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.
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.
After starring at the youth international level, Wang Zhelin has been selected for the Senior National Team, despite never playing at the top level in the CBA.
The CBA Playoffs are approaching its end and spring is coming to Beijing, which means soon we’ll be able to sit outside and engage in our favorite warm-weather pastime, beer and chuanr. Oh, and it also means that the National Team season is about to kick off.
To answer some people’s question: No, the Olympic Team doesn’t actually play in the Olympics. I know, it’s strange. Just roll with it. According to the CBA, the goal of the Olympic Team is to ”prepare for the 2012 Asia Stankovic Cup, to be played this September in Japan, and the 2013 East Asia Games in Tianjin. To select the best players for the 2016 Olympics and develop high level backup players.”
The Senior Team, however, does play in the Olympics. And with the Olympics coming up in August, this is a huge summer for Chinese basketball. The CBA considers the Olympics as the most important international competition, and views the tournament as the best way for China to showcase themselves to the rest of the world.
In order to space everything out and give players some rest, the Senior team roster has been split up into three groups, with players whose season ended at the end of the regular season to report first, while players who are in the midst of deep playoff runs to report last.
The usual suspects are all on there, but the big story are the three players making their National Team debut, including one who doesn’t even play in the CBA yet. If you’ve been paying attention, you shouldn’t be shocked by the inclusion of Beijing’s young duo of Zhai Xiaochuan and Zhu Yanxi, who’s selection into Bob Donewald’s roster was basically assured by midseason.
The real shocker is Wang Zhelin, Fujian’s long hyped 18 year-old seven-foot center. One of the brightest prospects in China, Wang nabbed tournament MVP in China’s gold medal run FIBA Asia U-18 Championship in 2010 and was a key member in the FIBA World U-19 Championship last year where China finished 13th. Wang did not play top level CBA ball this year, as the team opted to keep him with the second team in order to improve his body and conditioning. One of the key long-term pieces for China, his entrance onto the team says a lot about the expectations the CBA has for him going forward.
He is widely expected to make his CBA debut next season.
Notable omissions from the Senior squad include 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2011 FIBA Asia Championship backup guard, Yu Shulong, who plays domestically for Jilin and Qingdao’s Li Gen. With Osama Dahglas getting most of the minutes at point guard in Jilin this year, the 22 year-old Yu averaged a career low 15.5 minutes per game. Li Gen, who played under Donewald in Shanghai in 2008-09, missed the cut despite averaging 17.5 points per game, the most of any Chinese player in the CBA this season.
For the Olympic squad, Guo Ailun and Fan Bin come back together for the first time since Guo reportedly lead a U-19 player rebellion against their head coach last year, demanding that he be removed due to his repeated physical and verbal abuse. Guo and most of the team signed a ”blood letter” to show the seriousness of the situation. Fan was suspended in April before finally being reinstated in May, promising to be more sensitive to his players emotions.
The entire rosters are listed below. The Senior team will eventually be cut down to 12, the timeline of which has yet to be publicly announced.
