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Tag Archives: Wang Zhelin

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

September 23, 2013


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

Yeah, James Hsu is a perfect fit for NiuBBall.

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


“Who got next?”

Kobe Bryant. LeBron James.

Yao Ming. Yi Jianlian. Jeremy Lin.

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

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

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

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

Here are their stories.


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Tracy McGrady doesn’t know who Wang Zhelin is, doesn’t think there’s anybody in CBA good enough to play in NBA

June 17, 2013



Despite being the consensus top young player in the CBA, Tracy McGrady has no idea who Wang Zhelin is.

There’s a lot of great story lines from this year’s NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, but there’s one that’s most relevant to NiuBBall and to Chinese basketball in general:

Tracy McGrady is one win away from an NBA championship.

OK well there’s actually three: Besides T-Mac, Miami’s Chris Anderson (Jiangsu Dragons, 2001) and San Antonio’s Patty Mills (Xinjiang Flying Tigers, 2012) both have played in China as well.

But it’s Mai Di who has the cult following in China and whose mere hand wave causes grown men to cry. And it’s McGrady who to go through what was arguably the most unique — and that’s putting it politically correct — experience in China foreign player history. Yet T-Mac, staying classy as always, had nothing but good things to say when asked by American media during these Finals.

My experience in China was great,” McGrady said in an interview with Alex Kennedy at HoopsWorld. “I had a lot of fun over there. Chinese fans are unbelievable and they made me feel like a rock star. Every arena I showed up to was [sold out], and thousands of people were waiting just for my bus to pull up. The airport was just flooded with people.”

Who he actually he played against while in those arenas? Not so memorable, according to a transcript published by Chinese media outlet, NetEase. Prior to Game 2 of the Finals, a journalist interviewed McGrady, leading off with the question that every Chinese NBA fan wants to know: Is there anybody in China who has a shot to play in The League one day? […]

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East Asia Basketball Championship: More proof that something is seriously wrong with Chinese basketball

May 28, 2013



The East Asia Basketball Championship in Incheon, Korea concluded last Tuesday mostly as expected. As the qualifying tournament for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, all the big boys from the region clinched their ticket to the Philippines, including China, Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei, as well as not-so-big-boy Hong Kong. (And congrats to HK, who will be making their first trip to the Championship since 2007.)

One thing didn’t go quite as expected, however: China didn’t win gold.

It’s old news by now, but for those who don’t know, the heavily favored Chinese went down to South Korea 79-68 in the gold medal match. Even though it was a battle between China’s Olympic Team (a fancy name for their U-23 team) and a hodgepodge of Korea’s military team and some college players, the win was marked as the Korean’s first ever triumph at the EABC and their first win over China in a major international competition since 2002.

Now let’s get things totally straight. For the Chinese, this is not a complete disaster. Even though it kind of is.


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Panagiotis Giannakis hired as head coach of Chinese National Team; initial 24-man roster released

April 28, 2013



In a country where the dragon holds significant cultural importance, perhaps its fitting that one will be the next head coach of the national team.

Ending a long search, the CBA announced the appointment of Panagiotis Giannakis as head coach of the Chinese men’s national team. Nicknamed “The Dragon” for his long reign of dominance over European and international basketball, the 56 year-old will become the fourth foreign head coach in Chinese basketball history.

According to reports, the contract is a four-year agreement that will take Giannakis all the way through the 2016 Rio Olympics.


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2012-13 NiuBBall Awards

April 12, 2013


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Way to ruin the suspense, guys.

Why would we write a 2012-13 CBA Awards piece when we already wrote another one elsewhere on the internet?

Because one, there isn’t a word count around these parts. And secondly, it ain’t really a CBA Awards piece unless it’s a NiuBBall Awards piece.

Which are exactly the reasons why we’re busting out another set for the third straight year, written exclusively for you and the rest of our loyal band of supporters.

So enjoy and of course, if you have anything to say, get to posting in the comments section.


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…And we’re back

April 9, 2013

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…Sorry about that. An extended vacation in the U.S. as well as some side projects kept us from posting anything for a too long of a while. But it’s not like you really missed much, anyway: The Guangdong Southern Tigers swept through the playoffs, including a 4-0 beat down of the Shandong Gold Lions in the Finals. And a lot of Sun Yue-to-Beijing rumors. Like we said, nothing too interesting.

