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Tag Archives: Wang Zhizhi

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

September 23, 2013

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Yi and Yao

 

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

Yeah, James Hsu is a perfect fit for NiuBBall.

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

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“Who got next?”

Kobe Bryant. LeBron James.

Yao Ming. Yi Jianlian. Jeremy Lin.

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

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

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

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

Here are their stories.

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Two words sum up the newest trailer for Chinese basketball movie, “Amazing:” Holy. Shnikes.

June 27, 2013

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Make sure you’re sitting down comfortably and that there are no breakables around your computer. OK? Now click and watch.

WOW!!!!

Where to begin? After bringing my pulse rate down, the premise appears simple enough: Take some of of the things Chinese males like (video games, basketball, NBA stars, CBA stars, virtual reality, alternate universes, women, other cool stuff), put them all onto the big screen and you have “Amazing,” a sci-fi/action/fantasy/basketball movie due out in China in late 2013.

According to the LA Times, the 3-D movie is being backed by the NBA, features several Chinese and American current and former basketball superstars, and cost around U.S. $10 million to make. The plot goes something like this:

“Amazing” centers on a video game company boss, Frank (Eric Mabius of TV’s ”Ugly Betty”), who is eager to rush his firm’s new thought-controlled basketball game to market, despite the objections of the project leader Bingshan (popular Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming), who warns that a bug in the system could escape the computer and infect players’ brains.

Along the way, Anthony shows up to coach an after-school program in China and speaks Shanghainese. Pippen materializes at the bedside of his No. 1 Chinese fan, and wakes him from a coma by massaging his legs. Howard appears in a light blue spandex superhero get-up with a cape and tries to use chopsticks.

So other cool stuff includes male leg massages and what is bound to be some terrible Shanhainese. Though ‘Melo gets major props for trying. Hey, I’m with it either way. Other cool stuff also apparently includes weird sexual connotations from D-12:

“Think about the basketball as being a girl,” Howard tells Bingshan in one memorable line of dialogue during a one-on-one pickup game. “You’ve got to hold her, caress her, kiss her, and when you do that, she’ll make you happy.”

There’s also a “love triangle” involved, too. No word whether an actual basketball is one of the three sides involved in that triangle.

The LA Times is also reporting that the movie’s release will coincide with China’s National Day holidays in early October, which conveniently enough will also be around the same time the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors come to Beijing and Shanghai for the 2013 China Games.

We have no idea what to expect with this; we just know we will be seeing this. This trailer is so epic, it’d be a travesty not to. Even if we remained totally bummed out they didn’t call Mengke Bateer, who has a better acting resume than any of the pro players involved in this… combined.

(H/T @Trey Kirby and The Basketball Jones)

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NiuBBall Classics: Shanghai Sharks vs. Bayi Rockets, November 2001

June 26, 2013

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If Forrest Gump was Chinese and living in 2013, he’d probably say something like this: Life is kind of like flipping around Chinese television at 3am… You never know what you’re going to get.

So when we came across 重温经曲振兴大球, a late-night program on CCTV-5 that shows classic games from Chinese sports history, we stopped flipping. (Don’t worry, it was on a weekend.) The game? A throwback of throwbacks — the Yao Ming-led Shanghai Sharks vs. the Wang Zhizhi juggernaut Bayi Rockets from 2001. We were so pumped, we decided to live blog it. Enjoy.

Pre-Game:

We’re immediately greeted by a really crappy intro vid that is quickly followed up by a deep-voiced voice over whose Chinese pronunciation is so perfectly crystal clear my television screen is turning see-through. This guy will be called Brother Voice Over from now on.

As Brother Voice Over informs us, when Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi first met on a basketball court in 1997, it was perhaps in the most Chinese way possible: At the National Games. Yao, playing in his first senior level competition for his hometown Shanghai squad, scored 13 points, while Wang had 19 for the People’s Liberation Army, who won the game.

Three years later in 2000, Yao had turned into a dominant force in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Sharks, leading his squad all the way to the league finals for the first time in club history. But in his way was the familiar Army team, the Bayi Rockets, and their smooth shooting center, Wang. Yao and the Sharks would lose handily to the Rockets, who were still in the midst of a dominant run of championships.

But on November 18, 2001, Yao would have his chance for revenge as his Sharks travelled to Ningbo, Zhejiang to play the Rockets in the CBA season opener. And that’s where we pick up the action.

