China's World Cup team sees Summer League as opportunity

ABS-CBN Sports on Jul 09, 2019 08:07 AM
China's World Cup team sees Summer League as opportunity
China's Zhao Rui (1) drives toward the basket past Miami Heat's Kendrick Nunn (25) during an NBA summer league basketball game Friday, July 5, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — China’s national team came to the NBA Summer League looking for education.

They’re learning plenty.

Summer League is essentially several preseason games for the Chinese. They’re in Las Vegas to get ready for the FIBA World Cup, which will take place in China from Aug. 31 through Sept. 15 — with USA Basketball entering as the top-ranked team in the world and the presumed favorites to win the tournament for the third straight time.

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Fans in basketball-mad China are already eager for the World Cup. The national team is getting there.

“There’s high expectation so we’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to raise the pressure,” China coach Li Nan said. “Not just the players, also the coaching staff. We need to concentrate on our details, do preparations now, concentrate on our stuff.”

Among the challenges for the Chinese so far in Las Vegas: Getting used to the speed and strength of the teams in Summer League, and Li said he’s urged his players to start becoming tougher mentally.

“It’s so fast. It’s a different level,” Li said. “The contact, we’ve never seen this before. The rules are different. It’s hard to play this tournament.”

The Chinese lost their first two games in Las Vegas — they fell by 41 points to Miami on Friday (Saturday, PHL time), and looked much better in a 17-point loss to Sacramento on Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). They play Charlotte on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) in a game scheduled to begin not before 11 p.m. Eastern.

“We’re still improving a lot,” Li said. “We improved a lot when we came here. The first game we weren’t ready for the physical game, the fast game. The second game, on a back-to-back, we started realizing some things.”

The players China brought to Las Vegas represent the bulk of what will be the nation’s World Cup roster. Longtime NBA player Yi Jianlian is expected to play in the World Cup, and he’s not playing in Las Vegas because of an injury. Guo Ailun, one of the more talented Chinese players, didn’t play against Miami and scored 20 points against Sacramento.

“The intensity of the game is really high in the summer league,” Guo said through a translator. “It’s much stronger than what is in China. ... The intensity, the pace, it’s really a challenge.”

For group play in the World Cup, China will take on Poland, Venezuela and the Ivory Coast. Based on FIBA rankings, it’s not a particularly strong group and it’s not unreasonable to think that China would make at least the tournament’s second round.

Li believes the level of play at Summer League may even exceed what the Chinese see in group play.

“It’s a lot of help,” Li said. “Those teams, I think they’re better than the other teams in the group. We’re trying to play to win these games and we’ll use those games to have confidence to face the other opponents.”

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