But to make it up to everyone, we’re posting an all-you-can-eat buffet of links, and no it’s not one of those crappy $10.99 all-you-can-eats with the luke-warm General Tso chicken and soggy spring rolls. Think more the Sunday brunch variety at The Westin (which we’ve never been to, but we hear is good).

So enjoy, and celebrate the fact that NiuBBall is on a regular schedule once again.


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2013 CBA All-Star Weekend Recap

February 25, 2013



The 2013 Chinese Basketball Association All-Star Weekend pretty much went down like previous ones, failing for the most part to capture the overall atmosphere of the the NBA one it tries too hard to imitate. But that’s not to say there weren’t moments: As is becoming a yearly tradition, Guo Ailun went onto the court to give everyone a performance on Saturday night, Xirelijiang knocked down 10 threes in a row in the final round of the three-point competition to take home the trophy and and Yi Jianlian nabbed All-Star MVP honors with 34 points and eight rebounds as the South All-Stars defeated the North 120-117.

Here’s the rest of what went down last weekend in Guangzhou:


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2013 China National Team stock watch

January 21, 2013



It’s never to early to talk National Team. And given that there’s only eight more rounds in the 2012-13 Chinese Basketball Association regular season, followed by the playoffs, its really not that early anymore.

Which is why we figured we’d offer up a quick report on who is rising, who has been staying steady, and who is falling on most important Chinese basketball index there is: this summer’s China National Team.

It’s going to be a busy and important summer for the boys in red: They’ll ultimately be playing in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which will be played in in Manila from August 1-11 and will serve as the qualifying tournament for the 2015 FIBA World Cup, where they’ll be aiming to repeat their gold medal from 2011. But before they can do that, they’ll first have to qualify out of East Asia; a task which won’t be any problem.

What type of roster the team goes forward with, however, is somewhat of a problem. Do they keep the same aging core that failed to win a game in London? Do they attempt to introduce some new blood at the risk of losing out in Asia? Or do they totally hit the reset button and go forward with a new era in Chinese hoops?

Since failure in Asia is unacceptable, don’t bank on the latter. But with so many players increasing in age, its highly probable that we’ll see some new faces this summer.


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Could China’s Back-To-Basket Centers Thrive In Today’s NBA?

December 4, 2012


How well would would Wang Zhelin’s predominantly back-to-the-basket game translate in the NBA? (Photo: Osports)

NiuBBall has a new scribe. World, meet Kenya Brown. Currently based in Beijing, Kenya has spent 11 years in China, half of which has been spent in Baoding, Hebei province. With a bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Kent in England, Kenya is now a news editor with China Central Television News Content. He also contributes articles on sports-related issues involving China on the China Sports Review blog and covers soccer news for US-based Yanks Abroad website.

Kenya’s biggest basketball moment, playing-wise, was when he scored the game-winning basket for his junior varsity team in Germany back in 1991 in front of hostile crowd of 25 people. As he is usually busy with work, Kenya has yet to see a live CBA game. However, he considers seeing Guangdong Southern Tigers assistant coach Jason Dixon walking along Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong with his family as his biggest CBA moment so far.

For his opening piece, Kenya discusses China’s young generation of back-to-the-basket centers and wonders how well their games could translate in today’s NBA.


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The definitive CBA preview

November 22, 2012


Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks won the title last year… But will they have enough to repeat in 2012-13? (Photo: Osports)

Moreso than ever, the Chinese Basketball Association has become quite difficult to predict pre-season.

It’s hard to predict first of all because we generally stink at predictions, but more importantly that the league is as deep as its ever been top-to-bottom. There’s a more than a few reasons for that — more off-season player movement, more players going abroad to train in the summer, better coaching in-country, a commitment to strength and conditioning programs and better foreign players all round out the top of our list. But the end result of all that should be a very watchable and exciting league this season. Which is a good thing for us fans, of course.

Bad thing for NiuBBall’s annual predictions, however.