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

April 28, 2013

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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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The good, the bad and the unexpected of CBA All-Star Weekend

March 1, 2013

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Jumping around a mininature car shoe whose hood is 5 inches off the ground equals “bad.”

OK, we’ll admit: Our recap of All-Star Weekend sucked this year. In part, that’s because our opinion from the 2011 Beijing edition has already been aired out loud and clear. But mostly it’s because our guy at Shark Fin Hoops, Andrew Crawford, made the journey down to sunny and warm Guangzhou last weekend to take in the festivities first-hand and to write us a report. Here’s the good, the bad and the unexpected from his Southern journey.

And if that’s not enough All-Star coverage for you, James Howden has a great write-up over on his blog about the game as well.

[...]

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2013 CBA All-Star Weekend Recap

February 25, 2013

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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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2012-13 CBA All-Star Game starters revealed; McGrady remains undecided on participation

February 8, 2013

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The starters for the 2013 Chinese Basketball Association All-Star Game were announced last week on Friday, with the Qingdao Eagles’ Tracy McGrady collecting the most fan votes.

Guangdong’s Yi Jianlian finished second.

McGrady, however, is reportedly considering as to whether he will participate in the event. Like last year, All-Star Weekend will be held in Guangzhou from February 23-24 at the Guangzhou International Sports Performance Arts Center.

Bayi’s Wang Zhizhi once again finished high enough to earn a starting spot for the South All-Stars, bringing his total All-Star Game tally to 13 appearances. Xinjiang’s Mengke Bateer holds the all-time record with 15 appearances, although this is the first time in his career that he will not be a starter.

Liaoning’s 19 year-old point guard, Guo Ailun, also makes headlines for getting the first start of his career. Yao Ming, then playing for Shanghai, became a starter in 1998 as an 18 year-old.

Quincy Douby, who set the All-Star Game single game scoring record with 44 points in 2011 while playing for Xinjiang, makes his return to the contest as part of the South squad after missing all of last season with a wrist injury.

Each team will have seven reserve players, which will be announced before the end of the regular season.

The complete list of starters are below.

North All-Stars:

Guards: Stephon Marbury (Beijing), Guo Ailun (Liaoning)

Forwards: Tracy McGrady (Qingdao), Li Xiaoxu (Liaoning)

Center: Han Dejun (Liaoning)

South All-Stars:

Guards: Quincy Douby (Zhejiang), Liu Wei (Shanghai)

Forwards: Yi Li (Jiangsu), Yi Jianlian (Guangdong)

Center: Wang Zhizhi (Bayi)

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New sponsorships bring new complications to CBA

December 6, 2012

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Beijing’s Lee Hsueh-lin has been one of 12 players to be fined by the league for not wearing Li-Ning shoes during games. The fine comes as a result of the CBA’s new sponsorship deal with the Chinese shoe brand.

It’s been an exciting start to the season, to say the least. Amidst all the ongoing stories, however, the most important to the league long-term are the new deals that the CBA has signed this past summer. After inking a five-year contract with Infront Sports and Media, now the official marketing partner of the CBA, the league scored 23 new sponsorships, headlined by Li-Ning’s massive CNY 4 billion (US $721 million) commitment.

With these contracts comes an unprecedented windfall for the league’s 17 teams. Having previously received a comparatively measly CNY 2 million from the association, each of the league’s 17 teams will now have around CNY 10 million to spend on salaries, stadium improvements (heating comes to mind), and anything team higher-ups decide on. You don’t need us to tell you this is a boon for the league: money means better imports, more experienced coaches, nicer facilities, and by extension, elevated quality of play and a more refined basketball product for all.

Of course, all this good news does not come without its complications. More sponsors means more advertisements, from CCTV-5 broadcasts to on-court exposure. Whether it be the new Li-Ning apparel, advertising boards, or even the Tsingtao Beer cheerleading squads, you can be sure that these sponsors will make their presence known. Taking on these sponsors also means less autonomy for individual clubs, as teams are now left with only two sections near the courtside audience seats of ad space for sale. Apart from ticketing revenue and individual sponsorships like those on some team’s uniforms, all of the CBA is now dependent on the league to cover their operating costs, a questionable practice at best. Another problem is that of rising costs: even with this injection, with some of their revenue producing avenues cut off, teams may still find it hard to produce a profit.

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The definitive NiuBBall.com CBA preview

November 22, 2012

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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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New import rules aim to benefit Bayi

October 29, 2012

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Last season’s 10-22 record left a bad taste for everyone with the Bayi Rockets, including Wang Zhizhi. But with the changing landscape in Chinese basketball, Bayi’s current status as league cellar dweller going to remain permanent?

