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Preview: Rejuvenated Chinese basketball team aims to rectify name in Asia Cup qualifiers

N.C.N. Limited 徽标 N.C.N. Limited 2021/6/15 Su Bin,Wang Chunyan
Yao Ming standing in front of a crowd © Provided by N.C.N. Limited

Yao Ming (Rear), chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, attends team China's tactical layout during its group M match against South Korea at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, Sept. 6, 2019. (Xinhua/He Changshan)

It has been roughly two years since the Chinese men's basketball team last appeared in an international competition and perhaps, this time, they'll be eyeing more.

By sportswriters Su Bin, Wang Chunyan

BEIJING, June 15 (Xinhua) -- It has been roughly two years since the Chinese men's basketball team last appeared in an international competition and perhaps, this time, they'll be eyeing more.

China had a disappointing campaign on home soil in 2019, finishing 24th among 32 sides and missing out on the chance of directly qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

After the 2019 World Cup, Du Feng, also head coach of Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) powerhouse the Guangdong Southern Tigers, took charge of the national team for upcoming tournaments.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese team has not played an international match since then, as the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers were rescheduled several times. Now they are set to step on the court again.

Following the withdrawal of Malaysia, China will play twice against Japan and Chinese Taipei in five days starting from Wednesday.

China named a 14-player roster before departing for the Philippines and readjusted it by replacing Zeng Fanbo with Wang Shaojie, aiming to improve its strength inside the paint.

It's a Chinese side looking quite different, as only three players participated in the World Cup two years ago. Prominent names including Yi Jianlian and Guo Ailun are sidelined due to injuries.

More importantly, the team has a bigger goal of testing the squad and helping young players grow through international matches in preparation for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Zhou Peng, who missed the 2019 World Cup due to a left foot metatarsal fracture, is the cornerstone of this Chinese team. Returning from a serious foot injury, Zhou was named the Defensive Player of the Year last season and helped Guangdong win its record-extending 11th CBA championships.

Zhou's Guangdong teammates Ren Junfei, Hu Mingxuan, and Xu Jie were also included on the roster. Ren was a great aid for Zhou in the forward position, while Hu and Xu have grown a lot on Guangdong's winning path, particularly considering Hu's Finals MVP honor.

Other players are also those who shone in last season's league. Wu Qian, famous for his long-range shooting, has developed as the leader of the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, and he is joined in the national side by club teammate Lu Wenbo.

Zhao Yanhao has just finished a personal best season for the Zhejiang Lions, finishing with a career-high 17.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.6 steals. Freshmen Zhang Zhenlin and Zhu Mingzhen have given people light of hope with their solid performances, while Liu Chuanxing and Shen Zijie have also progressed as paint players.

Besides Ren, the other two remaining players from the 2019 World Cup are Zhou Qi and Zhao Jiwei, the team's important pieces in the paint and in the backcourt respectively.

A key factor will be Zhou's eye condition. He felt discomfort in his eye while doing shooting drills during the final training session before departing for the Philippines. It was later diagnosed as a left eye retinal break that impacts his eyesight. As advised by doctors, Zhou underwent laser surgery on Sunday morning before joining the team in the Philippines.

After the Asia Cup qualifiers, China will compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, Canada, taking on Canada and Greece in contention for the only Olympic spot of the competition zone.

The pandemic has made the team's preparation tougher, as the team cannot have warmup matches before competing overseas as they did before.

"Despite difficulties in our preparations and huge challenges ahead, all team members will be united and go all out in this new journey," said the team.

Each player reportedly received a training invitation letter, with "For name rectification, for redemption, for the team, for the country" written on it.

Du also called for a fighting spirit and attitude from his players.

"Fighting should go first. We face up to difficulties, and this new Chinese basketball team can bring people hope through it," he said. 

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