By our count, there’s 11 and possibly 12 teams (depending on how well you think Tracy McGrady is going to do in Qingdao) who have a shot at the playoffs. That’s well over half the league. If you think DongGuan is ready to make a jump (we do), then there are now four teams who could sport legitimate Finals cases. Building on Beijing’s buck-the-trend run to a championship last year, there appears to be a level of parody in the league. Pencilling in the top two, top four and top eight is no longer easy.

So as always, take what is about to come with a grain of salt and know that most likely this will all be very wrong.


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FIBA Asia Cup 12-man roster announced

September 13, 2012


Team China’s trip to Tokyo for the Asia Cup got off to a boring start last night.

Yesterday, the Chinese Basketball Association has announced the 12-man roster for the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup.

Wang Zhelin and Guo Ailun headline a team that is completely comprised of players aged 22 and under. Going up against teams that will have veteran senior level players, head coach Fan Bin stressed to reporters that this China team won’t be judged on results. Instead, the tournament will be used as a way for China’s next generation of National Team players to gain experience in preparation for the 2016 Olympics.

In part, there’s truth to all of that. But as people who are familiar with Chinese basketball know, China will still be looking for a decent finish. If all they really cared about was the experience, would they have taken Guo Ailun, who has been out of action since he sprained his ankle on September 3rd and went so far to tweet on September 9th that it was still in a large amount of pain? The answer is pretty obvious, I think.

Things are already off to a rough start for the Chinese, however. According to the Beijing Morning Post, after arriving in Tokyo last night, the team was forced to wait at the airport for two hours for their bus to arrive. By the time their vehicle had arrived, it was well past midnight.


The full roster:


Wang Zhelin (Fujian)
Sun Zhe (DongGuan)
Zhang Dayu (Zhejiang)


Yu Changdong (Xinjiang)
Wu Ke (Shandong)
Cao Yan (Bayi)


Guo Ailun (Liaoning)
Duan Jiangpeng (Shanxi)
Sui Ran (Shandong)
Wang Zirui (Guangsha)
Zhao Tailong (Fujian)
Cao Fei (Zhejiang)

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Wang Zhelin’s busy summer to continue in Tokyo

September 10, 2012


Fresh off a gold medal at the FIBA Asia U-18s, Wang Zhelin is on now his way to Japan to play in the FIBA Asia Cup.

Having already circled the globe this off-season to stop off at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Bob Donewald’s three month London Olympic Asia Minor preparation tour, and the FIBA U-18 Asia Championship in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, you’d think 18 year-old Wang Zhelin would finally be allowed to get some rest before he suits up for his first professional season in November with Fujian.

Well, think again.

The fourth edition of the FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo, Japan is set to kick off on Friday and for the first time ever, China will be sending a team to participate. Formerly known as the FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup, the winner will receive an automatic berth in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which is the qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.  Team who finish in the top four will earn “additional berths for their respective FIBA Asia sub zones,” according to the tournament’s official site.

Ultimately, the result isn’t that important — even if China loses, they’ll get a spot next year when they beat up on third-tier Asian national teams. And it looks like China recognizes that fact. Instead of bringing their senior squad or even a roster of second tier veterans, the Chinese Basketball Association has opted to bring several players from the Olympic Team, which is just a fancy way of saying the U-23 national team.

Wang, who averaged 22.3 points, 10.3 rebounds on 68% shooting from the field while leading China to gold in Mongolia, headlines the team where he’ll be joined by Guo Ailun (Liaoning), Li Muhao (DongGuan), Sui Ran (Shandong) and Wang Zirui (Guangsha) among others. Fan Bin will curse loudly from the sidelines act as head coach.

Though Wang will likely put up good numbers in Japan, it’ll be impossible to match what he did in Ulaanbataar. Down three to South Korea with under 15 seconds left in the Finals, Wang made a Tim Duncan-vs.-Suns-esque three-pointer — the first three-point attempt of his international career — to tie the game. China eventually won after the Koreans were called for a controversial five-second call on the ensuing play, with Gao Shang hitting the go-ahead lay-up with three seconds remaining.

China plays its first game against the Philippines on Friday.

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U-18s beat Hong Kong by 106 points and no, that’s not a typo

August 18, 2012

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The FIBA Asia U-18 Championship is underway in basketball hotbed Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and China, who are looking to defend their 2010 title, has opened its schedule with a message to its preliminary round competition: We’re totally cool by beating our own country-mates by a Wilt Chamberlain.