The Bayi Rockets have the longest history, the most championships, the most former National Team players, and as we’ve learned this month, the most support from the Chinese Basketball Association.

In what’s being called “The Bayi Rule” by some in the media, the CBA has enacted new special import regulations this season, the most important of which will aim to even the playing field for the all-Chinese Rockets: Against Bayi, teams are only allowed to play their foreign players — Asian imports included — five combined quarters. In the fourth quarter, only one import player can take the court.

In addition, teams who qualify for Asian imports (the teams who finished in the bottom four last season) have the option of bypassing a third Asian import all together and play their regular two imports seven quarters instead of the regular six. Currently, Tianjin, Shandong and Foshan all have third Asian imports, whereas Jiangsu is still making up their mind.

While the latter rule may be a prelude to wiping out the Asian import altogether next year, the Bayi Rule’s long-term implication is much less clear. The league’s reasoning, however, is pretty straightforward: Give Bayi a better chance at winning some games this season.

Last season, the Rockets stumbled their way to what would be a historically bad campaign. The eight-time CBA champs finished in 14th place at 10-22, by far their worst season ever. Besides setting records in futility, the team hit a new bottom mid-season when home fans in Ningbo chanted for legendary longtime head coach, Adijiang, to xia ke , or be fired.

And as frightening as last season was for the Five Stars, its nothing compared to the very real fact that it could get worse both in the near and far future. As in, a lot worse.

As representatives the People’s Liberation Army, Bayi is not allowed to sign foreign players. 10 years ago, when the league attracted lower-level foreigners and skipped back and forth between one and two foreigners per team, the Rockets could dominate the league behind a roster chock full of National Teamers who were filtered into the team from the old system of recruiting and selecting China’s best players specifically for the military. One of those guys: Wang Zhizhi, who would eventually leave for the NBA in the early 2000s before coming back to the team in the middle of the decade.

Times have changed, though. The old Soviet-styled system is fading, and Bayi no longer has a monopoly on China’s best talent. Whereas a decade ago they could have re-stocked their armory with future Team China players, they’re now likely looking at a post-Wang Zhizhi era (he’s 35 years-old, remember )with no dominant Chinese player stand in his place. Furthermore, teams in the CBA are now able to attract high-level foreigners, which has resulted in a large talent disparty between Bayi and the other 16 teams.

So for this year, limiting the amount of time foreigners can face the army team in theory should give them a chance to redeem some level of respectability. But, what if it doesn’t? What if, despite this new rule, Bayi still finishes at the bottom of the league? Is the league’s next step to impose even stricter restrictions on foreigner playing time? Or would they go so far as disallowing opposing teams from playing foreigners altogether?

That’s where things get murky — and possibly dangerous for the development of the league. Degrading the quality of the league and the progress its made over the last few years to give some face and some wins to Bayi, who at present remain adamant of doing it the all-Chinese-no-foreign-way, would result in a big step back for Chinese basketball. And it likely wouldn’t result in a new golden age for the Rockets, either, with DongGuan, Guangdong, Xinjiang and Beijing all possessing better if not equal Chinese rosters.

It’s a tricky situation for both the league and Bayi: Keep the league the way it is, and the team is likely never to sniff the playoffs again. Change the rules to make it easier on the army guys, and you’ve artificially watered down the league to create an artificial platform that Bayi isn’t good enough to stand upon on their own.

Or, as longtime China basketball scribe, Su Qun, suggests, just let Bayi have foreign players. Maybe it won’t be like the old days, but then again, the old days are long gone and it’ll help the team and its players get back to respectability.

But in China, jun dui bu neng you wai guo ren. In the Army, there can be no foreigners. That’s the way its been, and if history and the overall attitude towards foreigners holds true, that’s the way it’ll likely stay.

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Grading Team China’s Olympics

August 16, 2012

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The United States 107-100 triumph against Spain in the gold medal match on Sunday marked both the end of Olympic basketball and the Olympics altogether, as the closing ceremony was held only a few hours after. Of course for China, basketball has been over for a while now after they went 0-5 in Group B.

Without a doubt, the winless finish will be viewed as a disappointment. But smearing blame across the entire team wouldn’t be fair. Who failed to play up to their standards, and who pulled their weight? We grade each player on a scale of 优 (excellent), 良 (good),中 (average), and 差 (bad), evaluating their performances with expected results in mind.

