douby, so in a sense the team has come full circle. Wafer’s professional playing career started after his sophomore year at Florida State University when he declared for the 2005 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Lakers in the second round, but wasn’t able to stick and proceeded to bounce around the league. A solid season for Houston in 2008-09 wasn’t good enough to land him a long-term deal, however, and he ended up the next season in Greece playing for Olympiakos. After struggling in Europe, he was bought out of his deal in December and was quickly snapped back up by Houston.

But, Wafer never ended up playing for Houston after he failed his mandatory physical. Since then, he’s played in Italy and back in the NBA with Boston and Orlando. Now, “The Dutch Cookie” will be taking his NBA career highs of 39% 3 point shooting and 9.7 points per game, all set with the Rockets in 2009, along with his daring drives and uncanny touch, to the Xinjiang plateau.

With combo-guard, Meng Duo, back from overseas training and Tang Zhengdong returning from surgery in the United States, the Flying Tigers seem all set to go for another no costs spared, all out run at the championship. Wafer will suit up next to Meng, Xu Guochong, Xirelijiang and possibly Zhang Qingpeng, who is attempting to work himself out of Liaoning, to form an absolutely loaded backcourt.

But Xinjiang’s guard rotation is also one where many of the players have overlapping skill sets. The 27 year-old Wafer is not the most skilled at creating opportunities for his teammates. This may become a problem for Xinjiang, who are seeking to break out of their annual runner-up status to Guangdong, which it has held for three straight years. New head coach, Cui Wanjun,  has his work cut out for him, but his problems are the likely the envy of most other coaches — with a talented backcourt to go along with Tang and Mengke Bateer in the middle, Xinjiang still has the talent to contend for a title.

The pressure cooker that is Xinjiang will stop at nothing short of a championship, and as we’ve seen in the past, the team is not averse to cutting even its most well-known imports or coaches. Will Wafer rise up to the altitude of Xinjiang, or will he be another high-profile NBA player leaving in disappointment?

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

June 16, 2012

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

  • If you’re a subscriber to the “Huan Su Wei” movement, you’re probably going to like this: Big Su played in only two of the three games, and when he did he played sparingly and poorly. In 12 total minutes, he put up one point, one rebound, two fouls and three turnovers. No matter what the National Team thinks of the former rower-turned-hoopster, its impossible to deny that he’s regressed since last summer. Against Beijing in the CBA Finals last March, he was too slow to guard to Randolph Morris and was able to offer nothing more than bricked lay-ups on the offensive end to compensate. As a result, he didn’t play too much. Sure, he’s got two years of experience under Donewald, plus he’s enormous, physical and plays the best post defense on the team (if the refs are calling the game loosely enough to keep him on the floor). Basically, he’s the Chinese homeless man’s version of Kendrick Perkins. But will those be enough to hold off challenges from younger guys like Han Dejun and Wang Zhelin? Could be a story worth monitoring.
  • The position battle at point guard, however, is a story we already know is worth keeping an eye on. Guo Ailun played a mixed bag overall, but it was his the loud words of Sun Yue that ended up dominating all of the Guo headlines. Midway through the second quarter of game three when the Aussies were on a big run, Sun reportedly yelled at him to pass the ball more. He finished the game with one assist, only one more than the goose egg he put up in the first game. His main rival, Zhang Bo, picked up a shoulder injury that was severe enough to keep him out of the last game. No word on the extent of Zhang’s injury is as of yet.
  • Kind of a funny off-court story: According to hoopCHINA, Donewald was getting his motivational shoes on Down Under, bringing in three-time NBA champion and Australian national, Luc Longley, to meet and talk with his players. He forgot, however, that there was already an NBA champ among the team, Sun Yue, who reminded him that he won a ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008-09. No offense to Sun, who stands as one of two Chinese players to have won an NBA championship (Mengke Bateer won one with the Spurs in 2003), but I don’t think Donewald forgot… I think he was just talking about someone who actually played and earned their ring.
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Beijing – Guangdong Game 3: Guangdong goes small to win big

March 26, 2012

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Beijing – 93 @ Guangdong – 111

Using a variety of smaller lineups for most of the game, Guangdong was able to limit Stephon Marbury from getting into the paint while completely shutting down Beijing’s bigs from getting good looks on the perimeter. Putting James Singleton at the five and Li Yuanyu at the four for large parts of the second half, Guangdong switched many of the pick-and-rolls that have become the staple of Beijing’s Marbury-centric offense. And although Marbury hit 7-10 from the three-point line, the strategy worked at both keeping him away from the basket and from keeping his passes out of the hands of wide-open teammates.

For Guangdong, the return of Zhu Fangyu’s scoring touch helped things as well. So did Aaron Brooks’ decrease in turnovers. Zhu scored 26 on 8-13 shooting to record his best game of the Finals, while Brooks put in a team high 30 points on only three turnovers. Singleton also enjoyed his best game of the Finals, scoring 21 points, grabbing 19 rebounds and generally making life difficult for everyone he guarded.

The key in this game, however, was Guangdong’s adjustment to go smaller. Su Wei, who missed several easy looks at the basket to go 3-11 from the field en route to an all-around awful performance in Game 2, only played 12 minutes and Wang Zheng never got off the bench. Against more traditional back the basket bigs, like Xinjiang’s Mengke Bateer, Su Wei is at his best. But, against an agile Beijing Randolph Morris-Zhu Yanxi-Ji Zhe rotation of bigs who can all shoot the ball, the lumbering seven-footer is simply not the answer on defense, either in pick-and-roll defense, help-side rotations or in close out situations.

Li Yuanyu, however, looks to be better suited for all of that. He scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in nearly 24 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter, all of which are playoff highs. He hasn’t received much playing time this season — only 23 appearances at an average of seven minutes per game in the regular season — but, with him and Dong Hanlin as the only two mobile Chinese bigs on the squad, it’s quite likely that coach Li Chunjiang will be calling his name more often as this series progresses.

For Beijing, Marbury finished with 39 points and three assists, and Morris had 21 and 14 rebounds. Nobody else finished in double figures.

Once again though, this game was plagued by fouls. 65 of them were called all together with Ji Zhe, Zhu Yanxi, Li Yuanwei and Zhou Peng all finishing the game on the bench with six apiece. For such an exciting series on the final scoreboard, we have yet to really see good, flowing basketball from start to finish.

Box Score

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Du Feng to retire after 14 seasons

March 20, 2012

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One of the best all-around big men in CBA history, Du Feng is retiring after 14 seasons. (Photo: Osports)

Du Feng is officially retiring from basketball. To mark the end of his career, the 14 year veteran will hold a farewell game on April 6 in DongGuan featuring several current CBA stars, including Wang Zhizhi, Sun Yue, Mengke Bateer and Tang Zhengdong.

Over the course of an illustrious domestic career that saw him pull down seven CBA championships, From his debut season in 1997-98, Du amassed career totals of 6720 points, 2327 rebounds, 730 assists, 442 steals and 184 blocks. His point total is good for ninth on the CBA all-time rankings. In the 2004 Finals, he averaged 21 points and 8.7 rebounds en route to his first and only Finals MVP trophy.

Du also served for the Chinese National Team, playing in the Olympics in both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

After playing sparingly last season, Du gave up his spot on Guangdong’s 15-man roster this season to make way for younger players. He has instead been serving as an assistant coach for the team, a role that he is expected to continue for Guangdong next season and possibly beyond.

Casual and hardcore Western CBA fans alike will recognize Du Feng as the guy who was slapped to the ground by Charles Gaines, who played for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers at the time, after Du head-butted the American in the closing seconds of Game 2 of the 2010 CBA Finals. Motionless on the floor, Du was wrapped up in an Anta towel, carried off in a stretcher and given oxygen in the team’s locker room before being taken taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. No suspensions were given out by the league and both Du an Gaines played Game 3 in Urumqi.

