To the disappointment of some, Wang Zhelin won’t be dunking in the Olympics. (Photo: Osports)
China has had a couple of nights to sleep on the as-of-Tuesday-released 12-man roster for the London Olympics and yet the primary debate remains the same today as it was when it was first announced: Should Wang Zhelin have been included on the team?
Public opinion is mixed, but a slight majority feels that the 18 year-old should have been brought along to London. On a poll on Sina.com, 59% percent of people felt that among all the players left off the roster, Wang was the one who should not have been cut.
It’s a sentiment that’s being shared by people in Chinese media, too. Longtime Chinese basketball commentator and journalist, Su Quan, writes in today’s Basketball Pioneers in a piece entitled “Wang Zhelin should not be abandoned:”
…But every team competing in the Olympics should include a young, promising player on the 12-man roster, especially a center who shows a lot of potential. You don’t need to hope for instant success, instead you can build him up for future success. The Olympics is the biggest international competition there is, every player is bound to feel nervous, excited and unfamiliar with everything their first time. If you can allow him to go through the process earlier, then when he’s 22 years old and back in the Olympics again, the experience will go much more smoothly. This kind of opportunity for a center is the absolute most important thing because the development of a center is a long-term process. It takes a while to grow into a full sized tree, but the earlier you plant the seed, the deeper the roots will grow and the stronger the tree will become.
Su then points to the history of the various Chinese teams who chose to put a young big man at the end of their bench during previous Olympics or Word Championships: 18 year-old Wang Haibo in the 1984, 19 year-old Wang Zhizhi in 1994, 20 year-old Yao Ming in 2000 and an “even younger” (Su doesn’t write his age… hmmm…) Yi Jianlian in 2004.
All valid points and I get all of them. Su’s argument is further enhance when you consider that neither Wang Haibo nor Wang Zhizhi had any prior experience at the senior international level before making their debuts.
But still, I disagree. And the reason is this: Letting Wang Zhelin sit on the end of the bench does not give China the best chance at winning games this Olympics.
First, let’s go across the Pacific Ocean to introduce my point. The United States, the best team in the world right now, could have brought recent No. 1 overall draft pick and one of the most promising big men to come out in years, Anthony Davis, onto a roster that arguably needs some depth at center. The fact that he sprained his ankle early in training camp certainly had something to do with him not making the roster, but so did another thing: The US wants to field the strongest roster possible so that it can win a gold medal. Ditto for Spain, who also didn’t bring along a young center.
For China, the goal is different — for them it’s to get past the group stage and then go through to the semi-finals for the first time in their country’s history — but the concept is the same: Put forth the best team possible. And with the current players available to Bob Donewald and the rest of the Chinese basketball powers from above, the best team is one full of versatile and more athletic players. If this was the Yao Ming era, when China had the luxury of a NBA All-Star center who could pass and score with equal adeptness and when the rotation was better was shorter, then there’d be some room for Wang.
But now? At the moment, China lacks one player who is currently signed to an NBA team. Key players like Liu Wei and Wang Zhizhi are all playing way past their primes, while Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng are merely playing just past it. You could make the argument that talent wise, this is the weakest China’s been in over a decade. While there are guys Donewald will depend on heavily — Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Zhou Peng, the aforementioned four guys — there’s other guys like Yi Li, Ding Jinhui and Chen Jianghua who very well could get into the rotation. And that may just be Donewald is counting on, here: Athleticism, depth, versatility and defense.
Let’s go beyond Donewald’s selection preferences, important as they are, and go to another extremely important point: The CBA values results over all else at the Olympics. Seen as the premier stage to show off their country’s ability to the world, the Olympics always have and always will be about proving China to the West. Ensuring its players can develop for Olympic play is the reason why its professional league only allows two imports per team, why those players have minute restrictions and why Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade weren’t allowed to sign here during the NBA lockout. Chinese players, Chinese teams and Chinese appearances — successful appearances — at major international competitions are what the CBA is concerned with.
S. Mageshwaran over at FIBA.com sums it up nicely: “China’s men are aiming to get past the Quarter-Finals for the first time in their history, while the women are looking for a medal. Therefore it is only logical that this pragmatism has stood up in the face of erroneous enthusiasm from certain quarters… the decision to leave [Wang Zhelin] out is one that has arisen out of common sense.”
Wang Zhelin isn’t being abandoned. Donewald has rightfully kept him along for the entire summertime ride and as a result, he’s improved his game immensely from being around the best coaches and best players China has to offer. And with the announcement that 15 players will be going to Poland on July 20th for China’s last set of warm-up games, he very well may stay until the last possible moment. Yet for the good of his team, his Olympic moment will have to wait for another four years. That’s not right or wrong. That’s just the way it is.