Zhou Qi aims for the stars with Rock­ets

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

China’s young bas­ket­ball tal­ent Zhou Qi has em­braced the chal­lenge of chart­ing his own path in the NBA after sign­ing with the Hous­ton Rock­ets, re­tired star Yao Ming’s former team, to be­come the league’s sixth Chi­nese player.

The Rock­ets, which picked Zhou 43rd over­all in the 2016 NBA Draft, of­fi­cially an­nounced on Fri­day that the team had signed Zhou, 21, to a mul­ti­ple-year con­tract after the Chi­nese na­tional team cen­ter spent three years play­ing with the Xin­jiang Fly­ing Tigers in the Chi­nese Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion.

Zhou will fol­low re­tired stars Yao, Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Ba­teer and join cur­rent na­tional team­mates Sun Yue and Yi Jian­lian to be­come China’s sixth player in the NBA. Zhou, who has been train­ing with the Rock­ets’ coach­ing staff in Hous­ton since lead­ing Xin­jiang to win the 2016-17 CBA ti­tle in March, said in a state­ment that he feels hon­ored to be able to fill Yao’s big shoes.

“I ap­pre­ci­ated the op­por­tu­nity of­fered by the Rock­ets or­ga­ni­za­tion to ful­fill my child­hood dream to play in the NBA. I feel very priv­i­leged to fol­low in the le­gendary pre­de­ces­sor Yao’s foot­prints to join the same

team he played on be­fore,” said Zhou.

The Chi­nese Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion sent a con­grat­u­la­tory let­ter to Zhou and his fam­ily, en­cour­ag­ing him to build his own iden­tity in the highly com­pet­i­tive league.

“We wish he will gain a firm foothold in Hous­ton and make his own im­pres­sion by play­ing hard with the Rock­ets. We hope he can fur­ther con­trib­ute to the Chi­naUS cul­tural ex­change as a hoop am­bas­sador from China,” the CBA said in the let­ter.

The CBA also pledged that it will sup­port more young tal­ent to play over­seas in the fu­ture.

The Rock­ets didn’t dis­close the fi­nan­cial terms of Zhou’s con­tract, but the team made no se­cret of its hefty ex­pec­ta­tions for the ver­sa­tile player.

“We feel Zhou Qi has the po­ten­tial to be­come the best Chi­nese player since Yao Ming,” said Daryl Morey, the Rock­ets’ gen­eral man­ager.

“We’re ex­cited to have him join the Rock­ets and will con­tinue to de­velop his tal­ents with our coaches and train­ing staff.”

Stand­ing 2.17 me­ters tall with a wide arm span, Zhou fea­tures a ver­sa­tile game with ex­cel­lent mo­bil­ity for his size, a long shoot­ing range and rim-pro­tec­tion abil­ity that make him a the­o­ret­i­cal fit in Rock­ets’ head coach Mike D’An­toni’s style of fast play, which re­lies on shoot­ing, ball move­ment and ag­ile de­fense.

Still, the thin body frame of Zhou, who weighs only about 98 kilo­grams — even lighter than the team’s point guard, James Harden — has raised ques­tions about his strength to sur­vive in the tough NBA, ob­servers said.

“Whether Zhou could play his game to the fullest now seems to rely heav­ily on if he can im­prove his strength by putting on about 10 kilo­grams of mus­cle,” said Yang Yi, bas­ket­ball com­men­ta­tor with qq.com.

RANDY BELICE / GETTY IM­AGES

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