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2011-2012 CBA Preview

November 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

3. Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld

4. Jiangsu Nangang Dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld

6. Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

7. Liaoning Jiebao Innovators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

8. Beijing Shougang Ducks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

9. Jilin GBT Northeast Tigers

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

10. Bayi Fubang Rockets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Crawford 

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

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

–Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

–Jon Pastuszek

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Is China in danger of missing out on the 2012 Olympics?

September 8, 2011

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The FIBA Asia Championship starts on September 15th in Wuhan, Hubei province in China. Like the FIBA Americas, FIBA Oceania and FIBA EuroBasket Championships that already underway, and the FIBA Africa Championship that concluded on August 26, the winner of the Asia Championship receives an automatic berth into the 2012 London Olympics.

Throughout the tournament’s history, the Asia Championship’s result and a spot in the Olympics has generally been guaranteed for the Chinese, who have won the competition a record 14 times. But, this year things look to be vastly different for Big Red, who enter Wuhan as consensus underdogs for perhaps the only time other than the 2007 Asia Championship when they sent their “B team” to Tokushima, Japan, since their participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics had already been guaranteed as the host nation.

After all, why should they be considered favorites? For the first time since 1997, China will not be defending its FIBA Asia Championship crown. Instead, they’ll be trying to deny Iran from lifting their third straight championship, an image that many — including us — feel is the tournament’s most likely result.

If Iran does indeed win the Asian crown, China would find itself in a pretty big mess. Assuming at least a top-three finish, their next shot at Olympic qualification would come in July 2012 at  the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. There, the top three teams out of 12 will advance on to London. Since those spots are typically grabbed up by European teams, China would be faced with the very real scenario of missing out on the 2012 Olympics altogether. Which is why this tournament is so important and why the Chinese Basketball Association has been hell-bent on getting Team China ready.

Ready or not, though, China will head into Wuhan clearly behind Iran. Why the change from perennial favorites to sudden underdogs? Let’s break it down.

Injuries

Be patient, there’s a lot of them.

On August 16th, reigning CBA Finals MVP, Wang Shipeng, broke his wrist in an exhibition game against Australia in London. Initially expected to be out 4-6 weeks, there was a small glimmer of hope that Wang would be ready for the team’s opening match against Bahrain on September 15th. However, on August 26th doctors announced that Wang will not be able to play in any of the Asia Championship.

It’s a huge blow for the Chinese. Not only is Wang one of China’s best and most experienced players, he’s the only guard who can consistently create his own shot off the dribble. Without Wang’s scoring on the perimeter, Yi Jianlian is now option A through Z on offense, which is why opposing teams are likely to send even more defenders in his direction in an attempt to keep him from taking over on that end.

To replace Wang, the team decided to call up Duan Jiangpeng, a soon to be 22 year-old guard/forward who plays domestically for Shanxi Zhongyu. Duan played well for the Chinese U-23 Team this summer in their three-game exhibition series against the Duke Blue Devils and is someone who like Wang can create some offense for himself on the wing. But, let’s be honest — if Duan was good enough for the Senior Team, he wouldn’t have been cut from the roster altogether earlier this summer. Maybe he surprises, but we doubt he’ll be seeing any playing time in any of China’s “must-wins” against Iran and South Korea.

As unfortunate as Wang Shipeng’s injury is, what’s more unfortunate is that he’s not the only guy who is injured. Wang’s Guangdong teammate, Zhou Peng, who played Quincy Douby in the CBA Finals as well as anyone had all season last year, dislocated his elbow during training in early July and has been on the sidelines since trying to get right for the Asia Championship. According to a report yesterday on Sina Sports though, Zhou’s recovery isn’t going well and his status is in major doubt as he has yet to participate in any full-team practices.

There’s more: Zhejiang Chouzhou’s and NiuBBall’s favorite Chinese undersized power forward, Ding Jinhui, ruptured an ankle ligament earlier in the summer and although he has healed well enough to train with the team, team doctor Du Wenliang told reporters yesterday that there has the ankle is flaring up after practices and that Ding “is a little scared he might re-injure it, during practice he’s still playing tentatively.”

All of this is quite problematic. Healthy, China is thin enough as it is. At the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, China went only seven deep throughout the tournament, relying heavily on Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhizhi, Sun Yue, Wang Shipeng and Liu Wei to carry most of the minutes, with Zhou Peng and Ding Jinhui playing in spots off the bench. With China’s core seven definitely down to six and possibly five depending on Zhou Peng’s elbow, other less experienced and less talented players are going to have to step up for the Chinese, especially in games against lesser opponents so that the starters can get some rest in the preliminary rounds. Possible? Maybe. Likely? No.

Better competition

Though China has won the Asia Championship a record 14 times, they haven’t won a title since 2005 when they had a healthy Yao Ming leading the way. Some people will be quick to point out that China, who had automatically qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the host nation, sent out its young “B team” in 2007, which opened the door for Iran to win gold. And that’s valid.

But in 2009, China sent out its best squad to regain the country’s Asian glory. They were famously destroyed by Hamed Haddadi and Iran in the Finals, a result that still haunts the team today. Some of the same people who were quick to point to China’s B teammers in 2007 will be equally quick to point out that Yao Ming was hurt in 2009. That point is also valid, but Yao’s injury was and still is the cold reality of a Chinese system that leaned too much upon one player to deliver gold medals to the country. And this year, that cold reality is going to be made even more frigid when China goes up against the toughest field in Asia Championship history.

In addition to their already strong roster led by Haddadi and Mahdi Kamrani, tournament favorite Iran is adding Rice University standout, Arsalan Kazemi, who has been granted permission by his school to play in Wuhan. The addition of the 6’7 Kazemi, a Second-Team All-Conference USA selection last year and the only player in his conference to average a double-double, will make Iran even more of a favorite when the tournament starts up on the 15th.

