2008 Men's Olympic Basketball Preview: China

This is the second in a series of team previews for the 2008 Olympics done by the SBNation sites Green Bandwagon and At the Hive. Already profiled so far: Greece. You can refer to the right-hand sidebar either here or at Green Bandwagon for quick access to the profiles. 

Population: 1,321,851,888

Size in Comparison to a U.S. State: About 37 times as big as Texas.

Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Interesting Fact: Contrary to the popular myth, the Great Wall of China is actually not visible from space.

Fun! Fact: Learn how to do the Official Chinese Olympic Cheer from a cartoon, from some real live people, or from Yao Ming. Choose wisely, grasshopper.

Fun! Fact #2: Chinese basketball coach Jonas Kazlauskas is referred to in local media and by players as Coach K.

Recommended Reading: (The Art of War)- Yeah... let's just hope the Chinese National Team doesn't have a book club.

World Rank (Courtesy of FIBA): 11

Qualified: By hosting the Olympics (I was going to write this as a joke, but it turns out that's actually how they qualified)

Dream Match Up in Beijing: Germany (Dirk-lite (Yi) takes on the real deal)

Dream Match Up That Did Not Qualify: Puerto Rico (neither team qualified "legitimately," but #11 China will be playing in Beijing while #12 P.R. will not be among the field of 12. The two teams were also involved in a major on-court brawl in Beijing in 2005)

Recent News: China is not intimidated despite being grouped with the United States and Spain.

Chinese Roster

Zhu Fangyu - A back-to-back winner of the Chinese Basketball Association's All-Star 3-Point Shootout, Fangyu made his name as a dead-eye marksman. In recent years, he's developed the ability to shoot off the dribble and in traffic, and there was some talk of him entering the 2005 NBA Draft and possibly being a second round pick.  He was the Chinese League's Finals MVP in 2005, but has drawn criticism for being unable to play against good individual defenders. When he first came onto the basketball scene, he was praised for tremendous athleticism but has since lost a step or two. At 6'7" and 220 pounds, he's still one of China's best non-paint offensive options.

Du Feng - A member of two previous WBC Chinese teams and one Olympic roster, Du Feng joined the Chinese national team at age 21. Now 26, he can rotate between playing off guard and small forward. He is one of four Guangdong Southern Tigers (CBA) playing for the national team. The 6'8" swingman is known as one of China's top three point specialists, and he'll be coming back from injury in time for the Olympics.

Yi Jianlian - Yi may not have made the biggest impact with the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Chinese National team hopes for much more from him. "Officially" 23, some speculate that Yi is actually 26. All that aside, Yi has played well internationally. At the FIBA Under-19 World Championships, he averaged 19 and 11. With a great back-to-basket game, fluent three point stroke, and solid midrange game, Yi and his 7 foot frame could present match-up problems to the undersized U.S. Oh, and he has some nice hops. Yi's biggest challenge is expected to come defensively, where he'll have to match up against power forwards like Marc Gasol (ESP), Dirk Nowitzki (GER), and Carmelo Anthony.

Chen Jianhua - Ricky Rubio (ESP) gets all the pub as the young, up-and-coming point guard, but Chen's not bad himself. He participated in the 2005 Reebok ABCD camp (where he was referred to as the "best unknown prospect in the world), and he played as a 17 year old in the 2006 FIBA World Championships. Known for his great ball-handling skills and surprising dunking ability, Chen only weighs in at 165 pounds. It'll be very interesting to see how he performs against other renowned back-up point guards around the world (Rubio, Chris Paul, Deron Williams), because Chen could end up being an NBA draft pick some time in the future. He's one of the quickest players in the world, and another member of the CBA's Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Wang Lei - Listed as a power forward, Wang Lei is merely 6'6" and 210 pounds. Apparently, Chinese prospect Yi Li was considered a better fit for the National Team than Lei, but Li played for the L.A. Lakers' Rocky Mountain Revue squad, which kept him out of National team contention. In my best estimation, Wang Lei won't be one of the major players for Team China. Only a 21 year old, this certainly won't be his last chance to help his country.

Yao Ming - The 7'6" player we've watched develop into a star for the Houston Rockets. In his final Chinese playoffs before leaving for the NBA, he averaged 38.9 ppg and 20.2 rpg on 77% from the field. So, in case you had any doubts, he's far and away China's best talent. His height and ability to hit the midrange jumper will present some serious problems for the vertically challenged post players of the U.S. and will definitely open up the floor for China's various three point bombers. Add in the fact that there's no defensive 3 second violation, internationally, and you have the prospect of a 7'6" shot blocker camped out in the lane all game long. In Athens 2004, Yao was named to the All-Olympics team, putting up thoroughly dominating stats despite China's underwhelming showing. He sat out the remainder of the last NBA season, starting February 26th, and in the midst of the Rockets' 22 game winning streak. Last but not least, he vowed not to shave for 6 months if China didn't make it to the quarterfinals in '04 (which they didn't). It remains to be seen what he'll do this time around.

