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China Daily Website

Young Leopard spotted by NBA teams

Updated: 2012-11-22 19:30
By Dusty Lane in Dongguan, Guangdong ( China Daily)

Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Perra hopped a plane from Taiwan to watch Dongguan Leopard practice on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old computer billionaire wasn't in town to soak up the ambience at Dalang Stadium.

He was there to check out 20-year-old Li Muhao, the 2.16 meter, 20-year-old who already has the attention of NBA teams despite the marginal impact he made in his CBA debut last season.

"Last year, he scored 20 points for the whole year," said Leopard coach Brian Goorjian. "So he suited up and didn't play, so this year is like his first.

"He has a bit of an ankle (injury) right now, but he's really springy, really athletic."

Li is part of Dongguan's ongoing focus on youth. Already a young team last season, the Leopard will bring in three more first-year players this season as they continue to focus on improving from the bottom up.

"We've got a brighter future, we are deeper," Goorjian said. "They are talented kids. They haven't played in the CBA yet, but they're going to contribute this year. We're going to be younger, we're going to be deeper, and a lot is going to depend on how these young kids play in their first year in the CBA."

The team brought in two Americans — guard Lester Hudson and forward Marcus Haislip — who helped the Guangdong Southern Tigers win the CBA title two seasons ago.

Speaking of the Southern Tigers, Goorjian thinks they will be the team to beat this season, with the Leopard and 10 or so other teams falling into the league's vast middle class.

"After them, I hope we're in the mix with everybody else," he said. "You know, Beijing pulled something out of the hat last year (when it won the title), so you never know. But you have to heavily favor the Tigers."

Goorjian said the league is the best it's been in his four years here, thanks in particular to the Tigers' addition of former NBA big man Yi Jianlian.

"There's more depth and more young kids coming in," he said. "Yi coming into the league, I think, is really good for the league and he's going to add a lot to it. He's got a big profile in this country. Usually when a team moves up a level like that it makes everybody else get better. They're going to move to a level I think that a team hasn't played at here. You throw Yi in, I think it's a Euro-level team."

The Leopard are clearly building for the future, and Goorjian – the former coach of the Australian national team, and a guy who's drawn interest from the NBA — said he plans to be part of it.

"I do feel fortunate," he said. "I've seen a lot of guys come and go, so I always feel brittle. I do like it and I do think it's the league in the world that's on the go.

"This league has gone — from four years ago — it's gone from strength to strength. And now guys that wouldn't consider playing here before are. So that tells you that guys come over here and play and say, ‘hey, it's a short season, it's good money, the basketball is pretty good and getting better, they look after you – it's a good place to play'."

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