There’s other teams that will challenge China on the top-tier as well. Lebanon, who has finished in the top four in each of the last five tournaments, will be joined by 32 year-old 6’9 American forward Sam Hoskin, who naturalized this summer and has officially been put on the team’s 12-man roster. Though past his prime, Hoskin was once a very good player in Europe, playing EuroLeague ball with Greek power Olympiacos and Croatain outfit Cibona Zagreb.

South Korea, who China narrowly beat last year in Guangzhou at the 2010 Asia Championship, will also be very much in the mix, too. Yes, as there are 16 teams in the Asia Championship, there are still plenty of cupcakes like India, Bahrain, Indonesia and Malaysia that will make up the majority of the tournament’s early stages. But at the top, there has never been this many good teams. And that’s not good news for China.

Age

We wrote about it over at Shanghai City Weekend and Bob Donewald went on the record about it in the New York Times, but really it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to anyone who’s even casually followed Team China over the years: The Chinese basketball system simply cannot develop a crop of young, talented basketball players.

Case in point: 32 year-old Wang Zhizhi and 31 year-old Liu Wei, whose odometer reads somewhere between  250,000 and 300,000 miles after playing domestic and national team basketball year-round for the last decade or so, are still playing major roles for the team in 2011. We’re not saying that these guys shouldn’t still be playing because Wang Zhizhi clearly demonstrated he can definitely still hoop last year during China’s run to gold at the Asia Games. We just think they shouldn’t be playing 25+ minutes a game. Ideally, we think both would be great in small doses of concentrated court-time — think Lithuania’s highly seasoned 31 year-old point guard, Sarunas Jasikevicius, who is playing an average of 15.6 very effective minutes per game at EuroBasket backing up Lithuania’s 24 year-old young-ishblood Mantas Kalnietis.

Of course, China has nobody who can allow Big Wang and Liu to ease into roles more suitable for their senior citizen statuses. China’s next-gen guard combo of Guo Ailun and Yu Shulong aren’t ready yet and the development of big men Max Zhang and Su Wei haven’t gone as well as initially hoped. No matter how much is done in the garage to keep Wang and Liu running somewhat smoothly, these two rickety players will eventually either show their obsolescence or just completely break down for good.

Chinese fans are just hoping that doesn’t happen in Hubei.

They’re just not that good

Maybe its a product of all of the things mentioned above, maybe its because they’re tired from playing basketball all year, or maybe its just that this group of Team China just isn’t that good. Or maybe its a combination of everything.

Whatever it is, China has been losing games way more than they’ve been winning them this summer during their long schedule of “warm-up games” in preparation for the Asia Championship. And we don’t think that’s a very good sign of things to come.

In late June, China lost two close games against Australia in the 2011 YouYi Games, one of which was played in Perth and the other in Singapore. From August 1-9, China went 1-7 in the Stankovic Cup, losing all four of their games in Haining to Russia (twice), Angola and Australia before losing  their next three to New Zealand, Angola and Australia in the Guangzhou tournament. In the tournament’s last game, China managed to eek one out against Angola. From August 16-21, China went 0-5 in the London International Basketball Festival, losing by an average of 24.3 points to Australia, Serbia, Croatia, France and yes, even Great Britain, who did not even have a basketball team six years ago. During the festival, China put up a 43 point stinker against the Aussies in the opener, and never cracked the 60 point plateau in any of the four games after.

We’ve watched Team China throughout the summer and the results have confirmed our beliefs — this just isn’t a very good team as currently constructed. On offense, China’s motion offense looks like a pile of wet leaves. Like always, their guards are still to easily flustered by on-ball pressure, which makes it difficult for them to get into any kind of rhythm on offense. Defensively, though Donewald praised this group back in June for being “the best defensive team in Chinese history,” the team just looks plain tired in September. And while Yi will get his stats as he is a tough matchup for most teams in the international game, China is going to have major problems getting consistent offense from anyone else, especially without Wang Shipeng.

Donewald has tried to search for answers in these tough times, giving hard looks to Yi Li, Mo Ke, Xirelijiang, Zhang Bo, Zhang Qingpeng and Yu Shulong in the hope that someone is ready to make the jump into a trusted player Donewald can rely upon in Wuhan. So far, no dice. Which could mean come next year, no Olympics.

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Catching up on all things China National Team

June 24, 2011

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June 14th: China’s young “second team” goes down to Japan in East Asian Championship semi-finals

Coming off of a solid win against South Korea on June 12th in the last game of the group stage, young Team China entered their semi-finals game last Tuesday against Japan with a marquee win over one of their biggest Asian rivals. Knowing that a rematch in the Finals was all but assured after the Koreans beat China Taipei in the game before, the Chinese knew that their toughest work still lay ahead of them.

If only they knew.

Forcing the Chinese into 17 second-half turnovers, Japan spoiled any thoughts of a China-Korea Round Two as they stormed back from a 12 point halftime deficit to upset the hosts 72-62 in Nanjing. Though the loss is a bitter disappointment for the Chinese, their failure to win won’t have any effect on their qualification for the FIBA Asia Championship in September. As the host nation, China has already received an automatic bid and will be assured the chance to play in the official Asian qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics.

Kenta Hirose, Shinsuke Kashigawi and Kosuke Takeuchi all scored 13 points to lead the Japenese. “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu led the Chinese with 16 points.  The Chinese Second Team hasn’t beat Japan in six years, dating back to when they lost to the Japanese in the 2005 East Asia Games semi-finals.