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 1

March 6, 2012

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Guangdong – 95 @ Xinjiang – 92

Different year, same Guangdong match-up… and unfortunately for Xinjiang, the same result.

The Flying Tigers failed to grab a key defensive rebound that would have given them the chance to take the lead with under a minute left, but their inablity to box out James Singleton, who grabbed two straight offensive rebounds in the game’s most important possession, cost them the win and likely the series.

Up 91-80 with about three minutes left in the game, Guangdong seemed to have a comfortable win in the books until Xinjiang roared back with a 12-2 run to cut the lead to one with 1:20 remaining. A Guangdong miss was Xinjiang’s for the taking, but Singleton tracked down the loose ball to give his team another shot. Another miss gave way to another opportunity for Xinjiang to come down with a defensive rebound, but Singleton again got his hands on the ball to give Guangdong yet another chance. Xinjiang intentionally fouled Zhu Fangyu, who calmly sank both shots to push the lead up to three. When Tim Pickett’s three-pointer came up empty, Guandong ran off the court knowing that two straight wins at home will punch their ticket for the CBA Finals.

Singleton, who frustrated his old team the whole night with his signature combination of athleticism and activity, finished the game with 12 points and 16 rebounds while holding Ike Diogu to a ho-hum 17 points and five rebounds. Wang Shipeng finished with a team high 23 points, Aaron Brooks had 21 and Zhu pitched in 14.

For Xinjiang, Pickett scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 45 minutes. Mengke Bateer ended up with 17 and 10, and Sun Weibo had 15.

With the loss on their home floor, Xinjiang now has to win a game in Guangdong to force the series back to Urumqi for a Game 4. That’s tough enough as is, but it looks like it’ll be even tougher after Xirelijiang re-injured the ankle that he sprained in Game 5 of Round One against DongGuan. If he the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship gold medalist can’t go, expect Sun Weibo to get the majority of his minutes off the bench.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Beijing – 119 @ Shanxi – 122

Marcus Williams was dominant in his first ever CBA semi-finals appearance, finishing with 40 points, seven rebounds and four assists, as Shanxi defended their home court to came away with a close three point victory against Beijing.

But for Shanxi, the game was probably closer than it had to be. With the Brave Dragons up five with less than half a minute left, the win looked all but locked up until Zhang Xuewen was called for a flagrant foul after he followed through with both arms to thwart Stephon Marbury’s breakaway layup attempt with 17 seconds left. The call was questionable, but Marbury hit both freebies to cut the lead to three and head coach Min Lulei called time-out to draw up the last play. Like in Game 1 against Guangsha in Round One, the ball was swung to an open Lee Hsueh-lin with the game on the line. But this time, Lee’s three-point attempt came up short and by the time the ball was done bouncing around the floor, Shanxi had escaped with the win.

Marbury finished with a playoff career high 42 points, most of which game in the fourth quarter when his scoring was needed most. Randolph Morris, had trouble keeping Charles Gaines off of the foul line, as did Ji Zhe and as a result, both fouled out midway through the final frame. Gaines finished with 25 points on 9-10 from the free-throw line and 18 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end. Ren Junwei had a very active 14 points and 11 rebounds and was a key reason why Shanxi managed to outrebound their opponents by 21.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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Previewing the CBA Semi-Finals

March 4, 2012

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Both semi-finals match-ups are oozing with storylines, but none top Stephon Marbury’s Playoff return to the place where his China career got its start, Taiyuan, Shanxi. (Photo: cfp.cn)

Well, the age-old “There is no parity in the CBA” rule lived up to its rather boring reputation in the first round of the CBA playoffs… but, at least in our minds, that’s actually for the better it’s set up two very intriguing semi-finals that should be anything but yawn-inducing.

And really, “boring” isn’t exactly the right adjective to describe what we just saw in the first round. Sure, Guangdong and Beijing swept out their opponents with very little effort, but Shanxi-Shanghai went through four extremely entertaining games before the favorites eventually prevailed and Xinjiang-DongGuan went the entire five game distance to determine a winner. The latter is a rather impressive feat: Up until Friday’s do-or-die in Urumqi, there had only been three series in CBA history that went the full limit.

Hey, it might be slow progress towards some level of parity, but it’s progress nonetheless.

And to continue the slow, methodical movement forward in the league’s journey to build a competitive league, NiuBBall is coming out with our slow-to-come-out Final Four Preview with just minutes to spare before the two series kick off tonight. Let’s get to it.

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers vs. #4 Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers

Regular Season Series:
(12/25) Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangdong – 109
(2/10) Guangdong – 110 @ Xinjiang – 106 (OT)

How They Got Here:
#1 Guangdong over #8 Fujian, 3-0
#4 Xinjiang over #5 DongGuan, 3-2

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 2: Wednesday (3/7), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Friday (3/9), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Sunday (3/11), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang (if necessary)
Game 5: Wednesday (3/14), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

It’s not what we thought it was going to be, but we got it nonetheless: Yet another rematch between Guangdong and Xinjiang.

We all know how the story goes here — the Southern Tigers have beaten the Flying Tigers the last three years in the CBA Finals. Understandably frustrated, the Flying Tigers pulled out the big bucks this summer to upgrade their squad in almost every aspect. 11 games into the season, management decided that their main off-season acquisition, Chinese National Team head coach, Bob Donewald, wasn’t doing a good enough job and the team entered a period of upheaval that resulted in a string of losses before the team ultimately bounced back to clinch a #4 seed — their lowest playoff position in five years.

So although the teams are the same, the cast is quite different. Instead of James Singleton and Quincy Douby, Xinjiang’s rolling with a foreign combo of Kenyon Martin Gani Lawal Ike Diogu and Patty Mills Tim Pickett. Meng Duo and Tang Zhengdong are also new to the rivalry.

Yet despite all of the new faces, the result promises to be the same as its been in years past. Singleton, who left Urumqi for DongGuan during the off-season after the Xinjiang management deemed him spare parts, has blended perfectly with Guangdong’s National Teamers. And like every year, it’s those National Teamers that cause the biggest problems for their opponents. In addition to Wang Shipeng, who torched Xinjiang in the Finals last season, Guangdong also has a healthy Zhu Fangyu, who has enjoyed a bounce-back season after basically limping around the court in 2010-11. The two are essentially interchangeable depending on who’s hot on a given night and will be tough for the Xirelijiang-Xu Guochong-Meng Duo trio that Xinjiang will likely throw at them.

The biggest problem for Xinjiang though? Four years into this thing and they still just don’t match-up that well with their rival. Xinjiang’s size, their biggest advantage over all their other opponents, simply isn’t an advantage against Guangdong. Mengke Bateer struggled to push the immovable Su Wei around down low last year, and Tang Zhengdong didn’t fare much better in the two teams’ regular season match-ups this year. Guangdong also has another large man up their sleeve, Wang Zheng, who will throw himself around when Su Wei either gets tired or gets into foul trouble.

And then there’s Aaron Brooks — the only NBA-to-CBA player left in China currently — who is even more of a blur in this league than he is in the NBA. No matter who Xinjiang tries on him, Brooks will get into the lane and cause havoc.

If Guangdong wins tonight, and we think they will (which means they probably won’t), expect them to take care of business when they go back to Southern China to make this a quick, rather painless series.