优- (Excellent) - Yi Jianlian

Key Statistic: 30 points (13/19 FG), 12 rebounds vs Spain

China was expected to rely heavily on their only NBA-level talent, Yi Jianlian and in the early going, Yi did not disappoint, notching a huge double-double against Spain in a respectable defeat. He followed up with another strong effort against Russia, putting up 16 points and 7 rebounds.

Photo: Getty Images

However, just as it looked as if Yi might singlehandedly lead China to some wins, he suffered an injury in the second half against Australia that severely limited him the last two games. Other teams started to focus their defenses upon him as the rest of Team China was not much of a threat, and in turn he made just 5 field goals. Yi was unable to shoulder the heavy burden placed upon him, even though he was the top rebounder at the Olympics with 10.2 a game and was one of only two players to average a double-double. It is difficult to evaluate Yi in light of his injury; if he was healthy throughout, perhaps the dominance he showed offensively early on would have continued. Though Yi Jianlian’s effort in the face of injury is commendable (14 rebounds against Great Britain), what China needed was points. Yi could not create enough offense by himself, and though that is a tall task with the support cast he has, we have to dock him a few points for his average finish to the Games.

良+ (Very good) — Wang Zhizhi

Key Statistic: 1 point (0/8 FG), 12 rebounds vs Australia

Photo: Getty Images

The longest-tenured member of the national team started his last   Olympics off strong, scoring an efficient 15 points against Spain. But, his minutes were limited against more athletic teams as his defense, never a strong point even when he was young, was too much of a liability. Against Australia, he had 12 rebounds, a career high, but fatigue and strong defensive pressure obviously had gotten to him, as he missed all eight of his shots and his rhythm was noticeably off. It is disappointing that China still has to rely on Wang to create offense, but when facing weaker defenses, the veteran was still able to put up big numbers. Wang averaged 6 points and 5.2 rebounds, showing he can still stroke the mid-range shot and rebound in short amounts of time. A great example for younger players, he suited up for the game against Brazil despite having five stitches on his face. Fatigue, age, and physicality caught up to him, though, and he was unable to sustain his quality production.

良+ (Very good) — Wang Shipeng

Key Statistic: 13/21 (61.9%) 3PT, highest in tournament

China eclipsed 60 points only two times in these Olympics, a testament to its anemic offense. Wang, though, wasn’t shabby on the offensive end, with very efficient games when he was given time on the court. Perhaps he could have been a little less turnover-prone, but on a team that frequently failed to get off shot attempts, the confident gunner was a much-needed shot creator. His unconscious shooting night against Australia will be one to remember; Wang hit 7 of 10 three pointers, and his 21 points kept China in the game for a while. He averaged 9.6 points, the second highest total on the team by quite a margin, which goes to show the dearth of a supporting cast behind Yi.

中- (Below average) — Liu Wei

Key Statistic: 1.3 assist to turnover ratio

When a team struggles as much as it does on offense as China did, a certain degree of blame must be put on the floor general of the team. Never known as an extraordinary playmaker, Liu Wei still could have done better than the two assists and 1.5 turnovers a game he averaged in the Olympics. Much of the time, it seemed that the only play the team had was to hand the ball to Yi, back off, and watch him from the perimeter, resulting in many 24 second violations, contested jumpers, and the lowest team assist average in all of the Olympics. Liu averaged 5.2 points a game on less than efficient shooting, the majority of which were mid-range jumpers. The point guard position has always been a headache for China, though Liu getting into foul trouble against Spain created playing time and much hope for…

良+ (Very good) — Chen Jianghua

Key Statistic: 12 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers vs Spain

Perhaps Chen has become a step slower after his knee injury, but even with his reduced speed, he is still able to penetrate defenseseasily, and has developed a better feel for the game as well as nice passing instincts. Chen recorded an impressive performance against Spain with 12 points and five assists, then scored 10 points apiece against both Australia and Brazil. What is even more significant than those numbers is that China’s point guard position finally seems to be in decent hands. Chen is still blessed with much of the talent that made him such a prized prospect, and with experience, he can only improve as a playmaker.

差 (Bad) — Zhu Fangyu

Key Statistic: 8 points in 4 of 5 games, 4 total rebounds

Apart from netting 13 points on 6 shots against Brazil in garbage time, Zhu had a forgettable Olympics. Averaging a paltry 4.2 points and 0.8 rebounds (which China ranked last among all teams in), he was unable to contribute much in the areas that the team needed the most help. The leading scorer in CBA history didn’t get many minutes in London, and oftentimes he wasn’t able to stop his matchup on the defensive side. His performance is a glaring sign that China’s old rotation of players desperately needs some newcomers to step up.