Yu Shulong, Meng Duo, Yi Li, Dong Hanlin and Su Wei started for Team China, but with the Chinese’s spot in the FIBA Asia Championship locked up as the host nation, substitute head coach Li Nan subbed in and out freely in order to give all players ample time to showcase their ability.  Yu, Meng, Zhang Bo and Han Shuo interchanged throughout the first half in a three-guard attack, with China’s four-headed inside combo of Su, Dong, Zhang and Mo Ke doing the dirty work up front.  Facilitating mostly out of the high-post, the Chinese offense looked decent at best and positively terrible at worst.

But, by the end of the first half, China’s huge size advantage up front translated into numerous offensive rebounds and putbacks.  On the defensive side, the Japanese couldn’t get anything going in their offensive sets, and when it got late in the shot clock, the Japanese guards had trouble breaking down anybody off the dribble for clean looks.  With their domination on the glass and solid defense, China went into the locker room up 38-24, despite turning the ball over nine times.

Coming out in the second half, Japan made a few key adjustments on both ends. Ramping up the effort on the defensive end, Japan swarmed China’s big men on the catch, sending two and sometimes three men into the post. Though all of China’s bigs struggled to do anything positive offensively in the second half, Su Wei stood out as the team’s worst performer.  Looking equally inept at either scoring or passing, Su charged into defenders, lost the ball in traffic, threw the ball away and got his shot blocked en route to six turnovers.

It didn’t get much better for China’s guards.  Meng coughed up the rock seven times, most of which came as a result of forcing reckless drives into traffic.  Yu, who threw a couple of loopy passes that were picked off and converted into points on the other end, didn’t fare much better, finishing with four himself.

When Japan wasn’t racing out in transition off turnovers, they were calmly executing in their half court offense off of dribble penetration and ball screens.  Confounded by Japan’s steady second half diet of pick-and-rolls, the Chinese allowed their opponents easy access into the lane for simple lay-ups or kick outs.  Japan purposely picked on the immobile Su and Zhang on pick-and-rolls, and with the plodding duo slow to both show out and recover, Hirose and Kashigawi ran amok as China’s helpside defense refused to make even the most basic rotations.

Though the loss is disappointing, its key to remember that this was not even close to China’s best team.  Bob Donewald was back in Beijing with the team’s best players preparing for China’s trip to Australia, so this was a chance for China’s young and inexperienced players to pick up some game action.  But, don’t try telling that to Chinese fans. On a poll after the game on Sina.com, 76% of voters said the game was “a dissapointment, there’s no way they should have lost.”

In the third-place game, China beat Chinese Taipei, and Korea beat Japan in the championship.

June 16th: Before team heads off to Australia, Donewald trims National Team roster to 20

Forced to do another round of cuts in the days prior to China leaving for a an exhibition series in Australia, Bob Donewald released seven players from National Team duty.

Liu Ziqiu, Peng Fei, Duan Jiangpeng, Han Shuo, Zhang Kai, Dong Hanlin and Zhang Sontao were all axed.  Yao Ming, despite publicly contemplating retirement, remains on the roster.

The remaining players:

Guards: Wang Shipeng (王仕鹏), Zhang Bo (张博), Liu Wei (刘炜), Zhang Qingpeng (张庆鹏), Xirelijiang (西热力江), Meng Duo (孟铎), Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Yu Shulong (于澍龙)

Forwards: Sun Yue (孙悦), Zhou Peng (周鹏), Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨), Wang Lei (王磊), Ding Jinhui (丁锦辉), Yi Li (易立)

Centers: Mo Ke (莫科), Su Wei (苏伟), Wang Zhizhi (王治郅), Zhang Zhaoxu (张兆旭), Yi Jianlian (易建联), Yao Ming (姚明)

All except Yao, Yi, Guo and Meng went on the trip.  Yao is injured, Yi is back in the States training privately, and Guo is with the U-19 National Team preparing for the FIBA U-19 Championship.  Meng did not make the trip for undisclosed reasons.

China beat Austrailian professional club team, the Perth Wildcats, on Wednesday and will play the Australian National Team tonight.  The two teams will play again on Sunday in Singapore.

June 20th: CBA announces roster for FIBA U-19 World Championship

With the FIBA U-19 World Championship set to tip off in Latvia on June 30th, the CBA announced the official roster for the tournament.

Guards: Wang Zirui (王子瑞), Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Luo Hanshen (罗汉琛)

Forwards: Zhai Xiaochuan (翟晓川), Gu Quan (顾全), Ju Mingxin (鞠明欣), Wang Pu (王璞), Zhu Xuhang (朱旭航), Sun Tonglin (孙桐林)

Centers: Xu Tao (徐韬), Wang Zhenglin (王哲林), Li Muhao (李慕豪)

China has been drawn in Group D with U.S.A., Egypt and Serbia.

This is considered to be one of the best U-19 teams China has ever fielded.  Beyond Guo, who should be one of the better players in the tournament, China also boasts Li Muhao, Gu Quan and Zhai Xiaochuan among a roster that is expected to at the very least make it out of the group stages.

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CBA announces 12-man roster for FIBA East Asia Championship

May 31, 2011

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Once seen as a potential NBA player, Chen Jianghua’s chances to remain on National Team are looking very dim at the moment. (Photo courtesy of TheFirst.cn)

Earlier today, the Chinese Basketball Association officially announced its 12-man roster for the upcoming FIBA East Asia Championship, which will be held in Nanjing, Jiangsu province from June 10-15.  The East Asia Championship is the qualifying tournament for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, which will held from September 15-25 in Wuhan, Hunan province.

The East Asia Championship will comprise of six teams split into two preliminary round groups: China, South Kore and Hong Kong will be in Group A, and Mongolia, Japan and Chinese Tapei will be in Group B.  As the host nation, China has received automatic qualification for the Asia Championship in September.  The top three teams will join China in qualifying for the Championship.