Prediction: Guangdong in 3

#2 Beijing Shougang Ducks vs. #3 Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons

Regular Season Series:
(12/4) Shanxi – 97 @ Beijing – 121
(1/13) Beijing – 111 @ Shanxi – 114

How They Got Here:
#2 Beijing over #7 Guangsha, 3-0
#3 Shanxi over #6 Shanghai, 3-1

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 2: Wednesday (3/7), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 3: Friday (3/9), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 4: Sunday (3/11), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi (if necessary)
Game 5: Wednesday (3/14), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)

If it’s pretty easy to pick a winner in Guangdong-Xinjiang, it’s almost impossible to feel really good about a prediction in this one.

We’ll get to that prediction, but first let’s just break down everything that’s in play in this one. The biggest story obviously is Stephon Marbury’s return to his laodongjia of Taiyuan, the city where he started his CBA career in 2010. But where most other players would be hissed at for not coming back, Marbury is still loved by his old Brave Dragon fans and his Shanxi tour will be greeted very warmly, at least until the ball goes up. And even after that he may be cheered. Simply, it doesn’t get any better: Marbury, who has transformed Beijing from a barely-Playoff team into a legit contender, coming back to the team who let him go precisely because they thought he wasn’t capable of leading a top-tier squad… with a trip to the Finals on the line.

In the background rests what we think is just as big of a story, though: The individual match-up between the league’s two best foreigners, Marbury and Marcus Williams. Both went neck-and-neck for the NiuBBall MVP award during the regular season, and though the honor — yet to be officially handed out, we might add — is amongst the highest in the basketball world, we’re confident that both would rather take the chance to win a CBA title. With weaker Chinese teammates, Williams will have to be more dominant scoring the ball, but Marbury as he’s done all year will have to run the entire Beijing show before taking over offensively in the fourth.

The former of Steph’s responsibility is made easier by Beijing’s ability to space the floor, with bigs Zhu Yanxi and Ji Zhe capable of stepping out and letting it rain from distance. As is Williams’, who has the just-as-dominant Charles Gaines to shoulder to the statistical load. Shanxi’s notoriously off-and-on Duan Jiangpeng has been very on from three the last two games, and if he can keep up his shooting stroke it’ll help out with the pressures that Williams and Gaines have to live with every game.

But, Beijing is hitting their stride at the right time. Chen Lei and Lee Hsueh-lin (who will be doing pint-sized point-guard battle with Shanxi’s Lu Xiaoming, yet another interesting sub-plot) are finally healthy enough to take the court, and with Zhu Yanxi, Ji Zhe and Zhai Xiaochuan up front, Beijing has arguably five of the top seven Chinese players in the series. Add that to Randolph Morris, who like Gaines will get his while not playing a lick of defense, and Beijing should have the edge. Whatever the result, expect a lot of great games in a series that should be the fifth in CBA history to go the distance.

Prediction: Beijing in 5

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Games 2 and 3

February 27, 2012

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(2/24) Game 2: DongGuan – 82 @ Xinjiang – 93

Xirelijiang came up with one of the games of his life, scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 45 minutes to help lead Xinjiang stave off a 0-2 deficit. In his second game in China, Ike Diogu looked much more comfortable shooting 12-19 from the field to finish with 29 points and nine boards. Tim Pickett added 12 and Mengke Bateer had 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: DongGuan – 115 @ Xinjiang – 121

With Tim Pickett feeling the effects of a hamstring injury that caused him to miss morning shootaround, Ike Diogu took the reigns and then some, pouring in 42 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to give Xinjiang a 2-1 series lead over DongGuan. Showing a well-rounded offensive game, Diogu displayed an array of spins, drives and post-ups to score while also showing his ability on the perimeter by splashing 4-7 from three. Mengke Bateer added a double-double of his own with 15-10 and Xirelijiang scored 24.

In a furious fourth quarter that saw both teams score 37 points, Josh Akognon did his best to try and will his team to a win. But his 42 points ultimately came up short as DongGuan could never get over the hump. Down 2-1 in the series, they’ll have to win the next one in Guangdong to keep themselves from crashing out of the post-season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Shanghai – 95 @ Shanxi – 99

Despite a furious fight back in the final stages of the game, the Shanghai Sharks fell to their hosts, 99-95, meaning that Shanxi are now a game away from the playoff semi-finals. The Dragons owe tonight’s win to Charles Gaines, who emerged from the shadow of Marcus Williams to illustrate how important he was to Shanxi’s championship aspirations. The no-nonsense forward was a willing battering ram for the home side, who had to hold on for dear life in the dying seconds of the game whilst Shanghai, for the second successive game, just didn’t have the rub of the green that could have otherwise gifted them victory.

The middle stages of the game were controlled by Shanxi until, with barely two minutes left on the clock, Shanghai got themselves within a basket of tying the game and the Dragons were staying ahead of their guests only through some generous calls from the officials. The game went back and fourth until, with less than twenty seconds on the clock and Shanxi leading 96-95, Charles Gaines, who had been the Brave Dragons most dependable player, missed a set of free-throws and suddenly things got really chaotic. The Sharks, taking a time-out, restarted on the halfway line and whipped the ball over to Marcus Landry, who was creeping around by the Shanxi perimeter. With the game up for grabs, time seemed to stand still as the American’s shot hung in the air only to clip the front of the rim and bounce away to safety. Shanghai, desperate to get the ball back, fouled Pan Jiang and sent the guard to the free-throw line, where the Chinese converted his first attempt before scuffing the second one. Gaines, eager to finish the game on a high note, then acrobatically collected the rebound and whilst still in the air, forcefully jammed the ball home to the delight of the home crowd.

Gaines’ 31 points and 17 rebounds were critical in ensuring victory for the Dragons whilst his American team-mate, Williams, scored 28, and point guard Lu Xiaoming got 15. For the Sharks, Landry stood out with a fantastic 31 point haul whilst Harris picked up a 20 point, 10 rebound double-double as Shanghai came close to snatching victory but must now win the next game between the two sides or their season is over.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Shanghai –  101 @ Shanxi – 99

There are big games, there are huge games and then there are games where you are two-nil down in a playoff series and come back to win in the final seconds having been down by almost twenty points down at half time. Tonight was in the third category and the result means that the Sharks will be taking Shanxi back to Shanghai for Game 4 of this topsy-turvy series following an absolutely HUGE second half that saw the visitors find themselves with their backs to the wall only to respond with a performance of the highest order

It would be well into the fourth quarter but the Sharks eventually reached daylight and from that point onwards, an increasingly nervy Brave Dragons side looked awestruck by what was going on around them. Though Charles Gaines was chipping in with lay-ups, Marcus Williams looked like he was in pain after an earlier collision with Meng Lingyuan. In the meantime, the Sharks had not only tied the game, but taken the lead when Marcus Landry coolly dispatched a three-pointer with less than a minute to go. Gaines dispatched a set of free-throws shortly afterwards but with less than twenty seconds left, the game was tied at 99-99 and the Sharks, with momentum on their side, had the ball.

The moment of truth was now upon the Sharks and having restarted on the halfway line after the obligatory time out, the Sharks dished the ball out to Landry, who let the clock run down for as long as he could before charging into the paint, drawing the foul and dispatching the two free-throws. 101-99, Shanghai. Following the Dragons’ own restart, Shanxi then implausibly chose to put the ball in the hands of Williams, who hadn’t looked like himself all night as opposed to the red-hot Duan Jianpeng, who had already buried eight shots from downtown. The American’s effort clipped the edge of the rim and then fell into the hands of Harris, who held it for the final second or two to confirm the Sharks’ improbable victory.