差 (Bad) — Sun Yue

Key Statistic: 3/16 FG in 3 games

Many had high hopes for Sun Yue, one of the only NBA-caliber talents on the team, but London represented a far tougher competition than the guard was used to after yet another season playing against inferior competition with Beijing Aoshen. He was inefficient from the field, blowing layups and jumpers alike. Sun did showcase his physical toughness on defense, stopping multiple fast breaks against Russia that otherwise would have been easy points. Sun was sidelined for the last two games with an injury, a brutal end to a disappointing tournament.

中 (Average) — Zhou Peng, Yi Li

中- (Below average) — Ding Jinhui Guo Ailun, Zhang Zhaoxu

Key Statistic: First Olympics

Zhou played significant minutes in 3 games, and was a great energy guy off the bench, gathering rebounds and playing tough defense. He protected the post with Ding, who provided his trademark brand of aggression. Both are undersized and raw on defense, and could not make much impact on the offensive end (Ding was 2-9 from the field). Yi Li provided a remarkable first half against Russia, where he nailed a couple of important jumpers for 9 points, and in subsequent games flashed his confidence in his shot. Guo Ailun, often paired with Chen in a combo guard position, started for China against Brazil, logging 8 points, while Zhang Zhaoxu filled his role of a 12th man big body, and set a couple of nice screens. The two were prone to making mistakes, and Zhang found it hard to stay on the floor with fouls and turnovers. All in all, Coach Donewald played his youngsters sparingly. They gained much experience from these Games, but in a perfect world, these players would have been capable of playing big minutes in place of the veterans presently. Not many expected them to, though, and this group didn’t really prove the doubters wrong; other than Zhou and perhaps Yi, the youth movement was not able to contribute much.

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End of an era: Liu Wei retires from National Team, Wang Zhizhi plays in final Olympic match

August 8, 2012

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Liu Wei, who has played with Team China since 2002, is retiring from the National Team.

China’s 90-58 defeat to Great Britain on Monday, which clinched an 0-5 overall record and the country’s first ever winless result at the Olympics, will be remembered as part of a series of big losses. But it will pale in comparison to the several veteran players the National Team has just lost to retirement.

Liu Wei, who has been part of the National Team setup for the last 10 years, most of which were spent as the starting point guard, announced on Sina Weibo that he has played his last game for Team China. Over his career with the National Team, the 32 year-old point guard participated in three Olympics and three World Championships.

In addition, 35 year-old Wang Zhizhi, announced that he will not play in Brazil in the 2016 Olympics. He did not, however, explicitly say that he has retired from Team China, which could possibly leave the door open for him to return to the team as they get set to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Championship. Wang, who made his senior debut for China at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, has played in the last five Olympic Games.

Other longtime National Team mainstays, Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu, also announced to reporters that they have participated in their last Olympics as well.

The news that the four have played their last Olympics marks the end of an era for Chinese basketball. Liu, Wang Zhizhi, Zhu and Wang Shipeng were all part of the 2006 World Championship team in Greece Japan, the 2008 Beijing Olympic team and the 2010 World Championship team in Turkey, all three of which qualified past the group stages.

All four figure to play for their club teams in the Chinese Basketball Association next year.

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Losses to Russia and Australia put China in a tough spot

August 4, 2012

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On top of two big losses to Russia and Australia, Yi Jianlian suffered a knee injury in the second half of Thursday’s game against the Aussies. The injury is not serious, however, and Yi is likely to play today against Brazil. (Photo: Reuters)

After a promising opening game against Spain, China lost their last two games against Russia and Australia by a combined 39 points to put their knockout qualification chances seriously in doubt.

China lost 73-54 to the Russians on Tuesday before losing 81-61 to the Aussies.

In both games, China’s inability to run good offense was a major reason why they fell and stayed behind for much of the game. Against Russia, China failed to score more than 15 points in each quarter. And against Australia, China managed to combine for 19 points in the second and fourth quarters.

Meanwhile, the Chinese were also smashed on the offensive glass — 12-2 against the Russians and 19-4 against Australia, the latter of whom shot 27 more shots than their opponents.

So why the differences between the Spain game and the last two? To start, China has shown an inability to play effectively against aggressive, physical defenses. After the Russia game, head coach Bob Donewald Jr. said “we disappeared” and “were manhandled” once the game turned physical.