With a long summer of warm-up matches ahead of them, China National Team head coach, Bob Donewald, and decision makers at the CBA decided to rest National Team regulars Wang Zhizhi, Ding Jinhui, Liu Wei, Wang Shipeng, Zhang Qingpeng, Zhou Wei and Yi Jianlian in favor of a younger, more inexperienced roster that includes several players who are on the bubble for September’s Asia Championship, including Yu Shulong, Zhang Zhaoxu and Dong Hanlin.  Han Shuo and Peng Fei will make their National Team debuts.

The roster is also full of players who need to fulfill their FIBA-imposed suspensions as a result of last October’s notorious on-court brawl with a Brazilian club team in Henan.  Zhu Fangyu received a three-game suspension, while Sun Yue and Zhang Bo each received one-game suspensions as a result of their actions during the bench clearing fight. Automatically qualified, China’s end result will not affect their participation in the Asia Championship, which makes this FIBA-sanctioned qualifier the perfect time for China’s star players to sit out and serve their suspensions.

Clearly, the most notable name left off the roster is Guangdong Hongyuan’s point-guard, Chen Jianghua.  Chen, who exhibited so much promise when he exploded onto the global basketball after he became the subject of a New York Times piece, has suffered a series of serious injuries in recent years, the latest being a torn ACL in 2010 that caused him to miss the CBA Finals and the 2010 FIBA World Championship.  With deteriorated physical skills and diminished confidence, Chen was a shell of his former self this season and may never regain the game-changing quickness that garnered him so much interest from both inside China and abroad.

With his name not on the roster for Nanjing, Chen very well could find himself among the next round of players cut from the National Team training camp roster, which currently stands at 29 players.  As fans of the game, we hope this latest setback for Chen doesn’t put him back for good — in a league that generally lacks exciting individual players, we believe guys like Chen are good for Chinese basketball, which could use all of the genuine fan interest it can get.

FIBA EAST ASIA CHAMPIONSHIP ROSTER:

Guards:
Yu Shulong (于澍龙), Jilin Changchun
Zhang Bo (张博), Bayi Rockets
Sun Yue (孙悦), Beijing Aoshen
Han Shuo (韩硕), Bayi Rockets*

Forwards:
Yi Li (易立), Jiangsu Nangang
Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨), Guangdong Hongyuan
Peng Fei (彭飞), Shanghai Dongfang*
Dong Hanlin (董瀚麟), Guangdong Hongyuan
Meng Duo (孟铎), DongGuan New Century

Centers:
Zhang Zhaoxu (张兆旭), Shanghai Dongfang
Su Wei (苏伟), Guangdong Hongyuan
Mo Ke (莫科), Bayi Rockets

*Denotes Senior National Team debut

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China National Team roster announced, Yao Ming included among 36 others

April 11, 2011

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On Friday April 8th, the Chinese Basketball Association announced the 37-player Men’s National Team roster that will train at the China National Sports Training Center in Beijing this spring in preparation for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship.  The competition, which will be held in Henan, China from September 15-25, is the the qualifying tournament for FIBA Asia for the 2012 London Summer Olympics men’s basketball tournament.

With both the CBA and NBA seasons still in progress, the roster has been split up into three separate groups, each of which have different mandatory dates to report.  Group 1, which is comprised of 11 players whose teams did not make the CBA playoffs this season, officially reported to training yesterday afternoon.  Group 2, which has 21 players, all of whom played playoff basketball, will report sometime around May 1st, while Group 3, China’s NBA players, will join everyone at a later date.

Among the usual names like Yi Jianlin, Wang Zhizhi, and Liu Wei is Yao Ming, who despite missing most of season with a stress fracture in his left ankle was selected by the CBA to represent the National Team this summer in Beijing.  Though he’ll be required to report, Yao’s selection is almost certainly only symbolic — throughout the year the CBA has maintained they will exercise extreme caution in allowing Yao to recover from yet another serious injury, and have even implied that the big man’s National Team career could very well be over, even if his ankle heals properly.

Yao, who will spend time in China this summer, was happy after learning of his selection.

“It’s an honor to be selected to the National Team.  If my foot allows, I’ll be right there to cheer them on,” said Yao to a Chinese reporter in Houston.

Unlike in the United States and other Western countries, Chinese players are required to serve on the National Team if called upon.  Since players were raised and trained by the state, as opposed to Western players who received coaching from club teams, schools and amateur associations, the top Chinese athletes have only their country to thank for their development, and thus athletes’ priorities to their country come before those of both their professional team and themselves.  The superiority of the state over the individual in sports is one of the main cultural differences between China and the West.

The roster will be paired down in June as Team China will play a number of warm-up games in preparation for the Asia Championship.

Group 1:

Sun Jie (孙杰) Guard, Shandong*
Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Guard, Liaoning
Yu Shulong (于澍龙) Guard, Jilin*
Zhong Cheng (钟诚) Guard, Jilin*

Liu Ziqiu (刘子秋) Forward, Shanghai
Peng Fei (彭飞), Forward, Shanghai
Duan Jiangpeng (段江鹏), Forward, Shanxi
Zhang Xuewen (张学文), Forward, Shanxi*
He Tianju (贺天举), Forward, Liaoning

Li Xiaoxu (李晓旭), Center, Liaoning*
Han Dejun (韩德君), Center, Liaoning

Group 2:

Chen Jianghua (陈江华) Guard, Guangdong
Wang Shipeng (王仕鹏) Guard, Guangdong*
Zhang Bo (张博) Guard, Bayi
Han Shuo (韩硕) Guard, Bayi
Liu Wei (刘炜) Guard, Shanghai*
Sun Yue (孙悦) Guard, Beijing Aoshen
Zhang Qingpeng (张庆鹏) Guard, Xinjiang*
Xirelijiang (西热力江) Guard, Xinjiang