Landry scored 24 points, whilst Liu  Wei (23), Mike Harris (22), Zhang Zhaoxu (12) and Wang Yong (11) all made crucial scoring contributions to the Sharks’ last gasp victory. Despite, Duan’s game high haul of 36 points that included eight three-pointers, the Dragons must now come back to Shanghai for Game 4 of this series against a suddenly rejuvenated Sharks outfit.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Guangsha – 87 @ Beijing – 104

Zhu Yanxi and Randolph Morris each scored a team-high 20 points and Stephon Marbury, Chen Lei and Zhai Xiaochuan all put down double-figures as the Ducks used a team effort to comfortably handle the visiting Lions in Game 2. 21 Lion turnovers contributed to the lopsided scoreline, six of which where commited by Wang Zirui.

Rodney White was better than his Game 1 performance with 23 points and 10 and P.J. Ramos had 22-10, but Guangsha’s Chinese players weren’t able to offer much in support.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Guangsha – 91 @ Beijing – 105

After six years since their last appearance in semi-finals, Beijing is once again a Final Four squad. Beijing raced off to a big lead in the first quarter and gave it up in the second before putting the game away with a huge run in the third to sweep Guangsha out of the playoffs. Randolph Morris finished as the game’s high scorer with 31 points and Stephon Marbury had 24.

Starting Rodney White, Guangsha managed just 13 points in the game’s first frame and found themselves down 11 by quarter’s end. But with Ramos on the floor in the second quarter, Guangsha looked much more balanced and in control on offense, fighting back to take the lead heading into half-time. Beijing took the lead again in the third, but waited until midway through the quarter to make their big move. With the score at 60-55 with a little over six minutes to go, the Ducks stormed to a 20-11 run to make the score 80-66. They never looked back — now they’re looking forward to a semi-finals series against either Shanxi or Shanghai.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Fujian – 104 @ Guangdong – 116

Seven Southern Tigers scored double-figures as Guangdong used its familiar home court to take a commanding 2-0 lead against Fujian. Adding to Anthony Roberson’s injury that will keep him out for the remainder of this series, all-around defensive ace Zaid Abbas missed this one with an ankle. Will McDonald tried to carry the Sturgeons with 24 points and 17 rebounds, but this game was pretty much over before it started after Guangdong hung up 37 in the first quarter to take a 15 point lead into the second quarter. Aaron Brooks lead all Guangdong scorers with 23.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Fujian – 106 @ Guangdong – 137

Guangdong picked up the brooms, scored 137 points and swept Fujian to an early vacation. The 137 points stands as the second most amount of points scored in the CBA this season. The only team who scored more this season was Jiangsu, who won 142-127 against Jilin on February 15th. (H/T hoopCHINA)

Down one heading into the locker room at halftime, Guangdong outscored their opponent by nine in the third and 24 in the fourth to get the big win. Injured, both Anthony Roberson and Zaid Abbas missed the game, which forced Will McDonald to deal with the four-time defending champs basically on his own. With all attention on him, he scored 13 points. Aaron Brooks finished with 31 points, James Singleton with 21 and Zhu Fangyu 25.

Guangdong awaits the winner of Xinjiang-DongGuan.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Game 1

February 24, 2012

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Beijing – 106 @ Guangsha – 103

For recap, check out Edward Bothfeld’s full report from Hangzhou.

Box Score

Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 85

A wretched third quarter and some dire shooting from the free-throw line condemned Shanghai to a painful 90-85 home defeat in game one of their playoff series with the Shanxi Brave Dragons. The hard work now beckons for the Sharks, who must now go to the north of China and win at least one of the next two games in Taiyuan to remain in the playoffs. For the Brave Dragons, Marcus Williams made 37 points, Charles Gaines picked up a beefy 27 point, 19 rebound, double-double whilst Duan Jianpeng got 10. For Shanghai, Mike Harris scored 22 points whilst Zhang Zhaoxu got 18.

‘We executed out game plan, we kept the score in the range we wanted to keep it in but unfortunately we didn’t make our free-throws’, acknowledged Shanghai head coach, Dan Panaggio, at his press conference. Though acknowledging that his side could have won the game had they been more clinical when they went to the line, Panaggio also stressed the unique situations that come with postseason games. ‘This is playoff basketball, and if you look at the history of playoff basketball, statistics decrease during a playoff series’, he stated in response to a question about the team’s scoring in the second half. ‘Teams have a week to prepare for one team, not three teams in a week- you’re preparing for one. [Shanxi] know our personal and we know theirs’.

The Sharks’ coach also made it clear that his side were nowhere near out of the series after one game and that he fully believed in his players’ ability to rally back from tonight’s defeat. ’We’ve got ourselves in a tough spot but we’re going to go up [to Taiyuan] and battle’. Having underlined his own intensity and determination, now Panaggio’s players must do the same on Friday when the Dragons host Shanghai in game two of the series.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Xinjiang – 95 @ DongGuan – 101

Widely seen as a major underdog in their opening round series, DongGuan came away with an important Game 1 victory at home against Xinjiang.

After being dominated on the offensive glass in their Round 33 regular match-up in Urumqi, DongGuan limited Xinjiang to a small +3 advantage. The home squad also got pretty hot from downtown, hitting 13-28 from three as a team. Shavlik Randolph 31 points and 14 rebounds, Zhang Kai came up with 16 points and nine boards, and Josh Akognon put in 24.

Meanwhile, Xinjiang struggled to find a consistent rhythm playing their first game without Gani Lawal. The team shot just 39% from the field and came up with only 11 assists. Newcomer Ike Diogu scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his CBA debut. Tim Pickett struggled to get going, scoring 19 points on 6-22 shooting, while Mengke Bateer had 18 and 11.

The series will move back to Xinjiang tonight, where the Flying Tigers have only lost twice all season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Guangdong – 115 @ Fujian – 97

Without the injured Anthony Roberson, Fujian was no match for Guangdong, who turned up the intensity to record an easy blowout victory. Wang Shipeng, who has largely been in hibernation for most of the winter, came out of his cave for team-high 24 points. Aaron Brooks came up with 22 points and eight assists, and Zhou Peng had 18 points.

For Fujian, Will McDonald did his best, playing a full 48 minutes for 33 points and six rebounds. Zhao Tailong had 25 points.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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It’s here! The official 2012 NiuBBall CBA Playoff Extravaganza!

February 22, 2012

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(Graphic via China Daily)

We have a saying over at NiuBBall: There is no parity in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Understand: Since the CBA went to a best-of-five format for the first round and semis in 2005, never has there been a do-or-die Game 5. Since the CBA went to a best-of-seven format for the finals a year later, only two teams – Bayi and Guangdong, both seeded 2nd, in 2007 and 2011 – have upset the regular season’s best team. Only one series has gone past Game 5 – last year, when Guangdong beat Xinjiang in six. In that same span, only three lower seeds have upset the higher seed.

The CBA is entertaining for many reasons, but the playoffs is definitely not one of them.

Its predictability has affected even the postseason schedule makers: best-of-five first round series take the 1-2-1-1 format in which the lower-seeded team hosts Game 1, based off the reasoning that attendance will be higher if a fan base’s optimism hasn’t been completely dashed by their team being in a 0-2 hole.

This year, though, we’re guaranteed at least this bit of variety: for the first time in three years, there will be at least one new team in the finals. That’s because Xinjiang and Guangdong are on the same side of the bracket, which means if everything goes to plan, they’ll play each other in the semis.

Expect it – and every other series – to go according to plan.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not rolling out the red carpet on this, though. Because in addition to reading a breakdown of every single first-round series here at NiuBBall, you can also check out Andrew Crawford’s roundtable approach to previewing things over at Shark Fin Hoops. Two English-language CBA Plaoff previews? Now that Niu Bi.