“Russia is long and physical,” he added. “I am disappointed by the way we played.”

Whereas Spain plays a more conservative style on defense, opting to keep everything in front of them, both the Russians and the Australians ramped up the physicality and the pressure in order to get Big Red out of their comfort zone. Specifically, they’ve ran into problems as their opponents have made it a priority to deny ball reversals.

In Bob Donewald’s motion offense, where pick-and-rolls are mostly eschewed in favor of backcuts, off-ball screens and weak side action, getting good ball reversal from one side to the other is paramount to running good offense. The Russians, both longer and stronger than the Chinese at almost every position, denied passes to China’s favored ball-reversal targets, Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian. With no way to reverse the floor, Russia and Australia limited offensive action to one side of the court. The result: A lot of “random” and a lot of bad shots at the end of the shot clock. Chinese guards have a long reputation of playing poorly against pressure defense, and the past two games have been no exception as both Liu Wei and Chen Jianghua have struggled to get their team into an offensive flow. Ditto for China’s bigs, who haven’t been able to handle double teams on the block.

Further making things difficult is that China doesn’t hit the offensive glass and can’t score in transition, making almost all of their offense half-court reliant. Without ways to get easy buckets, the only method for China to score has been in the half-court. And with two sub-40% shooting nights over the last two games, efficiency in their half-court offense has been a major issue.

Still, basketball is a two-sided game and as Leon Zhang illustrates below, China’s defense — specifically their transition defense — has been poor as well. ( For a better look, check out http://2012.sohu.com/20120731/n349507223.shtml for video.)

In the second quarter, Russia pushes the ball on a fast break after rebounding the ball. With three players back and a fourth on his way to join the action, China looks to be in good position to defend against Russia’s transition offense.

But in less than two seconds, China’s defense falls apart as they forget to account for a trailing Timofey Mozgov. After turning his head back, the ball handler, Victor Khryapa, stops at the left elbow and draws Wang Zhizhi up and away from the basket. The void in the paint left by Wang presents a problem because Yi Jianlian has been beaten down the floor by Mozgov (who is a blur in this photo). After Wang converges on the ball handler…

…Mozgov slips inside for the easy dunk as more than half of China’s team is caught looking on. This play was indicative of China’s poor transition defense, most of which was due to a lack of effort in sprinting back on defense.

If this sounds like a super negative, anti-China post, its not. China simply doesn’t have the talent to win in what is an extremely difficult Group B.  Whereas teams have multiple NBA players and deep benches, China has Yi Jianlian, a few solid role players and a long list of players who are simply overmatched against elite international competition. China has run into problems in the second quarter when they’re forced to use their bench. Against the Aussies, Donewald played six guys 20+ minutes in an attempt to minimize their disadvantages in depth, but at the end of the day the reality is simple: This is a one-man team in the form of Yi Jianlian. And until the CBA can develop multiple international-level players, they’re always going to have trouble going deep in the Olympics or the World Championship.

The one good news for China: Yi, who hurt his knee in the second half against Australia, is expected to play against Brazil. The bad news, though: With three NBA bigs (Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao) to go alongside Leandro Barbosa, the Chinese are heavy underdogs. If they lose tonight, they’re officially eliminated from the knock-out round.

 

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China – Spain Recap

July 31, 2012

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Yi Jianlian’s game-high 30 points were the highlight of a very respectful performance from the Chinese against Spain. Photo: Sina Sports

China was always a longshot (if a shot at all) in their 2012 Olympics-opening match-up against Spain — also known as the rematch of the 2008 Beijing Olympics preliminary round game that China should have won, but coughed up at the end of regulation before eventually losing in overtime — so it’s tough to feel too down about the 97-81 loss that went down on Sunday night. In fact, people should feel quite the opposite. China played well throughout and kept the game competitive, never once looking overmatched or out of place. Just too much size and skill for Spain, who played tiki-taka in the half-court (an incredible 27 assists on 36 makes) en route to 57% shooting from the field and 11-19 from three.

But there were some positives for Big Red and if they continue to play at this level, they very may well come away with a win (or even two) in the group.  Yi Jianlian was sensational offensively with 30 points and 12 boards, and Chen Jianghua played 30 excellent minutes at the point guard spot. As a team, they only turned the ball over eight times and shot well from the field at nearly 52%.