Zhou Peng (周鹏) Forward, Guangdong
Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨) Forward, Guangdong*
Dong Hanlin (董瀚麟) Forward, Guangdong
Wang Lei (王磊)Forward, Bayi
Mo Ke (莫科) Forward, Bayi*
Ding Jinhui (丁锦辉) Forward, Zhejiang Chouzhou*
Yi Li (易立) Forward, Jiangsu*
Zhang Kai (张凯) Forward, DongGuan*
Meng Duo (孟铎) Forward, DongGuan

Su Wei (苏伟) Center, Guangdong*
Wang Zhizhi (王治郅) Center, Bayi*
Zhang Zhaoxu (张兆旭) Center, Shanghai
Zhang Songtao (张松涛) Center, Beijing Aoshen

Group 3:

Yi Jianlian (易建联) Forward, Washington Wizards
Yao Ming (姚明) Center, Houston Rockets**

Reserves:

Mengke Bateer (巴特尔) Center, Xinjiang*
Tang Zhengdong (唐正东) Center, Jiangsu
Wang Zheng (王征) Center, Guangdong

* Denotes 2010-11 CBA All-Star
** Denotes 2010-11 NBA All-Star

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CBA Playoffs Preview

March 23, 2011

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The CBA playoffs start tonight with all eight teams tipping off tonight at 7:30pm.  The first and second rounds are a best-of-five series, while the finals will be best-of-seven.  For the first round and semi-finals, the format will go 1-2-1-1, with the lower seed hosting game one before going on the road for two games on the road.  All potential Game Fours will be played in the lower seed’s arena, while the deciding Game Five would be played on the higher seed’s floor.

To get you ready for all the action, NiuBBall is previewing every first round series, pointing out key matchups and making predictions.  So let’s get right to it.

 

#1 Xinjiang (31-1) vs. #8 Beijing (16-16)

Regular Season Series: Xinjiang 2-0
Beijing 72 @ Xinjiang 103, Round 1
Xinjiang 105 @ Beijing 85, Round 18

Beijing fans have waited a long time for a trip to the playoffs – four years to be exact – but, unfortunately for the Ducks, it’s going to be a very short stay in the postseason bracket.  Save for a random Rodney White explosion in Round 20 that put the only blemish on the regular season champs’ record this season, Xinjiang has steamrolled the entire league en route to a 31-1 record. Led by the best foreign duo in the league, Quincy Douby and James Singleton, and supported by CBA MVP Mengke Bateer and Chinese National Team shooting guard, Zhang Qingpeng, Xinjiang will have the advantage over Beijing at every major position.  The Ducks swapped out Joe Crawford for Orien Greene with the hope that Greene could stay in front of Douby, but due to a FIBA suspension Greene received for tampering with urine samples in an attempt to dupe drug testers that hasn’t expired, Greene won’t be allowed to play.  That means Beijing will only be playing with one American import, which will make an already impossible task that much more hopeless.

Key matchup: Beijing’s domestic guards vs. Quincy Douby

With Orien Greene out of the picture for Beijing, the Ducks will have to rely on its Chinese guards to matchup with Douby, the most prolific scorer in the league.  Xie Libin, Lin Xuelin and maybe even Chen Lei will all get their shot, but let’s be real: Not even Greene, who was considered a defensive ace at one point in his career, would have been able to check City Weekend’s unofficial CBA MVP.  If he feels like it, Douby could average 40 for the series.

Prediction: Xinjiang in 3

#2 Guangdong (25-7) vs. #7 Bayi (17-15)

Regular Season Series: Guangdong 2-0
Bayi 89 @ Guangdong 116, Round 10
Guangdong 116 @ Bayi 95, Round 29

Heading into the playoffs, Guangdong is in the unfamiliar position of underdog for the first time in seven years.  Failing to nab the top seed since 2004-05, the Southern Tigers will go up against one of their biggest rivals, the Bayi Rockets, who won the league title in 2006-07 at their expense.  The win is notable, because it put the breaks on a potential Guangdong seven-peat.

Last year, Guangdong swept Bayi in the first round and this year is expected to do the same.  Bayi, still depending on the creaky 34 year-old Wang Zhizhi, will have trouble matching up against Guangdong’s athletic foreign guard-forward combo, Lester Hudson and Marcus Haislip.  Haislip went for 31 in their Round 29 win and will likely enjoy similar outputs against Wang and Mo Ke.  Guangdong also has the luxury of being able to depend on its large reserves of National Team players, with Zhu Fangyu, Wang Shipeng, Su Wei and Zhou Peng all able to carry their teams’ offensively for entire games if the matchups are right.  Bayi will have a lot of pride on the line, but it won’t be any match for Guangdong, who will no doubt come out with something to prove after hearing all season that they’ve taken a backseat to Xinjiang.

Key Matchup: Marcus Haislip vs. Wang Zhizhi and Mo Ke

Because of Guangdong’s great domestic roster, Haislip won’t have the pressure of some of the other imports this post-season, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be expected to just put up mediocre numbers.  Haislip was brought in to try and take some of the load off of the aging and fatigued Guangdong frontline, and so far has done a decent job, averaging 22.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.  If Guangdong is going to add another title to their trophy case, however, Hailsip is going to have to up his game a little bit.  He’ll have a good opportunity to put up some good numbers against the older, slower and far less athletic Wang and Mo.  Maybe feasting on three straight double-doubles will give the former University of Tennessee standout some confidence.

Prediction: Guangdong in 3

#3 DongGuan (25-7) vs. #6 Zhejiang Guangsha (18-14)

Regular Season Series: DongGuan 2-0
DongGuan 115 @ Guangsha 112, Round 7
Guangsha 100 @ DongGuan 110, Round 26

Guangsha has turned into a somewhat trendy pick to pull off the upset after DongGuan’s offensive centerpiece, center Jackson Vroman, went back to the States to undergo season ending surgery on a fractured finger a little less than two weeks ago.  Replacing him on short notice will be Courtney Sims, who comes over to China after playing most of the season in the NBA D-League.  Sims, who has had a couple of NBA call-ups over the years in between winning D-League MVP in 2008-09 and D-League All-Star Game MVP last February, while not the passer that Vroman is, can rebound, block shots and score reliably facing the hoop.

