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Zhou touches down on return flight with Tigers

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-15 09:02
Zhou Qi averaged 13.3 points and 10 rebounds for Team China in three pre-World Cup wins this month. The 7-foot-1 center, formerly of the Houston Rockets, has signed with Xinjiang in the CBA. XINHUA

After eight months of not knowing where or when he would next suit up, former NBA player Zhou Qi has opted to rejuvenate his pro career by returning to his former CBA club, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

On Tuesday, a day after helping Team China win three straight FIBA World Cup tune-up games in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, Zhou agreed to a reported two-year contract with Xinjiang, starting this season.

His decision to rejoin the Flying Tigers ended speculation about Zhou's future that began after he was waived by the Houston Rockets in December.

"We hope Zhou returning to the CBA and playing for a strong franchise like Xinjiang will help him continue honing his game and leadership," said a statement released by Zhou's agency, New Level Sports Group, on Tuesday.

"Zhou will give all he has to help Xinjiang fight for another CBA championship and he will keep improving his game for future opportunities to compete at a higher level."

Xinjiang will pay Zhou a reported annual salary of 20 million yuan ($2.8 million), with full support of his pursuit of another crack at sticking in the NBA.

The 2017-18 CBA champion Liaoning Flying Leopards and three-time league winner Beijing Ducks also showed interest in landing his services.

Flying Tigers president Hou Wei said in an earlier interview that a player of Zhou's caliber deserved an offer worthy of his value on the court.

"The club appreciates Zhou's high standards in terms of his own career development and acknowledges the progress he made during his stay in the NBA," the team said in a statement.

As an effective rim protector and rebounder on Team China's World Cup roster, Zhou averaged 13.3 points and 10 rebounds in wins over Angola, Croatia and Puerto Rico in Kunshan.

A product of Xinjiang's youth program and the 43rd overall pick by Houston in the 2016 NBA Draft, Zhou helped the Flying Tigers to their first league title in 2017 before joining the Rockets ahead of the 2017-18 NBA season.

The 7-foot-1 center showed initial promise off the bench in his rookie season in Houston but was unable to become a reliable mid-range shooter or rim-runner in the Rockets' fast-paced offense.

A series of injuries, including a sprained knee and twisted elbow, limited his playing time and the Rockets eventually released him to their G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

In 19 games over two seasons with the Rockets, Zhou averaged 1.3 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks-far below his production in the CBA and international competitions.

Still, Rockets' All-Star guard James Harden is optimistic Zhou will be back in the NBA.

"He's always been a rebounder and a shot blocker, and he's getting stronger and shooting the three ball well," Harden said in a CCTV interview during his visit to China in June.

"I'm proud of him. He listens to people's suggestions. When you get a young guy who listens and wants to get better, it makes you want to help him more. I won't be surprised to see him return the NBA."

Zhou made his international debut by helping China win the 2015 Asian Championships to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

After representing China in Rio, he helped the national team win gold at the 2018 Asian Games.

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