China plays Russia next at 4:00pm local Beijing time today. If you’re going to miss it, this is your go-to tomorrow and everyday after that.
Here’s eight bullet points, because you know… eight is lucky and all.
  • Is there a guy in this tournament with more irrational confidence than Wang Shipeng? Dude hasn’t played a good stretch of basketball in about eight months, including the entire summer, and then he goes out guns blazing last night and drains every shot he takes in the first quarter (the best of which was a rediculous fadeaway on the left side over Rudy Fernandez that was just…  ridiculous). Good to see Wang back. They’ll need some more performances from him because…
  • Sun Yue did not enjoy one of his better nights. 1-9 from the field, three points and one rebound. He was active on D and came up with four steals, but China needs more from him. Starting with some made lay-ups.
  • If you’re wondering why, based on his performances internationally, why Yi Jianlian hasn’t carved out a niche for himself in the NBA yet, his closeout on Pau Gasol on the three-point line in the first quarter — and the ensuing blow-by that quickly followed it — should provide enough answers for now.
  • That being said though, Yi was great offensively: Perfect from the field in the first half and pretty much unguardable in isolations throughout. We would have liked to see him get to the line more when it mattered (there were a couple of times when he got his man up in the air on a pump fake and chose to fade away instead of drawing contact), but other than that it was pretty tough to come up with anything he could have done better on that end. 
  • How about five assists and zero turnovers for Chen Jianghua, who was thrust into big minutes because of Liu Wei’s foul trouble? We said it in the CBA Finals and during the summer, but it bears repeating now: This guy is the best pure point guard playing in China at the moment. Which is crazy to think about, considering he was once a lightning quick combo guard who couldn’t have played in the half-court at a China KFC 3-on-3 tournament. I don’t think massive knee injuries are ever a good thing, but I do strongly feel that the effects of Chen’s injuries and the quickness that they’ve deprived him of have been a big reason in his evolution from a guy with limited ability in running in an offense to a guy that’s making some really nice reads and decisions (his diagonal pass to Yi in the first half was something he couldn’t do a couple years ago). If he can stay healthy, the bridge from Liu Wei to whoever is next at that position might be sturdier than we once thought.
  • HoopsHype on “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu: “The tallest player of the tournament won’t make any difference. Slow and totally unskilled.” Tell us how you really feel, guys! NiuBBall vets know how we feel about the ever-improving Max, but as Serge Ibaka demonstrated with an emphatic block last night, that turnaround fadeaway needs to stay in Shanghai. He was also posterized by Pau Gasol in the first half off of a baseline reverse dunk.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

  • The Wang Zhizhi-Yi Jianlian front line is nice on offense; not only because of all of the high-low opportunities it can present, but also because it stretches the floor out and keeps the middle open for backcuts — a staple in the Donewald motion offense. Defensively, much different story. Still, I like it and I thought it was a key reason why China was able to play well in this game. But the other effect the lineup has is that it severely weakens China’s bench. When Wang starts, Zhang Zhaoxu is the first big off the bench (and we just saw how that ended up). It’s more necessity than anything when you’re playing against a team as big and as skilled as Spain. But with only three guys capable of playing center, I think Wang needs to stay on the bench against smaller teams.
  • Random thoughts… Always worth noting at the start of these tournaments that FIBA balls are abnormally bouncy… One of the worst non-calls you’ll ever see happened in the fourth quarter… Spain’s uniforms are made by Chinese company, Li-Ning… Yao Ming did a nice job alongside play-by-play guy, Yu Jia, on the CCTV broadcast… 
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Road to the Olympics: Wang Zhizhi

July 25, 2012

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As the Chinese men’s basketball team enters the last stage of preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, it is a sad fact that there are not many definitive profiles of these players, let alone ones in the English language. In this light, let us present you a series dedicated to giving a backstory to the players that will no doubt shine on the world’s biggest stage. After profiling Liu Wei last week, we go to the ageless seven foot lefty with the killer footwork and sweet stroke from downtown, Wang Zhizhi.

Name: Wang Zhizhi (王治郅)
Height: 7’1’’ (214 cm)
Weight:  275 pounds (125 kg)
Position: Center
Team: Bayi Rockets

The first Chinese athlete to play in the NBA, the cornerstone of a Bayi Rockets dynasty, a star for the national team since before this century started, and the one whose ban from the team and subsequent reconciliation with officials sparked a great deal of controversy. Suffice to say, Wang Zhizhi has been around for quite a while. A living legend of Chinese basketball, Da Zhi’s legend will grow this July and August as the seven footer will continue to play a great role for Team China in the 2012 London Olympics.