Some feel that Guangsha’s massive 7-3 Peter John Ramos could have himself quite a series against the more slender Sims, but we think DongGuan is too well coached to just simply wilt without Vroman.  Head coach Brian Goorjian has had the New Century Leopards practicing together for almost nine months, which has been one of the reasons why the team was able to finish the season above all pre-season expectations.  Their chemistry and cohesiveness is what sets them apart from other teams, and although not having Vroman impacts their stuff on offense, they still have highly capable players in Josh Akognon and Zhang Kai.

Key matchup: Courtney Sims and Zhang Kai vs. Peter John Ramos

Ramos has preyed on opposing post players all year, averaging 24.5 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game on 63.9% from the field, and could potentially go off against against the 6-10 Sims and Zhang.  DongGuan’s number one priority will be keeping Ramos off the offensive glass.  The Puerto Rican national grabbed 3.6 offensive rebounds per game this year and could very well eclipse that number against the physically weaker DongGuan front line. Ramos’ biggest advantage over opponents on both ends is obviously is 7-3 275 pound frame, but if he’s forced to come out on the perimeter to guard Sims, his effectiveness on the defensive end could be minimized.

Prediction: DongGuan in 4

(4) Jiangsu (20-12) vs. (5) Zhejiang Chouzhou (19-13)

Regular Season Series: Tied 1-1
Jiangsu 101 @ Zhejiang 95, Round 4
Zhejiang 88 @ Jiangsu 86, Round 19

Throw out the two teams’ Round 4 result because at the time, Ricky Davis and Mike James were still running suiting up for Jiangsu and Zhejiang respectively, soon to be on their way out of the league.  Since then, both rosters have changed dramatically.  After both teams got off to rough starts to the year, Zhejiang brought in point-forward Marcus Williams and Jiangsu signed five-year NBA veteran, Antoine Wright.  Both have had successful stints with their teams, turning around poor early season records into middle seeding position for the playoffs.

With little separating these two teams in Round 19, this series looks like it could come down to injuries: Jiangsu is limping into tonight’s away game with their starting point guard, Hu Xuefeng out with a knee injury and big man, Tang Zhengdong, dragging a gimpy knee that has plagued him all year.  Factor in Zhejiang’s Williams, who other than Douby has arguably been the best import in China this year, and the blue collar Josh Boone, who is totally fine with just rebounding and setting good screens, and the Golden Bulls look like a great upset pick.

Key Matchup: Antoine Wright vs. Marcus Williams

How good as Williams been since arriving in Zhejiang midseason?  The Golden Bulls have gone 17-6 in his 23 games with the team, including 11 of their final 12.  So good has Williams been in fact, that Zhejiang sits Boone for the entire first half in order to allow their star import four quarters of uninterrupted basketball.  In 41.5 minutes per game, Williams put up 29.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.4 steals, crazy numbers that are only made even crazier by the fact that he finished the year with four straight triple-doubles.  At 6-7, Williams’ ball-handling combined with his length makes him a tough check for most players, but Wright, who is 6-7 himself, has spent the last five years in the NBA and won’t be intimidated in the least.  The individual matchup is arguably the first-round’s best, and could go a long way in deciding the outcome of this very close series.

Prediction: Chouzhou in 4

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CBA All-Star Weekend’s substance can’t match it’s style

March 23, 2011

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We’d say Wang’s facial expression pretty much wraps up our feelings on All-Star Weekend.

Two and a half years ago, I stood up on my first day of teaching a Nanjing University oral English class, eager to start on my eight class journey aimed at turning a bunch of shy English speakers into confident, seasoned orators.  By my side, a nicely organized six-lesson unit on debates that would start with the basics and conclude with an actual judged debate. Since Chinese students have been programmed at a young age not to pipe up in class, I figured this would be a great way to get my kids passionately talking at each other about stimulating and interesting topic matter, while also learning how to think about all sides of potential issues.

This debate is going to be awesome, I repeated out loud to my students over and over again on the first day of class, making sure to add extra emphasis on the word awesome to really drive in the profound awesomeness I truly felt the unit was going to exude.  Judging by their wide-eyed expressions and attentiveness, I guess I was being pretty persuasive.  This was definitely going to be awesome.

But, as my students and I quickly found out after the first unit, “Introduction to Debates,” learning how to debate isn’t awesome at all.  In fact, its quite boring.  Trying to get people excited about how to add support to your reasons and how structure rebuttals effectively, no matter how awesome I kept telling my students this was all going to be, only led a good portion of my class to put their foreheads on the front of their desk, the preferred sleeping position of Chinese students everywhere.  No matter what I did to try and get my class back to that first day, my weary students zoned in a semi-catatonic state as I implored them to be enthusiastic about the definition of the word “resolution.”

What I learned was twofold: First, that I probably wasn’t cut out to be an English teacher and two, no matter what you say or do, you can’t get people amped up for too long on stuff that sucks.  Like learning about debates.

As I sat in the MasterCard Arena (formerly Wukesong Arena)  during the CBA All-Star Game this past Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think back to that same hyped up six-lesson unit that ultimately bored my class to sleep.  Except instead of falling asleep after realizing the game was permanently stale, fans at the arena just got up and left in the second half.  When you’re not forced to sit through a three hour oral English class, it’s way more comfortable to go home and sleep in your own bed.