And while you’re at it, check out main man, Anthony Tao, and his new site Beijing Cream, which will cover everything and more about China’s capital city. Tao and NiuBBall are xiongdi – in 2010, he wrote great stuff about Stephon Marbury’s first season in China when he was with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, a piece that not only stood (and still stands) as one of the best ever written about Chinese hoops, but also one that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. We’re honored to have this preview appear on his site, and we’re looking forward to pitching in more CBA coverage throughout the playoffs and beyond.

And now, without further ado…

(Note: all start times subject to change.)

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers (25-7) vs. #8 Fujian SBS Sturgeons (17-15)

Regular Season Series:
(12/21) Guangdong – 85 @ Fujian – 90
(2/8) Fujian – 116 @ Guangdong – 126

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Fujian
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Fujian (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

The question isn’t whether the Southern Tigers will win their fourth straight championship and eight of the last nine – feel free to pause to let that sink in – but how many games they’ll need to do it and who they’ll beat. So there’s absolutely no chance of a first-round upset…

Yet – a big yet, but yet – if there was a team with a fighting chance of achieving the most monumental upset in Chinese basketball history, Fujian would be the pick. Able to trot out three foreigners to Guangdong’s two because of its abysmal record last season (a quirk in the CBA rules), Fujian can compensate for its inferior Chinese roster better than any other team in the playoffs. And those foreigners are good. In his first season in China, Will McDonald has become the hands-down best center in the league, blending the inside-outside game he developed in Spain with solid work on the boards. The tireless Zaid Abbas, the team’s Asian import, led the league in rebounding (14.7 per game) and minutes (42.7). Anthony Roberson rounds out the foreign lineup doing what he’s always done: shooting the air out of the ball, which is good if he’s hot (bad if he’s not).

But the best thing about Fujian’s imports? They actually match up pretty well with their opponents. Guangdong’s center combo of Su Wei and Wang Zheng have no offensive skills to speak of and don’t move well on either end of the floor, which means they’ll likely struggle to guard McDonald, who can stretch the floor. The more athletic yet smaller Dong Hanlin might have to shoulder that burden. The ever-active Abbas will make James Singleton work very hard to get his. And Roberson, who can and sometimes does go completely off, will probably have to garner at least some defensive attention from Aaron Brooks, who will resume his NBA career as soon as the season ends.

As CBA watchers know though, talking about foreigner matchups is usually a moot point when it comes to Guangdong, a team that relies on its Chinese guys to get it done: Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng, Chen Jianghua, Dong Hanlin and, yes, even the aforementioned duo of Su Wei and Wang Zheng make up seven of the top eight Chinese players in the series. So long as Brooks doesn’t get caught up trying to match Roberson’s shot total and does what he does best in this league — work out of the pick and roll and get into the lane at will — Guangdong will be more than fine.

*Roberson, who has been battling an injury the last few games, missed practice today and his status is in doubt for tonight’s game.

Prediction: Guangdong in 4

#2 Beijing Shougang Ducks (21-11) vs. #7 Zhejiang Guangsha Lions (18-14)

Regular Season Series:
(12/28) Guangsha – 118 @ Beijing – 112
(2/15) Beijing – 94 @ Guangsha – 114

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Guangsha
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Guangsha (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)

While Wilson Chandler is back in the U.S. getting a haircut for the first time since August and negotiating a $40 million-plus contract, the team he used to play for, the Guangsha Lions, is trying to figure out how in Mao’s name to replace the singularly most destructive foreigner in the CBA (when he wanted to be) not named Stephanie Smith.

They can contemplate all they want, but the reality is that they won’t find that replacement. Well, technically they have found a replacement, Hangzhou old-hand Rodney White. But let’s be clear: 2007 Rodney White ain’t walking through that door. And even if he was, it probably still wouldn’t be enough. So even though they swept the season series vs. Beijing, they’re about to get paid back in full. It’s a sad thought when you consider that the Lions were in third place in mid-December and looking like somewhat serious title contenders.

If you ignore, for a moment, the Chandler-exodus storyline, Guangsha’s season was interesting in its own rights – and also interesting because it mirrored Beijing’s. The Ducks sprinted out to a 13-0 start, then lost 11 out of the next 19. Yet because of the instability in the teams under them, Beijing was able to hang on to second place.

A lot of that incredible start was due to Stephon Marbury, who has played his butt off every night in a city he now considershome on a team with players far more talented than his teammates in Shanxi and Foshan. He was always meant for the big city, and in a place where he’s comfortable, his rededication to basketball is evident.

Two of his teammates, Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, are in their first years in the CBA, and both have thrived playing with Marbury. Zhu, a rookie sensation who was picked up from China’s second-tier National Basketball League, is the most Euro China big man you’ll see in this country. That may be an insult in the NBA, but in China it’s a huge compliment. Big under the boards and accurate from deep, Zhu amounts to the Chinese poor man’s version of Ersan Ilyasova. Zhai has no far-fetched NBA comparison, but he is a young, long and bouncy effort guy who does nothing particularly bad.

The Ducks’ longer-term success, i.e. a trip to the finals, will be predicated on whether Chen Lei and Lee Hsueh-lin are healthy. The good news is that they’re both back in the lineup after missing extended time with injuries; the bad news is that they haven’t really gotten an in-game run in a while, especially Lee, who, before coming back in Round 33 against Shanghai – the penultimate round of regular season games – had not played since December 9.

It boils down to this, though: Guangsha is bummed about Chandler, and Beijing is amped on making a finals run. Quack, quack.

Prediction: Beijing in 4

#3 Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons (20-12) vs. #6 Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (18-14)

Regular Season Series:

(12/16) Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 92
(2/3) Shanghai – 108 @ Shanxi – 119

Playoff Series Schedule:

Game 1: Tonight 8 pm, @ Shanghai
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Shanghai (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi (if necessary)

As Jim Yardley just expertly shared with the rest of the world in his book, Brave Dragons, what the rest of the CBA has known for quite some time: the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons are a flipping mess of a team.

Run by an owner who can switch from head coach to assistant coach to video coordinator to sports psychologist on a whim – or just hold all those titles at once – the Brave Dragons have gone through coaches, general managers, translators and players of all nationalities at an alarming rate over the years as “Boss Wang” continues his search for people who will give him the instant results he craves. Not surprisingly, as success in basketball usually comes from a gradual building process that nurtures familiarity and chemistry, Shanxi had never made the playoffs since their inception in 2006.

Which is why this year is so special: The Brave Dragons are finally in. How’d they do it? Boss Wang reportedly stopped meddling (as much – he definitely still meddles), and he stopped trying to bring in big-name NBA players who may come with NBA talent but also bring their NBA requirements, which the coal city of Taiyuan is largely incapable of fulfilling.

Wang took the safe bet this summer by bringing in Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines, two players who have played inChina before and have had no problem adjusting to the culture while accumulating monster stats. The two have developed into the best and most dependable foreign duo in the league. Gaines, who’s been putting up huge numbers ever since he played for Xinjiang two years ago, enjoyed another fantastic season, averaging 29.2 points and 13.1 rebounds on 64.1% shooting. Williams, who turned around Zhejiang Chouzhou’s season last year after coming in midseason after the Mike James experiment blew up, hasn’t missed a beat in his second season, averaging 32 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals.

The problem for Shanxi, though: Nobody else can consistently score and nobody defends. Yeah, Lu Xiaoming can get out in transition and probe around for dump-offs and kick-outs, and Duan Jiangpeng has had some big nights on the offensive end, but this team starts and ends with their foreigners.

Shanxi’s obvious reliance on their foreign studs is in stark contrast to Shanghai. Allowing just 89.6 points per game, Shanghai boasts the stingiest defense in the league. First-year head-coach Dan Pannagio, following in the defensive footsteps of China national team coach Bob Donewald Jr. from two years prior, has stressed solid team D while also installing the equal-opportunity triangle offense. The jury’s still out on the effectiveness of the triangle — the Sharks score a league-low 91.1 points a game – partly because they’ve dealt with injuries. Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who played the triangle under Panaggio in the D-League, was enjoying a great season, possibly even a NiuBBall MVP-type season, in his familiar offensive surroundings before rupturing his Achilles in late December.

