Zhou, Ding showing they’re not just about selling jerseys
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
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.”
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.
Houston Rockets' Zhou Qi defends against Phoenix Suns' Marquese Chriss in NBA summer league play.
Ding Yanyuhang of the Dallas Mavericks sizes up a shot against the Phoenix Suns this week in Las Vegas.