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China Daily Website

Once-dominant Bayi crashes to earth in 2012

Updated: 2012-02-16 15:35
By Sun Xiaochen ( chinadaily.com.cn)

BEIJING - While the majority of Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) teams soared through the recruitment of top-class foreign imports this season, a former powerhouse came crashing back to earth.

The Bayi Rockets, the CBA's overlords with a record eight league titles, finished the 2011-2012 regular season in 14th place - the worst result in the franchise's history and missed out on the playoffs for only the second time in the 17-year history of the competition.

The Rockets also failed to make the postseason in 2009.

Owned and supported by the army, the Rockets are not allowed to hire foreign players as its members are all officially soldiers.

Mismatched against import-loaded squads at both ends of the court, the Rockets found it hard to find any momentum against the foreign surge that saw NBA players the like of J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Aaron Brooks sign with domestic clubs during last year's NBA lockout.

Boasting unparalleled physical conditioning and skills, the foreigners instantly boosted some of the lower-ranking teams and improved the league's overall competitiveness.

Once-fancied squads like the Shanxi Brave Dragons and Fujian SBS have replaced former league powerhouses in the postseason and the Rockets are the most high profile to tumble.

After a humiliating nine-loss streak at the beginning of January, the Rockets were eliminated from the postseason earlier this month, six rounds ahead the season's final set of regular season games on Wednesday.

Having experienced the highs and lows with the team for 14 years, cornerstone center Wang Zhizhi was calm about the Rockets current status, but admitted the team was blown away by foreign-armed opponents.

"The final result showed just how we played. We did it and we should accept that," said the veteran. "This is professional sports … it's a cruel game. Everybody loves a winner. If you are not strong enough, you will get beat up and lose everything.

"Honestly, it was really hard (to deal with the foreign influx). We could only play with a full-Chinese roster, which made it tough," said the 34-year-old.

Wang was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks as the overall 36th pick in 1999 and landed in the NBA as the first Chinese import in 2001. He then spent the next three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat as a substitute.

Returning to Bayi in 2006, Wang drove the squad to the title the following year and then saw it fall by the wayside.

Wang said the NBA stars' impact on improving the league's international image was positive, but he also warned of a potential void after their China sojourn.

"Our league is getting famous worldwide and some clubs are willing to spend big money to lure high-caliber foreign players," said Wang. "The foreigners this year have more fame and credit than those in the past. They can single-handedly lift their team's performance and the overseas appeal of the league as well as the game's level.

"But after they return to America, there will be a hole left. Fan attention and TV ratings may drop. And their former clubs will go down again," said Wang.

With main pieces of the once-glorious Bayi dynasty having retired in recent years, the Rockets are playing with one of the youngest rosters in the league.

Wang, the only player remaining from the team's glory days, has urged the team's future stars to keep striving to improve.

"I think they have improved a lot. They have shown glimpses of a good style of play and great potential. But I hope they can accelerate the process because we can't recruit foreigners. We have to count on cultivating our own men and do it from the basement," said Wang, who became the national team's backbone after Yao Ming retired last July.

Known for its rigorous, military-style training and never-say-die spirit, Bayi will bounce back soon, said head coach Adijiang.

"Our immediate aim is to hone our local young guns through more and more real battles. This is what we realized at the beginning of the season," said the team's former playmaker.

Addressing a supportive home crowd before the last home game, the coach said: "Every trial will bring a great cost and some people may be upset with our results. But we know it is a sacrifice we must make during this transformation period.

"We are not the powerhouse anymore and we should position ourselves correctly and do whatever we can to nurture the young roster. Hopefully, we will be a force again in the near future."

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