Wang’s journey started all the way back in 1977, when he was born in Beijing to two basketball athlete parents. Standing 6’9 at the age of 14, Wang was recruited by the People’s Liberation Army into the Bayi Rockets. Subject to harsh training, with practice hours sometimes extending to eight hours, Wang was forced to undergo massive lifestyle changes, with even his birthdate moved up to 1979 to allow him to dominate youth competitions. He was awarded places on several Chinese select teams, including the awkwardly named and roughly translated Youth Special Height Team, Chinese Youth National Team, and then the senior Bayi team.

No matter where in the world he went, the crafty center impressed with his nimble footwork, often confusing opponents with a spin and finish with his left hand. He was named the best center in Greece’s Youth Basketball Championships, then went on to deliver a solid performance, including a memorable block on David Robinson, in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that earned him six scholarship offers from US schools and a Nike endorsement. Though Wang garnered interest from such high profile schools as Georgetown and LSU, Wang ultimately stayed in China due to the sensitivities involved in letting a PLA soldier and key basketball player go the States for four years. Instead, he returned to Bayi for the inaugural CBA season, catalyzing a dynasty that would run to six CBA championships and a league MVP. He seemed destined for a run of unrivaled dominance, entering the start of his prime by averaging 26.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in the 2000-01 season.

Dallas Mavericks owner H. Ross Perot Jr., though, had a different plan in mind.

Notoriously stingy about giving up their players to foreign organizations, Wang’s materials had to be smuggled to the Mavericks and Perot, who wished to draft the first Chinese player ever and thus make history. With the 36th pick of the 1999 NBA draft, and to the surprise of all involved, Wang Zhizhi was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. The People’s Liberation Army would loath to let go of its prized center, and only when its hand was forced as China’s bid to host the Beijing Olympics was put to a final vote did it allow Wang to play in the NBA. With just ten games left in the season, Wang was able to fit in quickly as a role player, recording 4.8 points and 1.4 rebounds. Wang made the playoff roster; then, duty called, and Wang returned to China, Bayi and the National Team. China won gold at the Asian Championship, Bayi was crowned the champion of the National Games, and Wang played an unmistakable leading role on both teams.

But as his contract in the NBA expired, he began making a series of decisions that would endanger his position in China.

Wang, hoping to participate in the NBA Summer League to work on his game, moved to Los Angeles, leaving little behind in China. Chinese officials urged him to return to the country to practice, as various national team tournaments were on the horizon. But his constant refusals followed by rumors that he was planning on defecting to the US gave the team — and army officials — much to worry about.

PLA officers met him one month later in America, with Wang laying down an ultimatum: he would play in the World Championship, but would not disrupt his season for the the third-tier Asian Games, a relatively unimportant continental tournament. This did not go over well, and Wang was banned from the National Team on October 9th. Shortly after, he served short stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat, but was unable to find consistent playing time. By the end of 2005, the center did not have a team to play for, and after an expulsion of four years, finally returned to his homeland, attempting to make amends for what amounted to betrayal in the Army’s eyes.

The good soldier was forced to attend “self-criticism” meetings, becoming politically “reeducated”, and published a three-page letter of apology. Returning to the army, he remarked, “It feels sacred to be in an army uniform again”. With the 2008 Beijing Olympics fast approaching, the Chinese government took a more lenient stance towards Wang, and “Dodger,” his American nickname, came full circle when he led China to first place in the Asian Championships with the other side of “The Walking Great Wall,” Yao Ming, out of the lineup. Wang found himself as the undoubted leader and mentor of a suddenly youthful and inexperienced Bayi team, yet found a way to win another CBA title and a Finals MVP in 2007.

Wang’s strong play still holds up today, and in 2012 was a CBA All-Star team starter. He is very much still a major contributor to the national team, winning yet another Asia Games in 2010 with critical plays against Iran, Korea and Qatar. After the game, his 11 teammates draped their medals around his neck, bowing in respect; Wang returned the favor by splitting his championship purse with them.

Fun Facts: the talented lefty started a camp to develop lefties like himself; his favorite car is the Lincoln Navigator; he loves to eat large Texas steaks and enjoys listening to Britney Spears; he enjoys watching movies and tried his hand at film himself, hosting a tourism show on Beijing; former CBA slam dunk champion; and he loves collecting rare china, jade, and metals.

Here’s hoping Wang comes home from London with what will amount to the most valuable metal of them all.

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