Zhou, Ding show­ing they’re not just about sell­ing jerseys

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LAS VE­GAS — When the Hous­ton Rock­ets signed Zhou Qi and the Dal­las Mav­er­icks brought in Ding Yanyuhang to play on their sum­mer league teams, there was some cyn­i­cism the moves were fi­nan­cially mo­ti­vated to tap into the lu­cra­tive Chi­nese mar­ket.

After all, with tens of mil­lions of fans in the world’s most pop­u­lous na­tion, jersey sales are likely to be huge.

But one blocked shot and one dunk at a time, Zhou and Ding are start­ing to win over the skep­tics.

The 7-foot-1 Zhou has been an im­pres­sive de­fen­sive pres­ence in three sum­mer league games and Ding has played with a fear­less­ness that be­lies his new sur­round­ings.

It may only be sum­mer league, but it’s an im­por­tant first step as they try to earn spots in the NBA.

“The first game we came out here, I didn’t know he could play like that,” Rock­ets swing­man Troy Williams said of Zhou, who is just 21 years old.

“Of course we played a lot be­fore we got out here to sum­mer league, but to ac­tu­ally see him in ac­tion and do­ing it, it’s amaz­ing to watch.”

Zhou is shoot­ing just 32 per­cent and is 2 for 17 from 3-point range, but his seven blocks and over­all de­fen­sive in­stincts have al­lowed him to make an im­pact. In a game against Phoenix on Mon­day, he scored just three points but was still a plus-24 in 22 min­utes.

“Some­times when you’re watch­ing it, you don’t re­al­ize all the lit­tle plays that he makes on the court, con­test­ing a shot, get­ting a re­bound, in the right po­si­tion de­fen­sively,” Rock­ets coach Roy Rogers said.

“He’s pro­gressed re­ally well in this first week of sum­mer league. We just have to keep

Score­board

him go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

Ding, 6-foot-7, has been play­ing a new po­si­tion — power for­ward — in a league that has trended to­ward smaller, more ath­letic play­ers. He is only av­er­ag­ing 5.0 points per game, but has a fan in coach Rick Carlisle.

“I’m get­ting used to it, step by step,” the 23-year-old Ding said through an in­ter­preter. “I feel like I’m just about there. I’m get­ting a lot more used to the con­tact, the speed and the pace of the games.”

For­mer Bei­jing Ducks star Stephon Mar­bury, the Amer­i­can point guard who be­came an am­bas­sador for Chi­nese bas­ket­ball, has been in Las Ve­gas this week work­ing with ESPN In­ter­na­tional.

He’s not sur­prised that Shou and Ding are hold­ing their own.

“I think they should give those two guys a shot,” Mar­bury said. “Zhou Qi can play. And Ding is a real go-get­ter. He can re­ally, re­ally be some­thing spe­cial in the NBA. He has a lot of game in­side him. When he scores, he scores in bunches. If he had the op­por­tu­nity to ac­tu­ally play, to de­velop, he could be re­ally spe­cial.”

That’s ex­actly what NBA commissioner Adam Sil­ver wants to hear.

The league has de­voted vast re­sources to de­vel­op­ing the game in China and tap­ping into a bas­ket­ball-mad coun­try that boasts 300 mil­lion play­ers.

The NBA says 750 mil­lion peo­ple in China watched its games last sea­son, and the league has 10 me­dia part­ners and 22 mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tions part­ners there.

The NBA has also in­vested heav­ily in academies to help grow the game in hopes that a tal­ent pipe­line can de­velop be­tween China and the US.

Chi­nese for­mer Hous­ton Rock­ets star Yao Ming re­mains an icon in his coun­try and helped the league’s pop­u­lar­ity reach a new level.

But Yao, now pres­i­dent of the CBA, has not played since 2011 and Sil­ver is ea­ger to see an­other Chi­nese star as­sert him­self in the league.

“It frus­trates me that there are no Chi­nese play­ers in the NBA right now,” Sil­ver said be­fore Game 1 of the NBA Fi­nals in June.

“There’s prob­a­bly more bas­ket­ball be­ing played in China than any­where else in the world. And more NBA bas­ket­ball is be­ing watched in China than any­where else in the world.”

Rock­ets GM Daryl Morey be­lieves 21-year-old Zhou, for­merly of the Xin­jiang Fly­ing Tigers, can be the best Chi­nese player since Yao.

“He’s a spe­cial kid,” Rogers said. “You coach him, you get on him. You tell him what to do. He goes back out and does it as hard as he can.

“He’s been a plea­sure to be around. His team­mates, he gets along great with them. I’m for­tu­nate to get a chance to coach him. I re­ally am ex­cited about his fu­ture.”

Ding was the CBA’s MVP last sea­son, av­er­ag­ing 24.2 points, 5.2 re­bounds and 2.5 as­sists for the Shandong Golden Stars. But he knows that counts for lit­tle as he tries to make it in the world’s best bas­ket­ball league.

“I’m al­ways go­ing to play as if I’m a rookie,” Ding said. “I’m go­ing to do my best to try to earn my­self a con­tract and stay. This has al­ways been my goal and al­ways been my dream.”

WU YING / FOR CHINA DAILY

Teenager Justin Qiang­baren­zeng signs a con­tract with the Bos­ton Red Sox, wit­nessed by scout Louie Lin, at the MLB De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter at Nan­jing Dong­shan For­eign Lan­guage School in Nan­jing, Jiangsu province on Thurs­day. The 16-year-old is the first base­ball player from the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion to sign with a pro­fes­sional team, but fol­lows in the foot­steps of Chi­nese play­ers Itchy Xu Guiyuan (Bal­ti­more Ori­oles) and Sea Gong Haicheng (Pitts­burgh Pi­rates) in join­ing MLB.

AP

Hous­ton Rock­ets' Zhou Qi de­fends against Phoenix Suns' Mar­quese Chriss in NBA sum­mer league play.

AFP

Ding Yanyuhang of the Dal­las Mav­er­icks sizes up a shot against the Phoenix Suns this week in Las Ve­gas.

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