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Exiled Basketballer Returns
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Chinese basketball player Wang Zhizhi returned home from the United States on Monday after being expelled from the national team four years ago.

Wang, the first Asian to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA) when he joined the Dallas Mavericks in 2001, was welcomed by top Chinese basketball officials at the Beijing International Airport on Monday morning.

"I realized I had made a big mistake (for refusing to return). I want to say sorry to my fans and to the Bayi Basketball Team which trained me and gave me the chance to play in the NBA," Wang said, according to a press release issued by the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

The Dallas Mavericks drafted Wang in 1999, and signed him on a three-year rookie contract on March 29, 2001.

Wang played the Asian Championships and the World University Games after his first season in the NBA and returned to Dallas in November, 2002.

He has not been back to China since then.

The 29-year-old center/forward refused to join the summer camp of the Chinese national team for the World Championships in 2002, and did not play in the WC in Indianapolis, USA, in August.

As an army official of the Bayi Rockets military team, Wang wasn't able to fulfil the terms of his contract with the Mavericks, the CBA or the Chinese military who wanted him to play the major international competitions for China during the off-season of the NBA.

He was expelled from the Chinese national squad after he refused to come back for the Asian Games in Busan, South Korea, in October, 2002.

"I was too young to make the right decision. I hope I can make up for it and win back my place in the national team," Wang said.

The 2001 Asian Best Basketball Player met with CBA vice president Li Yuanwei in the United States in February three times to discuss his return.

"It's a crucial move for him to return in an answer to the motherland's call. He has enough time to re-unite with his parents and friends in China, and think about how to start a new future here," the CBA said in its statement.

It is not yet decided whether Wang will be reinstated in the national team, although he is badly needed to play in the World Championships in August in Japan and in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

"Wang is a great player of NBA quality and has the willingness to play for China. It depends on his mental and physical conditions whether he is recruited into the national squad," the CBA said.

Wang's wife and daughter have stayed behind in Los Angeles.

(Xinhua News Agency April 10, 2006)

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