China has two to grow on
Updated: 2012-05-18 07:48:15
By Sun Xiaochen in Zhucheng, Shandong province (China Daily)
China center Wang Zhelin puts up a shot during the team's game against an American squad on Wednesday. Wang, who stands 2.14-meters tall, was impressive with eight points in his first senior match and is expected to grow into a key player for the national team. "He's composed, which is impressive for an 18-year-old boy," said coach Bob Donewald. [Provided to China Daily]
Teens recall country's last great big-small combo of Liu and Yao
Team China has been seeking a legitimate replacement for its dominant center-guard combo of Yao Ming and Liu Wei for a long time.
Finally, a promising combination appears to have emerged as teenage guard Guo Ailun and budding center Wang Zhelin created a lot of excitement during the team's pre-Olympic drills this week.
In their first senior hit out together, the 18-year-old Guo-Wang duo combined for 11 points, 2 rebounds and 4 assists in Wednesday's challenge against an American squad, and has reminded fans somewhat of the early Yao-Liu tandem on Shanghai's junior team in the late 1990s.
Without comparing him to Yao, national head coach Bob Donewald said Wang was the next "big thing".
"He's composed, which is impressive for an 18-year-old boy," Donewald said of Wang's performance after thrashing the US team, 106-78, in the first game on Wednesday. "He is also physical, he does a good job using his body. And he looks comfortable under the spotlight."
Wang, who stands 2.14-meters tall, boasts strong legs and a smooth finger roll, like Yao. He has gained international attention for his size, mobility and composure after a fine performance at the Nike Hoop Summit last month.
His stat line of 19 points and 8 rebounds at the summit's all-star game made history for a Chinese player (the previous high was Yi Jianlian's 7 points in 2004), and drew the attention of scouts.
Although he has not played in the CBA, Wang, who has honed his skills at Fujian's youth camp and international junior events, has signed with the same agent that Yao had as he prepares to be drafted into the NBA.
NBA Draft.net wrote in its Hoop Summit recap, "If he wasn't on the NBA radar before this event, he definitely is now."
National veterans also complimented the young fellow after his senior debut.
"Actually, we were worried about his debut tonight as we thought he would be nervous. But, in fact, he played pretty solid and earned decent minutes," said Wang Shipeng, who nailed four 3-pointers from five attempts.
By selecting Wang on the initial Olympic roster, the CBA has shown faith in the youngster's potential, but is also aware of the tough task ahead.
While boasting Yao's long frame and nice touch around the rim, Wang's lack of athleticism and reach are obvious as well.
"China has big expectations about the young boy, but he has a lot of work to do to get better. I don't like his rebounding right now," Donewald said of Wang's one-rebound performance.
As for Guo, who is Wang's captain on the junior national team, whether he can learn to run a team at the right pace will decide how high his ceiling is.
"Guo slowed his game down, as we hoped he would. He did a better job of running the offense and he picked the right spots to use his speed," Donewald said.
Guo gained international attention when he appeared at the 2010 World Championship in Turkey as the national team's youngest ever member at the age of 16.
However, disciplinary issues, which included a feud with national Under-23 coach Fan Bin, set him back and he was banned from the senior roster for all of 2011.
Still, Guo's speedy penetration and enthusiasm for defense earned him a promotion from the Under-23s to the senior roster in April.
"I was actually surprised by his outside defense," US coach John Jakus said of Guo after the game. "I know the team's starting point guard didn't play tonight, but they put a lot pressure on us."
Despite his improvement at controlling the tempo of a game, he has a long way to go to become Liu's heir as a playmaker.
"He is full of talent, he has all the right ingredients. But he doesn't know how to run the team, that's what we are working on with him," said Donewald.