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CBA break designed to boost Team China's hopes

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-05 09:03
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Liaoning guard Guo Ailun (left) and technical adviser Jiang Xinquan question a call during a CBA game against Guangdong in Zhuji, Zhejiang province, on Wednesday. Marshon Brooks scored a game-high 36 points as Guangdong rallied to beat Liaoning 118-115. XINHUA

The Chinese Basketball Association has announced the third stage of this season's CBA league will start in March in order to accommodate the Team China stars who will play at this month's FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in Doha.

With the second stage of the CBA season ending this week, the delay will allow China's players to contest the qualifying games in the Qatari capital and then return home and complete medical quarantine before resuming the action with their clubs.

Zhuji, Zhejiang province, will continue to host CBA games for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs inside a bio-secure bubble, where strict COVID-19 prevention regulations are in place.

The CBA All-Star Weekend has been scheduled for late March in Qingdao, Shandong province. Qingdao's local epidemic prevention regulations at the time will determine whether spectators will be allowed into the arena for the All-Star game.

"The third and the fourth stages will still use the same format. And after Team China returns from the Asia Cup qualifiers, the players will still go through the medical quarantine," said CBA spokesman Zhang Chi.

"The exact start time of the third stage will depend on when the players return to China. So it will probably be in late March... Ensuring the safety of the players and the league after they return is one of our priorities. The CBA has made contingency plans and we will adjust the schedule accordingly.

"Through the joint efforts of all departments in Zhuji and thanks to the cooperation of clubs, coaches and players, this CBA season has been going well so far. We are confident of smoothly finishing the rest of the season."

The Asia Cup qualifiers will be Team China's first international games since its disappointing performance at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. As the host team, the Chinese squad finished 24th out of 32 teams and missed out on Asia's only direct qualification spot for the Tokyo Olympics-ultimately resulting in the departure of Li Nan as head coach.

Team China did not participate in any international tournaments in 2020 due to the pandemic, so the forthcoming qualifiers are a chance for the players to gain some measure of redemption.

China will face Malaysia in its Group B opener on Feb 17, followed by games against Japan and Chinese Taipei. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Asia Cup.

The CBA on Tuesday announced a 21-man squad for a training camp this weekend, which will be whittled down to 12 players for the Doha trip.

"We hope to select players of different age groups at the short training camp. This will be a chance for them to show their skills to us, and the coaches will get a better idea of their current condition," said Team China head coach Du Feng.

"The door of the national team is open to all talents. And we will be focusing on nurturing more of the nation's future stars."

With barely any time to rest before the qualifiers, however, adjusting from bubble life to the national team is likely to prove difficult for China's players.

The players are also missing out on their Spring Festival holidays to travel to Doha, where they will face an exhausting schedule of six games in seven days.

Despite all the difficulties, coach Du is confident his squad will be ready.

"Representing your country is the highest honor for all the players and me," Du said. "So I'm sure all the players will give 100 percent and be in peak condition.

"We are now living in a very special situation amid the pandemic, and now Spring Festival is upon us again. So I want to thank all the players and coaches who remain willing to serve the national team. Also thanks to the support from all the clubs and our support team."

To ensure the safety of all involved, the CBA has arranged charter flights to Doha for Team China.

"We all know that to play for the national team at the Asia Cup at such a special time means the players need to sacrifice a lot," said CBA president Yao Ming. "So we will try our best to provide the safest environment for them. We hope they can arrive and return safely and play well in the qualifiers.

"The players may have good or bad performances on the court, but they will make their contribution and be away from their families. I hope the fans can understand this-they are all fighting for the national team."

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