The connection from the game to my class in Nanjing was easy to make, since both suffered from the same basic problem: Despite being dressed up on the outside as the best thing ever, both the game and my lesson plan were exposed as completely unengaging and dull.

And like the 40 or so students who sat eager and wide-eyed at the repeated emphasis on the word awesome on that first day of class at Nanjing University, I believe that fans at Wukesong were honestly on board with the All-Star experience at the beginning.  The crowd got into it from the start after a cool video on the jumbotron morphed into a pretty slick on-court dance/acrobatic routine, complete with dynamic lighting and sound effects.

That was followed by what was to me the unquestioned highlight of the weekend and possibly the entire season: Guo Ailun, China’s young 17 year-old point guard who played on the Senior National Team last summer in Turkey for the FIBA World Championship, taking the floor with mic in hand to sing (very seriously, I might add) Rong Yao, “Glory,” in front of an almost full stadium of basketball fans.

To an outsider, having a 17 year-old professional basketball player perform a song during a nationally televised All-Star Game would seem quite strange, ridiculous even.  But in China, where the local population’s unbridled love for karaoke extends all the way to pre All-Star Game entertainment, giving it your all to sing a song called “Glory” is not only acceptable, its flat out niu bi, even if he did lip-sync it (which he most definitely did).

After a pretty solid performance by female pop star, Zhang Liangying, the lead up to the game continued to entertain. For the player introductions, it was genuinely charming to see the league embrace more of its “Chinese-ness” by having the starters come out onto the court with their families, instead of trying to copy the NBA by having crazy set-ups and backgrounds like the CBA usually does.  Like many others, Bayi’s Mo Ke came out with his mother and father by his side, and DongGuan’s Zhang Kai emerged from the tunnel with his pregnant wife standing next to him.  Stephon Marbury, whose family was unable to attend, carried a little Chinese girl onto the floor.  Quincy Douby came out with his translator.


(Fast forward to around 9:30 for the player introductions)

Though the pre-game entertainment was generally entertaining, that’s not to say there weren’t awkward moments. Zhang Qingpeng’s courtside proposal to his girlfriend was weird and seemed staged.  During the pre-game starting five introduction ceremony in a hope to lather up the crowd for Wang Zhizhi’s introduction, two lines of scantily dressed cheerleaders banging huge drums hanging from their neck failed miserably (with an assist from the night’s MC, CCTV-5′s Yu Jia) to get a “Wang Zhizhi!” chant from the crowd before the big guy came out of the tunnel.  The situation already soaked with awkwardness, Big Wang took it to another level by grabbing the mic and yelling ni men jiu shi wo de rong yao.  In English, that would literally translate into “you [fans] are my glory,” but I think it’s actually closer to “it’s an honor to have you as my fans.”  The reaction from the crowd was minimal and I don’t blame them.  After all, would you get excited about a waaaaay past his prime 34 year-old who’s only moves at this point are a stepback jumper and a herky-jerky shot-fake step through making his umpteenth appearance in the All-Star Game?

Once the actual game started, it became pretty evident rather quickly that a: no, you wouldn’t excited about watching a waaaaay past his prime 34 year-old do his thing and b: the pre-game fluff was nothing more than a crappy cover up for the league’s unexciting on-court product.  Like in almost every other CBA game over the years, the night broke down into a one-on-one scoring battle between the two opposing imports, which in this case turned out to be Quincy Douby and Stephon Marbury.  The Chinese players, who looked like they were just going through the motions, seemed content to just sit back and watch and contributed very little to the overall flow of the game as a result.

By the game’s end, Douby and the North edged out 115-114 over the South, Douby finishing with an All-Star Game record 44 points.  But like I said, hardly anybody was there to see it.  Despite being close in the last five minutes, a good portion of the stadium had already made its way out of the stadium, driven out by sheer boredom and an overall disconnect from the game.

Besides the apathetic nature of the game, which unlike the NBA All-Star Game comes without the periodic crowd pleasing alley-oops and breakaway slams, halftime probably contributed to the exodus, too.  After a predictably nondescript Skills Competition and Three-Point Shootout ended, the Slam Dunk Contest fell victim to several botched dunk attempts and a poorly executed Blake Griffin knockoff dunk by Fujian SBS’s Zhao Tailong, who dunked not over, but around a huge Anta shoe to bring home the title.  Needless to say, Chinese fans, who are quite aware of Griffin’s car dunk, weren’t impressed.  Tired of it all, many just got up and left.

So what can we take away from all this? Like trying to convince college freshman that learning about debates is awesome, acting like the CBA All-Star Game is this amazing thing only fools people for so long (two quarters, to be exact).   If the CBA is ever going to be a sustainable and legitimate entertainment option for fans around China, it’s going to have to figure out a way to create a bond with its fans. 16 years into the league, people shouldn’t have to be saying that. But, until the league comes up with a way to make the quality of their game better, fans are going to continue to be largely indifferent to Chinese professional basketball, which is a shame; unlike English students and debates, the Chinese have a profound passion for roundball.

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Everything you need to know about All-Star Weekend

March 18, 2011

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We’ve gotten quite a bit of e-mail about All-Star Weekend this Saturday and Sunday in Beijing — where it’s being played, who is participating, what events are being held, etc.

All participants will report in Beijing tonight.  Tomorrow night at 7:00pm, the CBA’s brightest young stars will play in the All-Rookie Game.  At halftime, the preliminaries for the Three-Point Shootout and Slam-Dunk Contest will commence.  Those who advance will go onto the finals, which will be played after the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

All-Star rosters are structured the same as domestic CBA rosters: Two imports per team, one starter and one reserve.

