nba in china

Last month, this blog gave an overview of the NBA’s Chinese youth basketball strategy – with a focus on their academies in Zhejiang, Xinjiang, and Jilin.

In particular, we noted the challenges faced by these academies in recruiting young Chinese basketball talent against provincial sports authorities and CBA feeder networks.

This month, we will take a closer look at the recent reforms to China’s National team and assess the progress made since the election of Yao Ming as president of the Chinese Basketball Association on February 23, 2017.

Yao’s election was monumental for two reasons. First, the whole organization was “regrouped as a fully-fledged non-governmental organization,” and second he was granted wide authority to reform the existing Chinese basketball national team system.

According to official State media, the former “will help improve decision-making, as well as enhancing independence and transparency.” Whether or not this will end up being the case remains to be seen.

However, given the high-profile nature of the move and Yao’s massive popularity, it is likely he has freedom to reform not typically granted to leaders of China’s national sports organizations.

With this authority, Yao has already split the national team into separate Red and Blue units. This was intended to expand the amount of young players in the system and give talent a chance to develop. Yao reportedly “says he expects the reforms he initiated to pay off by 2019 when China host the FIBA World Cup.”

Clearly he is under pressure to deliver, but in many ways this vision is problematic. While having two distinct teams will pay off for long-run development, it is by no means the short-term solution he seems to be promising.

If Chinese basketball is going to triumph in 2019, it will need to take great strides from its no-win performance at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The next generation of talent also has a ways to go if the 2018 FIBA U-17 World Cup in Argentina is any indication. Team China lost every game it played including a loss to Mali and a 78 point drubbing by team USA.

On some fronts, positive steps are being taken to work towards the goal of World Cup success. For one, team China Red is currently working out and playing friendlies in Vegas in conjunction with the NBA Summer League.

According to the NBA’s Weibo and CGTN, an English language subsidiary of CCTV, the Red unit has played in friendlies in Vegas against the Pacers on 7/5 and more recently against the Rockets on 7/8. The media was closed out of both of these sessions so very little can be made of the contests, but the important thing is that China’s national team is playing against the best competition possible. Zhao Jiwei, a point guard for the Red team posted these pictures from the scrimmage on his Instagram page [@zhaojiwe]

Yao’s influence is clear here as he understands the rigors of the league better than anyone in China. [NOTE: The NBA’s original post acknowledging the scrimmage with the Rockets has been deleted, but it did little more than say there was a game: #NBA夏季联赛# 中国男篮红队今天将与休斯敦火箭队进行一场训练赛,比赛过程不对外开放,红队队员已经抵达球馆进行热身。更多精彩视频请戳: The link to the actual post no longer works]

Progress has been slow so far but there are reasons to be optimistic for the future of Chinese basketball. For one, new stars like Zhou Qi and Ding Yanyuhang are allowed to play outside of the CBA. The latter is a 24 year old two-time MVP of the CBA who was scheduled to play this summer with the Brooklyn Nets. However a knee injury sidelined those plans and sent him back to China before competition began.  

Going forward even more young players on their way to being the next Zhou and Ding could be discovered via officially sanctioned partnerships with foreign groups beyond the three NBA Academies discussed last month.

In particular smaller organizations could aid in the talent assessment process and help guide promising players into CBA and national team networks. This would decrease the youth training burden on Yao’s system while introducing new international coaching influences and playing styles to Chinese basketball.

We hope you enjoyed this update and remind you to check out our Instagram [@ProSkillsChina] and Weibo [@ProSkillsBasketball_China] for more regular content.

Pro Skills Basketball is a proud member of the Jr. NBA flagship network and is excited to be working in China. We look forward to developing Chinese basketball youth culture in a positive manner for years to come!

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