China’s Zhou Qi has work to follow in Yao’s NBA footsteps

Agence France-Presse
China’s Zhou Qi has work to follow in Yao’s NBA footsteps
Zhou Qi, the Chinese big man who was drafted by the Houston Rockets, was limited to 3 points by Team USA's swarming defense

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Zhou Qi has been touted as possibly the next Yao Ming since the Houston Rockets drafted the 20-year-old Chinese center with the 43rd overall pick in June’s NBA Draft.

But the 7-foot-1 prospect still has some work to do, based on 3 games for China against the United States Olympic team of NBA stars, who ripped China 119-62 Saturday in a group-stage Rio Olympic opener.

Zhou was contained to 3 points, all from free throws, and an 0-for-2 shooting effort from the floor over nearly 18 minutes by a swarming, defense-minded US team.

“Their team defense gave us a hard time, stopping us from what we wanted to do,” Chinese center Wang Zhelin said through a translator.

“It was a good opportunity to learn. It’s a good thing for us to raise the intensity level of our speed and defense in our first game.”

It was a far cry from Zhou’s team-high 13 points in a 107-57 loss to the USA squad 11 days ago, which brought hope that he might quickly step into a key role with the Rockets.

The Xinjiang Flying Tigers center has led the Chinese league in blocked shots the past two seasons, but his contract could be bought out next year, giving him the chance to play for the same squad where Chinese giant Yao became an NBA star.

“He’s going to be very good,” said US coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He has all the skills necessary – he’s friendly with the ball, 7-feet tall, he picked up the physicality, he was trying to be physical. I mentioned this morning with my staff, I said, ‘You know Qi is getting better.'”

He burst on the scene at the 2011 world junior tournament by scoring 41 points, grabbing 28 rebounds and blocking 15 shots in a semi-final triumph over Germany.

But mental obstacles lurk as well as physical ones when it comes to moving from China to being competitive in the NBA, a fact China coach Gong Luming noted after his team’s Olympic defeat.

“Mentally, every time our guys face USA, they have weakness and disadvantage,” he said through a translator. “When things go against us on the court in the game, our guys fall into the trap that they are not able to do the things they want.”

Gong, China’s 12th coach in 20 years, was not happy his squad could not do better at its two main goals, contain US rebounding and better defending NBA stars one-on-one.

“It was a pity we didn’t do the things very well that we tried to achieve,” Gong said.

China have never finished better than eighth at an Olympics, making that mark in 1996, 2004 and 2008. –

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