His replacement, Marcus Landry, and especially Mike Harris, who stepped up with some big games down the stretch, have both helped the team move forward. But several Chinese players do their part here. The Sharks go nine, occasionally 10 deep, led most notably by their two national team players, veteran point guard Liu Wei and the young, ever-improving 7-3 center “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu. Liu Ziqiu is one of the better Chinese perimeter defenders in the league and Meng Lingyuan provides a lefty herky-jerky change of pace off the bench.

Throw in the fact that Shanghai’s very-much-on-the-same-page American coaching staff will have the freedom to make whatever adjustments they deem necessary, while Shanxi’s half-American, half-Chinese staff may or may not depending on how Boss Wang is feeling, and you’ve got the makings of a very intriguing and competitive first-round series. But with two NiuBBall All-CBA first-teamers in Gaines and Williams and an important home-court advantage that will challenge the road-weary Sharks (4-12 on the road this year), we’re giving the nod to the Brave Dragons.

Prediction: Shanxi in 5

#4 Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers (19-13) vs. #5 DongGuan New Century Leopards (19-13)

Regular Season Series:
(12/25) Xinjiang – 90 @ DongGuan – 97
(2/12) DongGuan – 89 @ Xinjiang – 97

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ DongGuan
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 8 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ DongGuan (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang (if necessary)

No team has gone through more turmoil, more changes and more disappointment this season than the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. Once drooling over the prospect of having Kenyon Martin, Quincy Douby, Tang Zhengdong and Mengke Bateer all being coached up by the American head coach of the Chinese National Team, Bob Donewald Jr., the team is now devoid of all three of those Americans (Douby broke his wrist in pre-season, Donewald was fired 11 games into the season and Martin left shortly after with 12 games under his belt).

They’re also short the player they replaced Douby with, Australian national team point guard, Patty Mills, who was released controversially mid-season after tearing his hamstring against Guangdong on December 23rd. And now, they’re going to be short the player who they replaced Martin with, Gani Lawal, who is reportedly being replaced by Ike Diogu.

Not coming as a shock, the team is likewise devoid of any real shot at the championship that’s they’ve come up just short of achieving the past three seasons.

They will however, storm through DongGuan. Because even though this has been the most drama any team has ever had to endure in one season, Xinjiang is still a very good team, a much better one than their opponents. Though they haven’t been the force that some people thought they’d be, Bateer and Tang still get it done on the inside and DongGuan’s light frontline will be pushed around without too much effort. On the wings, Xu Guochong is as lights out as ever from three and Xirelijiang is as good a two-way guard this league has. And that’s just domestic players. Tim Pickett has done very well coming into the team on short notice and before being released, Lawal was serviceable as a rugged blue-collar rebounder.

The team’s make-up will change wit Diogu, but even if he starts a big sluggish, Xinjiang will still win this series. Though DongGuan head coach Brian Goorjian for the second year in a row has done a masterful job at the helm, leading his team to a No. 5 seed after starting the year 0-4, they don’t hold any discernable advantage in any key category. Xinjiang is bigger and better than DongGuan’s big man rotation of Shavlik Randolph, Zhang Kai and Sun Tonglin, and should dominate the offensive glass. On the perimeter, nobody American or Chinese can handle Pickett.

The one mystery, maybe the only one of this series, is how Diogu, who’s been sitting at home all winter while professional basketball has been going on all around the world, will play in the face of loads of playoff pressure. This being his first time in China, it’s quite a lot to ask of a player to come into a new country, play in a new league, and suit up for a team who is expecting you to carry them to playoff glory. Lucky for him, he’ll probably be able to gradually find his rhythm this series without it affecting the final result.

Prediction: Xinjiang in 3

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Curtis Donald Interview

February 22, 2012

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In his first season as the Xinjiang Flying Tiger’s strength and conditioning coach, Curtis Donald has had the opportunity to work with a variety of different athletes, including three-time CBA MVP and former NBA player, Mengke Bateer. (Photo via NetEase)

Since the Chinese Basketball Association held its first season in 1995-96, the league has seen a steady increase in foreign players, coaches and consultants. But in recent years, the league has also seen a foreign increase in another area, one that is arguably just as important: strength and conditioning coaches.

Once a luxury reserved for only the Chinese Senior National Team, foreign professional strength and conditioning coaches have slowly been hired to work with Youth National Teams all the way down to the senior club level. This season, more than half of the CBA’s 17 teams have at least one foreigner on their strength and conditioning staff, a number that should — and probably will — increase in the future as the league continues to open its doors to foreign influence.

Because in a country that is still learning how to take better care of their athletes, the benefits of bringing in Western strength training and development are obvious. With many athletes training 10-11 months out of the year, the need to take care and improve players physically should be at a high priority. And with China’s ambitions on the international stage growing higher and higher, Chinese players need to be strong, flexible and explosive in order to stand up to the rest of the world’s elite athletes.

There’s still some way to go, but the results have already been pretty impressive. Last summer when the Chinese Olympic U-23 team played against the Duke Blue Devils in Beijing, we were impressed, but not totally shocked, to see China’s players have little if any difference in muscle tone, agility and athleticism in comparison to their American opponents.

Accordingly, more CBA teams are taking notice. As part of their off-season push to get over the championship hump that they’ve come up short in climbing the last three seasons, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers brought in the first foreign strength and conditioning coach in the history of the franchise, Curtis Donald.

Donald, who got his first gig with a professional basketball team as intern with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009, knows a thing or two about Chinese basketball players. He worked as Yi Jianlian’s private performance specialist from the summer of 2009 until the summer of 2011, when he was hired to come to Xinjiang. During those two seasons, Donald was with Yi year-round, both while he was playing in NBA with New Jersey and Washington, and also while he was with the Chinese National Team during the summers.

And it was during those summers where Yi and Donald’s work especially paid off — forced to step into the team’s lead scoring role after Yao Ming’s retirement, Yi played the best and most complete basketball of his career at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, where he was the only player in the entire tournament to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds, and at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, where he lead China to a gold medal and an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

With his first season in the CBA almost over, Donald and NiuBBall hopped on Skype for a discussion about the year in Xinjiang, what it was like working with Yi, and the state of Chinese strength and conditioning as a whole.

NiuBBall: You’re heading into the Playoffs tonight, describe your first year working in China.

Curtis Donald: It’s been challenging, just dealing with all of the changes we’ve gone through this year. And especially the injury bug that we’ve been hit by. First with Quincy [Douby] going down early and then Patty [Mills]. We had [Maierdan] go down, too. And then the changes to the coaching staff as well. So it’s been kind of a learning experience dealing with all of the issues.

NiuBBall: What were your expectations coming into this year? When you were hired for this job, what were your understandings about the Flying Tigers and their expectations?

CD: I just knew that they had a great tradition and basketball culture. They were consistently at the top of the league the last few years, so I knew expectations were going to be high. They had been to the Finals the last three years, so I knew anything less than a championship was going to be unacceptable. It was good to have those expectations. This season is only successful if you win the championship. Period. If you go undefeated and you lose in the championship, then the season didn’t matter. It was interesting to come in for my first head job and be a part of an all-or-nothing situation. It’s just very unique.

NiuBBall: The reality of that championship goal has changed because of all of the changes that have gone on within the team this year. How has that affected your own expectations as the season has progressed?