Playing in their opening game of the preliminary round yesterday, China beat Hong Kong by a score of 153-47.

I’ll type that again: 153-47. So much for saving some mian zi.

How you win by 106 points is beyond me, but here’s some statistics that help paint this ridiculous picture. China outrebounded their opponents 60-14, outscored them in the paint 72-14 and forced 32 turnovers. HK shot 28% for the game and were outshot 97-54. In the third quarter, China came out to score 44 points to Hong Kong’s five and then went 41-12 in the fourth just for good measure.

And when you further dig into this monstrosity of a scoreline, it’s hard not to just feel bad for these dudes. According to the competition’s official website, Hong Kong’s tallest player listed at 196 centimeters (6’5) and their next two tallest bigs are 191 (6’3). Compare that to China’s centers, Wang Zhelin and Zhou Qi, who are merely two seven footers with NBA potential.

Wang finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds (nine offensive) in just over 17 minutes, while Zhou had 17 and 6 in roughly the same time.

Unless the sun blows up, China is a lock to win this tournament for the second straight time. This roster features China’s A-list of youth players, including Wang and Zhou, as well as Gao Shang, Han Delong and Zhao Jiwei. It’s also the core team (minus Gao) that played this summer in Lithuania at the FIBA World U-17 Championship. China finished seventh with a 4-4 overall record.

China beat India earlier today 119-54. They’ll play Indonesia Lebanon tomorrow in the last game of the preliminary round before the start of the second round — in where the top three teams from each of the four groups are reorganized into two groups of six — on Monday. The top four teams from each group then play in the knockout round, which starts on August 24th.

You can check out the official website for more details and statistics here.

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Gong Songlin leaves Fujian, signs two-year deal with Zhejiang

July 25, 2012


Longtime Fujian standout, Gong Songlin, is packing his bags for Yiwu.

“The King of Fujian Basketball,” Gong Songlin, will have to sit on his throne from Yiwu, Zhejiang province after the 6’5 guard/forward agreed to terms with the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls last week.

Gong, who has spent 13 years overall playing for his home-province Fujian, signed a two-year deal with the Golden Bulls that will start immediately this season. According to reports, the contract is a 1+1 with an option for the second year. NetEase reports that Gong’s salary will be somewhere in the range of CNY 2 million (roughly US $317,500).

The move away from Fujian comes after Gong’s contract expired in June. According to reports, though the two sides attempted to come to an agreement that would allow Gong to finish his career in Fujian, negotiations between team management and the player ultimately broke down due to differences over salary.

For Fujian, Song’s departure signals the end of an era. In 10 seasons — the first of which was played in Xinjiang on loan — Gong is Fujian’s all-time leading scorer with 5,148 points — good enough for 16th in the CBA all-time record books.

But with the highly anticipated arrival of 18 year-old center, Wang Zhelin, who will make his CBA debut for Fujian next season, the Sturgeons seem poised to turn the page and start a new chapter. In addition to Wang, Fujian also has another promising young player, shooting guard Zhao Tailong, who will likely see an increase in minutes and production next year as he fills in for Gong. Throw in the return of American center, Will McDonald, and Fujian should be able to cope just fine.

A more pressing issue on Gong though, was his decrease in production and efficiency over the last few seasons. In 2010-11, his points per game dipped to 12.9 on sub 40% shooting after averaging close to 20 points per game over his first eight seasons. And last year, Gong averaged a career low 11.1 points on 42.1% shooting.

However, one part of Gong’s game has held up through that downward period, his three point shooting, a skill that should mesh well with Zhejiang’s newly arrived foreign talent. Along with freshly signed import, Quincy Douby, Song should give the Golden Bulls a powerful one-two scoring punch in the backcourt and could benefit from Douby’s drive and kicks. With 858 career threes, Gong has a good chance to see his career total increase if he’s able to accept his role as a spot up shooter. And if everything falls into place, Zhejiang — with Douby, Gong, Cao Fei and Olympian Ding Jinhui — might just sneak into the top four next year.

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Decision to cut Wang Zhelin makes sense when put into context

July 12, 2012


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, 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 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.

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