Here’s the official schedule:

Friday: Player Registration
Saturday, 7:00pm: CBA Rookie Game; Three-Point Shootout and Slam-Dunk Contest Preliminaries (at halftime)
Sunday, 7:00pm: CBA All-Star Game; Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout and Slam-Dunk Contest Finals (after the game)

Rookie Game Roster:

North: Tao Hanlin (Center, Shandong), Li An (Center, Jilin), Yu Changdong (Center, Shanxi), Guo Ailun (Guard, Liaoning), Lian Ming (Forward, Liaoning), Zhang Zhihan (Forward, Tianjin), Shen Tunjun (Guard, Tianjin), Han Chongkai (Center, Beijing), Chen Shidong (Guard, Beijing), Sun Weibo (Guard, Xinjiang)

South: Gu Quan (Forward, DongGuan), He Zhongmian (Guard, DongGuan),  Ren Junfei (Forward, Guangdong), Li Yuanyu (Center, Guangdong), Zhang Zhaojun (Center, Zhejiang), Ji Xiang (Forward, Shanghai), Zhang Chengyu (Guard, Bayi), Jin Jiming (Guard, Foshan), Zhao Dapeng (Guard, Guangsha)

Skills Competition Participants:

Guo Ailun, Liaoning
Xie Libin, Beijing
Yu Shulong, Jilin
Lin Chih-Chieh, Guangsha

Three-Point Shootout Participants:

Stephon Marbury, Foshan
Quincy Douby, Xinjiang
Zhang Qingpeng, Xinjiang
Lee Hsueh-Lin, Beijing
Zhang Bo, Bayi
Sun Jie, Shandong

Slam-Dunk Contest Participants

James Singleton, Xinjiang
Zhang Xuewen, Shandong
Wu Nan, Jiangsu
Zhang Ji, Tianjin
Wu Ke, Shandong
Zhao Tailong, Fujian SBS

North All-Star Starters:

Guard: Quincy Douby, Xinjiang
Guard: Zhang Qingpeng, Xinjiang

Forward: Zhang Nan, Tianjin
Forward: Li Xiaoxu, Liaoning

Center: Mengke Bateer, Xinjiang

North All-Star Reserves:

Guard: Yu Shulong, Jilin
Guard: Lee Hsueh-Lin, Beijing
Guard: Sun Jie, Shandong

Forward: Chen Lei, Beijing
Forward: Zhong Cheng, Jilin
Forward: Zhang Xuewen, Shanxi

Center: Randolph Morris, Beijing

Head Coach: Jiang Xingquan, Xinjiang

South All-Star Starters:

Guard: Stephon Marbury, Foshan
Guard: Wang Shipeng, Guangdong

Forward: Zhang Kai, DongGuan
Forward: Mo Ke, Bayi

Center: Wang Zhizhi, Bayi

South All-Star Reserves:

Guard: Liu Wei, Shanghai
Guard: Lin Chih-ChiehGuangsha

Forward: Zhu Fangyu, Guangdong
Forward: Yi Li, Jiangsu
Forward: Ding JinhuiZhejiang 
Forward: Marcus Williams, Zhejiang

Center: Su Wei, Guangdong

Head Coach: Li Chunjiang, Guangdong

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Marbury, Douby headline CBA All-Star Team

March 7, 2011

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Last week, the Chinese Basketball Association announced the starting lineups for the 2010-11 CBA All-Star Game to be held on March 20th in Beijing’s Wukesong Arena (that’s the place where the 2008 Olympics balled at) after fan voting came to a close late in February.

You will ask this question at some point during this post, so I’ll just save everybody the time and answer it now.  Why is CBA All-Star Weekend (March 19-20) held a week after the last game of the regular season?

Maybe it’s because the regular season is so darned boring, the league needs to entertain its fans so they don’t go into a state of comatose just before the start of the playoffs.  Or maybe it’s because teams play three games a week non-stop in the month leading up to it, so they give a one week break to the eight teams who’ll be playing post-season.  Or maybe — just maybe — it’s to guarantee the participation of all of the league’s foreign players, the majority of whom are playing for non-playoff teams, and are thus itching to go back to their home country as soon as possible.

The latter won’t be a problem for the All-Star Game, however, as both foreigners have their reasons (albeit very different ones) to stay and play in Beijing.

Headlining the North All-Stars is Xinjiang’s Quincy Douby, who’s 29.8 points per game has helped lead the Flying Tigers to their first ever regular season title in team history.  NiuBBall.com’s unanimous choice for CBA MVP has looked like a video game with all of the cheat codes enabled on offense for parts of the season, and will be aiming to carry his individual and team regular season success into Xinjiang’s first ever league championship later this month.

Two of Douby’s Xinjiang teammates will be joining him in Beijing, guard Zhang Qingpeng and center Mengke Bateer.  The rest of the starting lineup will be filled by Tianjin’s Zhang Nan and Liaoning’s Li Xiaoxu.

For the South All-Stars, everybody’s favorite wai yuan, Stephon Marbury, will try his hardest to best his one-up his scintillating barrage of three-pointers from last year’s ASG that netted him the game’s MVP.  Though Foshan won’t be playing in this year’s playoffs, Marbury has been embraced by Chinese fans wherever he’s gone and has stated his desire to remain in China for a long time.

Joining Marbury at guard will be Guangdong’s Wang Shipeng.  DongGuan’s Zhang Kai will start at forward with Bayi’s Mo Ke, and Wang Zhizhi, also of Bayi, will start at center.

Similar to league rules that restrict the amount of foreign players on each team and the minutes that each player can play, each side is only allowed two foreign players, one starter and one reserve.  The reserves will be selected by coaches at some point prior to the big weekend.

Besides the boost in exposure, players will have an opportunity to cash in based on how well they can please the crowd during the game: Dunks and threes are worth 3,000 rmb a pop, and a buzzer beater will net a player 10,000 rmb, which means if three-point ace, Josh Akognon, is selected as a reserve, the league is going to be out a ton of money.

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