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Promising center is still a long way away from emulating the feats of great Yao, says his coach
Wang Zhelin appears to be the next big thing in Chinese basketball, but he has a long way to go to become the next Yao Ming.
Although Wang reminds people of the great Chinese center due to his shape, mobility and intelligence, the rookie center of Fujian SBS has little else in common with the retired NBA All Star, according to veteran coach Tab Baldwin.
"They are totally different players," Baldwin, head coach of Fujian, said after losing to the Beijing Ducks 101-91 at the Shougang Gymnasium on Friday.
"Yao was probably the best low-post player ever in the game while Wang is a high-post player. He doesn't have the size of Yao. Yao was a great decision maker, but Wang still has to learn a lot about that. However, he is more versatile and mobile than Yao."
Pundits and the media have been hailing Wang as the next Yao since his strong performance at the 2012 Hoop Summit in April when he led the World Select team to an upset 84-75 victory over the United States with a fine stats line of 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, which drew the attention of NBA scouts.
The hype surrounding his NBA prospects has grown even greater during his rookie season in the CBA.
In his first 14 games, the 18-year-old averaged 19.6 points and 11.5 rebounds; a tally much better than Yao's 10 points and 10.8 rebounds in his rookie year of 1998.
However, he's not at the NBA standard yet, said his coach.
"Ultimately, that (the NBA) has to be the goal," said Baldwin, who boasts rich international experience with the New Zealand, Lebanon and Jordan national squads.
"But he has a lot more to learn. Whether he will get there or not has more to do with him than the NBA people. I think he has the potential."
The Florida-born coach said the most urgent area for improvement for Wang was his decision making.
"He's 18 and plays the game like maybe he's 21, but that's not enough. That learning process will take place in the CBA, at summer workouts and in international games."
Teammate Will McDonald, a US veteran forward who has been with Fujian for two years, agreed with the coach.
"He's not ready for the NBA right now. He's ready to play good minutes and help the team here. He has to get stronger mentally. It's all about being smart on the court."
Despite seeing his name in headlines for a while now, the 18-year-old understands that hype is one thing, but putting in hours of hard work is more important.
"Since my first game in the CBA, I've learned so much on the court," Wang said. "I've encountered a lot of different defenses on me and I am far from consistent now. It's a learning curve and I still have a lot of players to look up to in the league."
Crediting Wang's work ethic, Baldwin felt satisfied with the 2.14-meter youngster's progress given the pressure on him to fill Yao's shoes.
"The expectations on him are crazy, really way out of proportion. So far, I don't think he has disappointed anybody," said the American-New Zealand. "The big area I've seen improvement in is his defense. He's been a good scorer since the beginning. Defensively, he's a much better intimidator around the basket now."
Wang says the players he admires the most include Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol and China's first and last NBA players, Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian.
The Spaniard remains active in the NBA while Wang and Yi are back plying their trade in China.
Will Wang take that NBA step soon?
At least some ex-NBAers think so.
"Yes, he does (remind people of Yao)," said Beijing's former NBA All-Star guard Stephon Marbury. "He has more perimeter skills than Yao. If he wants to play in the NBA he can play there right now. The skills are good enough for him to do that."
Beijing's other US import, Randolph Morris, who used to play for the Atlanta Hawks, echoed Marbury.
"His potential is endless. He's going to be the next big Chinese name in the NBA ... as long as he keeps working and maturing on the court."
(China Daily 12/31/2012 page23)