CD: It’s going to be a lot more difficult to win a title. But, having come in here with that mindset, I’m trying to maintain my belief that anything less than a championship is a failure. No matter what’s happened, I still need to treat the players and help them to the best of my ability. I came here in October to help this team win a championship. It’s February now and that hasn’t changed for me. Like I said, it’s going to be much more difficult, but it hasn’t changed how I approach my day-to-day.

NiuBBall: Take us through your responsibilities to the team. What do you do both on a day-to-day basis and on a more long-term, full season basis?

CD: My responsibilities include strength and power development, injury prevention, and if necessary, nutritional guidance. The day-to-day is all about having seamless communication between the coaching staff, players, team physician, and myself on players progress and potential issues.

Over the long term, I try to see improvement in a series of performance tests that indicate progress in areas such as lateral quickness, vertical jump, and linear speed. Improvement of these results is mostly seen in the off-season, but in-season we attempt to maintain those results. Also, throughout the season I am constantly evaluating players for movement inefficiencies or improper biomechanics.  Its important to develop and maintain proper movement patterns to keep each athletes risk of injury to a minimum.

It’s really a unique job. You train guys differently based on who they are, how much experience they have and how many minutes they’re getting. But then you’re also going on guys’ individual experience as well. Guys like Kenyon Martin, Patty and Quincy don’t do the same things as the 12th man on the bench. So it’s unique. You have a high-level NBA player to work with on one end that needs more corrective and preventative work so that he can avoid injuries, and you also have Chinese guys who fit into that category as well with Tang [Zhengdong] and [Mengke] Bateer. But then you have the  Xirelijiang’s and Meng Duo’s that you still need to develop, but they’re getting high minutes, so they’re kind of in between. Although this is a professional basketball team, the job has a lot of “college” aspect to it because you do need to develop players. The younger guys who maybe aren’t playing as much, you’re always trying to develop them. My favorite part of the job, has been the diversity between the different players goals and training experience.

NiuBBall: All of the foreign players are obviously used to the Western training methods that you’re using, but what about the Chinese guys? How have they responded?

CD: The players love it. I feel that they’re really interested in how strength and conditioning can elevate and extend their careers. They come to me after practice wanting more work, they ask questions about why they’re doing certain things. They are engaged in the whole process. They’re used to doing a lot of back squatting for example. But, I take the bar off their back and we do a lot of single leg work with a weighted vest. They’re a little confused about it at first, but then when it’s explained to them, they really respond and they start to understand that this is how you get better, this is how you stay healthy. They then start to realize that their knees feel better, or their back isn’t hurting, or whatever the case may be. Then that draws guys even closer to the system and the American way of doing strength and conditioning. To me, that I can affect their training habits and gain their trust, that’s been very gratifying.

NiuBBall: You talked already about Tang and Bateer. Both of them are former CBA MVPs and have played big roles in the National Team set-up. Now they’re late in their careers, how have they reacted to having you around the team?

CD: Let’s talk about Tang first. Luckily with him, he’s dealt with foreign strength coaches before because he’s played for the National Team in recent years. So he understood right away and he bought in right when I got here. Tang’s main issue is that he has a weight issue. It’s hard for him to manage his weight and when he gets above a certain weight his knees start to bother him significantly. When I first got here, we had Tang doing three workouts a day. Bob [Donewald Jr.] and I decided that we wanted to get his weight down as quickly as possible before all the travel started, so we had him doing pool workouts at lunchtime. While his teammates were sleeping – you know how much the Chinese players love their post-lunch nap – he was at the pool doing plyometrics and intervals with me. And he loved it. He was exhausted, but he was seeing results. He had already bought into it, and then once he started to see improvement, he really started to trust me.

With Bateer, it’s a little different. I treat him like an NBA guy. I give him a lot more freedom. He has way more experience than I do. I didn’t come in and try to dictate his routines or change the way he trains, I just gave him some ideas and approached him more casually. Like you said, he’s won MVPs and he’s been in the NBA, so he knows what he’s doing. But, he’s also stayed healthy for the most part. So what’s there for me to do? We discussed some things that we wanted to add and I give him a little bit at a time, but I kind of let him go on his own. And when he needs me, he comes to me. And I think that’s a great approach. I’m not going to force myself on a guy who’s had success.

NiuBBall: There’s a common belief amongst Chinese, especially within Chinese basketball, that Chinese bodies are genetically inferior to their Western counterparts and that’s why the Chinese are unable to develop high-level players. With your experiences, first with Yi and now with Xinjiang, do you buy into that?

CD: I do believe that they’re just not as athletic overall, but I think it comes down to how this country’s younger players have been training, both inside each club’s youth team and inside the youth national teams. You can train to be more athletic. You may not ever be able to jump out of the gym like an elite NBA athlete, but you can still improve. I think it’s an excuse. Chinese players miss a window of opportunity right after puberty to really gain athleticism, strength and power because of out-dated training methods.

NiuBBall: I think the obvious example right now is Jeremy Lin. He’s Asian, but was born and raised in the States, and now he’s starring for the New York Knicks.

CD: I think he’s a great example. He’s Asian, but if he’s not built like a Westerner, or he’s physically at a disadvantage or whatever, then why is he having so much success? It’s because he was raised in a different basketball culture and he took advantage of his opportunity when it came. So that can’t be an excuse if guys like Jeremy Lin are having the success that the is having.

NiuBBall: So is bringing over those Western training styles and teaching the Chinese how to use those methods an important step in developing athletes here?

CD: Absolutely.  There have been a number of Western strength coaches that have done a great job over here. I believe the hiring of these coaches must continue. There needs to be continuous effort to educate the Chinese in the area of strength and conditioning. There needs to be opportunities for junior team head coaches to be educated or there needs to be budgets to get some developmental strength and conditioning programs inside of teams, maybe getting a Westerner in there to run a program and teach the Chinese coaches. I think if there was an improvement on the youth level, middle school or high school level, it’d make a world of difference. It would prepare them to compete at a higher level internationally in events like the World Championship and at the Olympics. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to scramble around for the next Yao or the next Yi. They’d have a crop of guys who are just ready to step in and they’d have a lot of guys to choose from because they’ve been training the right way from an early age.

NiuBBall: How much of the things that you’re bringing to this team are being picked up by players? Whenever you’re done in Xinjiang, do you see them being able to use these things by themselves long-term? Do you think the organization will employ Western training methods down through the club?

CD: I think it just depends on the player. Guys who realize that this is how you’re supposed to take care of your body are going to continue to do it. A lot of it has to do with the culture of China. They’re very respectful to authority. So if you get a new coach who doesn’t do it this way, then they’re going to listen to their coach, no matter how different his strength and conditioning methods are from mine. So it just depends on the guy.

I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to change the culture of the team and the way the front office views strength & conditioning. But there are a number of former and current national team players that have had positive experiences with strength and conditioning that might be able to influence the front offices decision to keep western training methods around the organization. As for these methods being used down on the junior team level, it’s very unlikely until there is an obvious long-term financial benefit in developing young players that can be seen by management.

NiuBBall: You’re American, you’ve worked in America with the Clippers, but over the last two years you’ve been working exclusively within Chinese basketball. Now that you’ve had experiences with both sides, what are the major differences you’ve noticed between the U.S. and China in terms of strength and conditioning?

CD: The culture here is much different. I can only speak for basketball, but I’m sure it extends over to other sports as well. And that’s the quantity of work, the quantity of practices and the length of practice time over the quality of those practices. For example, it’s not uncommon at the youth national team even at the senior national team level to have a two-to-three hour practice in the morning and then another two-to-three hour practice in the afternoon. And some guys are on club teams where they do the same thing. So some players are doing what essentially amounts to 12 straight months of two-a-days. That’s unreal. When is there time to recover? When is there time to really get quality work?

