Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Sports / Basketball

Team China courts Paris podium

Women's basketball team looks to cement its elite status with a medal finish

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-20 09:56
Share - WeChat

Editor's note: With the Olympic stage set, and golden glory beckoning, Chinese athletes have been going all-out to ensure it will be a medal-laden campaign at Paris 2024.

Li Meng (9), Han Xu (15) and Li Yueru will be pivotal players for Team China as it aims to surpass its fourth-place finish at Tokyo 2020 and reach the podium in Paris. XINHUA/ PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Despite challenges on and off the court, China's women's basketball team is embracing its uphill battle en route to Paris 2024, with the Asian powerhouse raring to prove its medal credentials at the Olympics.

As perhaps China's only legitimate medal contender in the collective big-ball sports at the Olympics, the Chinese women's squad is determined to build on its recent international success, and cement its status among the global elite in Paris by finishing on the Olympic podium for a third time.

Yet again, it has to carry the nation's hopes in the five-a-side game alone, after the Chinese men's squad failed to qualify for a second straight Olympics.

With the damage inflicted on the sport's domestic popularity by the underachieving men's team, the women's program — winner of a silver medal at the 1992 Games and a bronze at its Olympic debut in 1984 — is carrying the extra responsibility as it gears up for Paris, with the game in China in desperate need of a boost on the international stage.

"Our goal in Paris is to be strong and represent our country well, fight to win and maintain the tradition of playing team basketball. We will strive to play our best game and live up to the high expectations of the fans," head coach Zheng Wei said at the opening of the national team's Olympic camp last month.

Despite its winning momentum at recent major tournaments, a podium finish in Paris seems like a long shot for Team China — drawn in Group A with Serbia, Spain and Puerto Rico — given the pressing health issues involving several key players and the surging level of its opponents.

The magnitude of the challenge was underlined by Team China's 1-4 win-loss record during a warm-up series at home against Australia and Japan earlier this month, which exposed the lack of depth, finesse and intensity in its current roster in the face of the fast-paced, highly-physical modern women's game.

The early defeats came as expected, but were welcomed, though, as the team braces itself for a series of stern tests in order to peak at the right time.

Even with its star scorer Li Meng still nursing a leg injury, and starting center Han Xu just rejoining scrimmages in training, Team China already kicked off its next-stage preparations on Wednesday in Spain. With at least six more warm-ups to go against tough rivals, including Turkiye, Belgium and its Olympic group opponent Spain, it promises to be a hectic trip.

"We are not there yet. Now is only about making mistakes, identifying problems and trying to correct them as much as possible," Zheng said after Team China's two straight losses to Japan in Xi'an earlier this month.

"Some of our main players are still recovering from their respective injuries and conditioning issues, but we won't compromise on the intensity and quality in warm-ups.

"We only play against the best to be the best. We measure ourselves against world-class teams, try to adapt to the international game and improve ourselves before the ultimate test.

"This is what it's all about when preparing for the Olympics."

Size matters

Spearheaded by Han and Li, two former WNBA players, and current Los Angeles Sparks' center Li Yueru, Team China pulled off an inspiring runner-up finish at the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup in Sydney, 28 years after the national team's silver-medal finish at the then world championships, also held in Australia, in 1994.

Team China kept the momentum flowing last year by winning a pair of golds — at the Asian Cup in July and Asian Games in October — to reclaim its continental supremacy from Japan, relying on a towering presence in the paint with Han and Li Yueru dictating plays on both ends of the floor.

Still, the fast-evolving women's game at the international level means no team should be taken lightly when the Olympic tournament tips off, Zheng insisted, citing a pair of double defeats to Australia and Japan, respectively, earlier this month.

Playing without its full roster against two experienced Olympic contenders, Team China was overpowered by Australia in the first two friendlies in Liaoning, snapped up a win in its third encounter against the Opals, before getting out-gunned by the sharp-shooting Japan in the final two fixtures, finishing the warm-up tour with a lot to reflect on.

"We played against two opponents with distinctively different styles, which was a great learning experience for us," said guard Yang Shuyu, who nailed all six of her 3-point attempts to contribute a game-high 23 points to Team China's 75-68 victory over Australia on June 2.

With the return of Han and Li Yueru expected to restore Team China's strength at the post, the team's lack of accuracy and consistency in shooting, underlined by its 76 missed free throws out of a total 122 attempts across five warm-ups, apparently needs more work to be able to keep up with the run-and-gun style of modern elite basketball.

"Our second unit was tested and pushed hard during the warm-up tour, which was quite helpful for us to get used to the higher level of international play, compared to the lower-intensity domestic league. Hopefully we can perform better in Europe with our key players back," said Zheng, a formidable member of the silver-winning squad at the 1994 worlds.

Team China will tip off its Group A campaign at the Paris Olympics on July 28 against last year's European championship runner-up Spain, followed by Serbia on July 31 before completing the group stage against Puerto Rico three days later.

The top two teams from each of the three groups, along with the two best third-placed finishers, will progress to the quarterfinals.

Most Popular


What's Hot
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349