Analysis: Young talents looming in new CBA season

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by Sportswriter Su Bin

BEIJING, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- With just one seventh of the regular season fixtures completed, some budding youngsters have already caught the eye in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league, helping to boost confidence in the future of Chinese basketball.

The retirement of Yi Jianlian in August has left many fans wondering where the next big player of Chinese basketball will emerge. The search has been made even more poignant after the Chinese men's team suffered continuous setbacks over the past months - finishing a disappointing 29th out of 32 at the FIBA World Cup and being dethroned by the Philippines at the Hangzhou Asian Games.

The new CBA league season, which kicked off on October 21, provides a window onto young talent, as CBA vice president Xu Jicheng said. So far, several newcomers have dazzled the league with their crystal-clear talent and unwavering determination to make big plays.

At the top of that list is Chen Guohao, the top draft pick in 2023. Chen finished his professional debut with a double-double of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks, becoming the first drafted player to achieve a 20+10 stat in his first CBA match. The historic stat was made sweeter as his side Beijing Royal Fighters outlasted the Qingdao Eagles 109-103.

Chen's start to the pro league was not all plain sailing. He missed his first shot from beyond the arc after coming off the bench with 3:45 left to play in the first quarter.

"In my first CBA game, I could feel the pressure," Chen admitted after the game. "Then I found my rhythm back with the encouragement of my coach and teammates."

Chen, who graduated from Guangdong University of Technology, helped his team overcome Tsinghua University 87-83 in the Chinese University Basketball Association league final with 30 points and 10 rebounds and was awarded MVP of the final.

After being selected into the CBA with the first pick overall, the university star faced the same question as other rookies - Can he really adapt to the pro league?

Boasting three-point shooting and rim-protecting capability, the 24-year-old Chen delivered an answer at the start of his pro campaign.

After playing 39 minutes and 46 seconds, he gave a rating of seven out of 10 for his CBA debut.

"I had not expected myself to play the entire second half, and I just tried my best to help the team," he said. "The stat went beyond my expectation, but I needed to do better in defense and communication with teammates."

Beijing Royal Fighters coach Min Lulei expressed the hope that Chen can stick to his own style of play while improving on other aspects at the same time.

"It was not because I intentionally offered much playing time for Chen, but because he earned it through his effort," Min explained, who led the other CBA outfit from Beijing, the Ducks, to three titles in four seasons between 2012 and 2015.

Without starting in any of his first seven games, Chen averaged 13.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in less than 32 minutes.

The Beijing vs Qingdao game is regarded as a clash between two promising stars. Apart from Chen, Qingdao's 18-year-old center Yang Hansen is another one to look out for in the duel.

Despite China's 10th-place finish at this year's FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup in Debrecen, Hungary, Yang has caught global attention with his averages of 12.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 5.0 blocks, leading the tournament in blocks and being selected in the All-Second Team.

Developing through Qingdao's youth ranks, Yang showcased his nimble footwork, game vision, and ability to protect the rim. Standing at 2.18m, Yang is touted as the Chinese version of two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, and the teenage center registered 18 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in his first CBA season, highlighted by his performance of 31 points and 16 rebounds against Chinese international center Wang Zhelin in a double-overtime victory over the Shanghai Sharks.

Despite the fans' rave about Yang, Qingdao coach Liu Weiwei has tried to pour cold water on the youngster.

"He has a long way to go," said Liu. "At the current stage, he cannot be appraised by outside's opinions and comments. He needs to improve step by step, without being distracted by those opinions. Hopefully, he can undertake his role in the future through his endeavor, and we will keep our patience on that."

Prior to Chen, Fujian Sturgeons power forward Zou Yang pocketed 15 points and 10 rebounds against the Zhejiang Lions, becoming the CBA's first drafted rookie to register a double-double in his debut.

Selected with the fifth pick overall, the 23-year-old Zou is another standout rookie this season, averaging 11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in seven games.

Besides the trio, other newcomers that have impressed so far include Guangdong Southern Tigers forward Zhang Wenyi, Liaoning Flying Leopards guard Li Huyi, and No. 2 draft pick Fang Jiachen of the Sichuan Blue Whales.

Admittedly, these rookies are expected to face some bottlenecks deep into the season as their rivals make adjustments when they meet again.

But now, as Chinese basketball is in a low ebb, their performances have given people a glimmer of hope. Enditem

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