Li Nan - Despite a stellar career with the Bayi Rockets, the 31 year old is best known internationally for being at the center of one of Chinese basketball's ugliest events.. From the International Herald Tribune (2005):

Emotions spilled into the stands, where 3,000 spectators hurled insults and various objects, the China Daily reported Saturday. Officials abandoned the game as the visitors fled to the locker room, one shielding his head with a plastic chair.

Two Chinese players, Li Nan and Mo Ke, had reacted after seeing a teammate, Yi Jianlian, fouled hard by Puerto Rico's center, Manuel Narvaez, the newspaper said.

Fans hurled abuse along with drinks, plastic bottles, yogurt and popcorn at the Puerto Rican team as it left the court.

Wow, that's almost a three course meal. It's safe to say Li is somewhat fiery. The general consensus is that Li will primarily be a "locker room presence" for the Chinese as opposed to a big factor on the court, due to his advanced age and the presence of young talent. Li once scored 59 points in a CBA game, but that was about six and a half years ago. Though that event did leave us with this awesome quote: "The balls just all get in."

Wang Shipeng - He was projected in March to be the starting shooting guard, and at 6'5", he brings plenty to the table. In 2006, he sank a three pointer at the buzzer to lift China to a 78-77 victory over Slovenia at the World Basketball Championships. He connected on 5 trifectas in that same tournament versus the U.S. en route to 17 points. However, he's also very inconsistent with his ball-handling, leading to some turnover issues, and was dropped from a game against Russia last month. One of Shipeng's nicknames, interestingly, is "Wang Kobe." If he does indeed get to start, he'll probably be the primary defender on #24. If I had to compare him to an NBA player, it'd be J.R. Smith- the potential to be a fantastic player, but mostly unrealized potential thus far.

Liu Wei - Yao Ming's teammate in China for almost a decade, Liu had expressed some interest in coming to the NBA in the early 2000's. He was a member of the Sacramento Kings' preseason roster in 2004 before being cut. Said then Sactown coach Rick Adelman "[He] is really a point guard and he competed really well in training camp." In 2005, he nearly made a move to Australia's National Basketball League, which was arguably the second best league in the world at the time. Interestingly enough, Liu faced off twice against Yao Ming's Rockets during summer league play in what were dubbed the "China Games." As far as his role on the team, Liu will probably be the starting point guard over the more flashy but inexperience Chen Jianhua. The 28 year old veteran could play a role similar to Jason Kidd for the U.S.- a steadying hand for a group of relatively young teammates.

Sun Yue - A 6'9" point guard playing for the Los Angeles Lakers- it happened in the 80's and it could happen again next year. The Lakers, who drafted Sun in 2007, have expressed interest in having him on the team next season. Sun's credentials are quite impressive. 2006 All ABA First Team. A Top 3 rank in agility among all participants at the 2007 Orlando Pre-Draft Camp. Some say that his Chinese team (Aoshen) quit the Chinese Basketball Association and joined the ABA for the sole purpose of retaining his services. He's a natural lefty with great court vision (a few highlights), and is expected to compete with Chen Jianhua for minutes as the back-up point guard. The downside is that he's very skinny (212 lbs. on a 6'9" frame) and is a highly suspect shooter. But a 6'9" player that will most likely be playing the point exclusively? It'll at least be fun to watch.

Wang Zhizhi - Another name you're probably familiar with. I, for one, didn't know his back story though. He and the Chinese national team ended a 4 year feud in 2006. As reported by CRI two years ago:

[Wang] was expelled from the Chinese national squad after he refused to come back for the Asian Games in Busan, South Korea, in October, 2002. "I was too young to make the right decision. I hope I could make up my fault this time and win back my place in the national team," Wang said.

Wang is known as a three point specialist despite his wide frame. In the NBA, he saw action with the Mavericks, Clippers, and Heat, finishing with 39% three point shooting accuracy in 5 seasons. At 31, he's tied with Li Nan for oldest player on the team. Many expect him to be the primary back-up for Yao at the center position, and at 7'1," 255 pounds, he's yet another tall player on a Chinese team chock full of them.

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