Men’s Senior National Team
Head Coach: Bob Donewald Jr. (USA)
Assistant Coaches: Li Nan (China), Selcuk Ernak (Turkey)
Group 1 (to report on March 20th)
Yang Ming, Han Dejun, Li Xiaoxu (Liaoning Hengye); Wang Zhizhi, Zhang Bo (Bayi Fubang); Zhang Zhaoxu (Shanghai Dongfang); Ding Jinhui (Zhejiang Chouzhou); Yi Li (Jiangsu Nangang); Wang Zhelin (Fujian SBS)
Group 2 (to report on April 8th)
Liu Wei (Shanghai Dongfang); Xirelijiang (Xinjiang Guanghui)
Group 3 (to report 15 days after each player’s respective season)
Wang Shipeng, Chen Jianghua, Zhou Peng, Zhu Fangyu, Su Wei (Guangdong Hongyuan); Sun Yue (Beijing Aoshen); Zhai Xiaochuan, Zhu Yanxi (Beijing Shougang); Duan Jiangpeng (Shanxi Zhongyu); Yi Jianlian (Dallas Mavericks)
Men’s Olympic National Team
Head Coach: Fan Bin (China)
Assistant Coaches: Du Feng, Wu Naiqun (China)
Li Muhao, He Zhongmian (DongGuan New Century); He Tianju, Guo Ailun (Liaoning Hengye); Wang Zirui (Zhejiang Guangsha); Dong Hanlin (Guangdong Hongyuan); Xu Zhonghao, Cao Yan, Tian Yuxiang (Bayi Fubang); Ge Zhaobao, Yan Pengfei, Xing Zhiqiang (Shanxi Zhongyu); Ding Yanyuhan, Sui Ran (Shandong Kingston); Yu Changdong (Xinjiang Guanghui); Zhang Zhihan (Tianjin Ronggang); Zhao Tailong (Fujian SBS) Yu Shulong (Jilin SBT); Li Gen (Qingdao Double Star)
A wretched third quarter and some dire shooting from the free-throw line condemned Shanghai to a painful 90-85 home defeat in game one of their playoff series with the Shanxi Brave Dragons. The hard work now beckons for the Sharks, who must now go to the north of China and win at least one of the next two games in Taiyuan to remain in the playoffs. For the Brave Dragons, Marcus Williams made 37 points, Charles Gaines picked up a beefy 27 point, 19 rebound, double-double whilst Duan Jianpeng got 10. For Shanghai, Mike Harris scored 22 points whilst Zhang Zhaoxu got 18.
‘We executed out game plan, we kept the score in the range we wanted to keep it in but unfortunately we didn’t make our free-throws’, acknowledged Shanghai head coach, Dan Panaggio, at his press conference. Though acknowledging that his side could have won the game had they been more clinical when they went to the line, Panaggio also stressed the unique situations that come with postseason games. ‘This is playoff basketball, and if you look at the history of playoff basketball, statistics decrease during a playoff series’, he stated in response to a question about the team’s scoring in the second half. ‘Teams have a week to prepare for one team, not three teams in a week- you’re preparing for one. [Shanxi] know our personal and we know theirs’.
The Sharks’ coach also made it clear that his side were nowhere near out of the series after one game and that he fully believed in his players’ ability to rally back from tonight’s defeat. ’We’ve got ourselves in a tough spot but we’re going to go up [to Taiyuan] and battle’. Having underlined his own intensity and determination, now Panaggio’s players must do the same on Friday when the Dragons host Shanghai in game two of the series.
Widely seen as a major underdog in their opening round series, DongGuan came away with an important Game 1 victory at home against Xinjiang.
After being dominated on the offensive glass in their Round 33 regular match-up in Urumqi, DongGuan limited Xinjiang to a small +3 advantage. The home squad also got pretty hot from downtown, hitting 13-28 from three as a team. Shavlik Randolph 31 points and 14 rebounds, Zhang Kai came up with 16 points and nine boards, and Josh Akognon put in 24.
Meanwhile, Xinjiang struggled to find a consistent rhythm playing their first game without Gani Lawal. The team shot just 39% from the field and came up with only 11 assists. Newcomer Ike Diogu scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his CBA debut. Tim Pickett struggled to get going, scoring 19 points on 6-22 shooting, while Mengke Bateer had 18 and 11.
The series will move back to Xinjiang tonight, where the Flying Tigers have only lost twice all season.
Without the injured Anthony Roberson, Fujian was no match for Guangdong, who turned up the intensity to record an easy blowout victory. Wang Shipeng, who has largely been in hibernation for most of the winter, came out of his cave for team-high 24 points. Aaron Brooks came up with 22 points and eight assists, and Zhou Peng had 18 points.
For Fujian, Will McDonald did his best, playing a full 48 minutes for 33 points and six rebounds. Zhao Tailong had 25 points.
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.
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)
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