And that brings up other issues. When you know you’re going to go through the same practice routine every day of the week for months on end, it’s human nature to find a pace that gets you through it. It’s not a pace that gets them better, they’re not going at an intense game-speed that will get them better, it’s this pace that gets just get them through the day. It’s survival, it’s “How can I survive through this day?” They know that they have a two or three hour practice in the morning and another one in the afternoon. So it creates a pace, and really a mentality, that slows development. It doesn’t develop a great athlete. They can never reach that world-class intensity because they’re just pacing themselves to get through each day.

If there’s one change that the sport culture in China needs to go through, the one that will give this country’s athletes the most benefit, I think they need to learn quality over quantity. Teach these guys to reach high intensities over shorter periods of time and then rest and recover.

NiuBBall: The prime example is of course Yao, who had to retire because of all the injuries and wear and tear that piled up on his body after playing year-round for so many years. Yi is also playing all year, how has that affected his career?

CD: I think it’s had a huge effect on Yi’s career, especially in the NBA. You have to understand: He goes through an NBA season, maybe he gets a month off after and if he does that’s a huge amount of time for a Chinese player to be resting. Then he has to report to the national team and play there. Luckily. Bob [Donewald] has been managing his minutes through all of the exhibition games that they play over the course of a summer and that’s definitely helped. But still, with the way the Chinese Basketball Association schedules the summer, it’s not uncommon for Yi to be playing nine games in 10 days. How can you expect a guy to play an NBA season, play an entire summer’s worth of games, play in a major continental or international competition depending on the year, and then go back and play in the NBA again?

Yi’s reputation is that he’s a soft basketball player. I’ve seen him play at the top of his game at the World Championship and at the Asia Championship. He’s not a soft player. But if he doesn’t find that rest, he just doesn’t have a motor. He doesn’t have any gas in the tank. He’s exhausted. And until they make some changes, they’re never going to see an All-NBA caliber player like Yao ever again.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk more about Yi. What was it like to work with him for those two years?

CD: It was a tremendous opportunity to help his career, both internationally and in the NBA. He’s a great guy to work for, he’s a true professional.

NiuBBall: What was he like as a client? What was the relationship between you two like?

CD: He was great, he reacted very well to having me with him. Yao had a foreign strength and conditioning guy when he was with the National Team and at that time, Yi was pretty young. So I think he saw the success Yao was having and I’m pretty sure that Yi thought that was the best route for him to go. Just in terms of that he’s being taken care of on the performance end, both in the NBA and when he’s with Team China, to have a guy guiding him through all the things he needs to do to get better and remain healthy.

We had full trust in each other. He had already committed to taking the advice of the people around him. It was his idea to bring someone in for himself. He thought, “I’m investing in my career, so I’d better take full advantage and listen to everything that this guy is telling me.” So right from the start, he had 100% trust in me and the entire process as a whole.

And you know, his work ethic is world class. Rarely did Yi cancel a session, unless it was something personal that he had to attend to that day. In Washington, we’d sometimes work into the wee hours of the night. Sometimes we’d meet at midnight and we’d be in the gym by ourselves, lifting and doing core work. His work ethic and commitment level were world class.

He’s a total professional. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to work for him because he opened up a lot of doors for me. If it weren’t for him and his people, and the opportunity that they gave me, I wouldn’t have been around the National Team, I wouldn’t have gotten with Donewald and I wouldn’t be here in Xinjiang right now.

NiuBBall: Curtis, thanks for the time and good luck with the rest of the season.

CD: Thanks, Jon.

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Guangsha, Xinjiang shake up their import Playoff rosters

February 22, 2012

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After Guangsha allowed Wilson Chandler to return to the United States, the familiar Rodney White has been brought back to suit up for the team’s post-season run.

Edward Bothfeld also contributed to this story.

Zhejiang Guangsha, who played the entire regular season with Wilson Chandler, will now have to play the entire post-season without him after both sides agreed to let him return to the United States to negotiate his next NBA contract after he helped the team secure a Playoff berth. Chandler is already back in the U.S., where he is reportedly in discussions over a long-term deal with the Denver Nuggets.

Guangsha has signed Rodney White as his replacement.

Guangsha opted to bring in White because of his familiarity with the team and with the CBA.

White played for three seasons with the Lions from 2007-10 before playing for Shandong Kingston last year. In his last season for the Lions in 2009-2010,  he averaged 27 points and nine rebounds, leading them to the second round of the playoffs. He also has experience playing with Guangsha’s holdovers from that season, most notably P.J. Ramos, Lin Chih-chieh, and Jin Lipeng, all of whom are core players this season.

That said, White should fit into Chandler’s role better than any other options that were on the market. White had been playing for Anyang KGC in South Korea before getting injured, and arrived Sunday morning in Hangzhou in decent shape. If he can buy into Coach Jim Cleamons game plan, Guangsha will have a puncher’s chance against Beijing in the first round of the playoffs, which begin Wednesday.

In 29 games last season for Shandong, White averaged 22.4 points,8.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.

Guangsha head coach, Jim Cleamons, who spoke to NiuBBall’s Edward Bothfled, welcomes his addition.

“Rodney is going to do well for us. [Wilson and Rodney] are not the same player, but they have similar characteristics. He’s not going to be the ball handler in the open court that Wilson is. Rodney’s been a successful player in this league for a few years and he has playoff experience.”

As for Chandler’s departure, there is some level of disappointment that he is gone, but most people within the Guangsha organization understand his position. “I’m very happy for him. I think he did what we asked him to do. He came over and played hard. He improved his skills so I think it was a good experience for him,” said Cleamons.

Cleamons himself did not learn that Chandler had been granted his release until the night it happened. Along with the rest of the Lions team, he was unable to say goodbye to Chandler before he left.

Still, his teammates understand Chandler’s situation, “I think they wish him well. If the shoe was on their foot and they had the opportunities that Wilson is going to have, they would wish him well,” added Cleamons, “ From a business perspective, they would understand. The timing could be better. It is what it is.”

Meanwhile, three-time Finals runners-up, Xinjiang Guanghui, is also making a change — again. Yesterday, the team officially announced that they have brought in former NBA lottery pick, Ike Diogu to replace Gani Lawal. It marks the fifth time this season that Xinjiang has brought in a new foreigner this season.

Lawal, who came in mid-season to replace Kenyon Martin, averaged 18.4 points and 12.3 rebounds on 61.2% shooting over 17 games. During that stretch, the team went 11-6 and climbed up the standings from tenth place all the way into fourth.

Though Lawal came in and was more than serviceable, and at times even dominant, especially on the glass, Xinjiang team management felt they needed to add more offense on their front line. With Mengke Bateer and Tang Zhengdong having struggled with their offensive consistency all year, the team felt they needed somebody who provide a a more diverse scoring threat.

Diogu comes into his first stint in China at a high-pressure time when Xinjiang is gearing up for their annual run deep into the playoffs. After not playing any professional basketball during the NBA lockout, Diogu was signed by the San Antonio Spurs on January 3rd, but was released one week later. With management’s notoriously sky high expectations for their import players, the heat will be on Diogu to step in and immediately perform at a high level.

It’s not uncommon for teams to replace foreign players right before the playoffs. Last year, Beijing swapped Joe Crawford out for Orien Greene, and DongGuan replaced the injured Jackon Vroman for Courtney Sims. Beijing’s move to bring in Greene backfired, however, as FIBA elected to extend a two-year suspension that was originally handed down in March 2009.

The 2012 CBA Playoffs start tonight with #4 Xinjiang going on the road to play #5 DongGuan, while #7 Guangsha will host #2 Beijing in Game One of the best-of-five first round.

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