He may be only 25 years old, but former NBA prospect Tang Zhengdong now walks, talks and plays with a maturity that matches his massive frame.
There is no longer that reckless style of his younger days when he could not control himself on the court. Instead there is an understanding that every game could be his last since he severely injured his knee and missed all of last season.
"I am a changed man," Tang said yesterday at the CBA Summer League in Changzhi, Shanxi province.
The 15-month layoff basketball due will make you grow up, he admits. Now, the center for the Jiangsu Dragons, who was once heralded as one of the three "Great Walls" of Chinese basketball alongside Yao Ming and Mengke Bateer, is out to prove he can become the dominant force he was five years ago. He's even set a lofty goal for himself.
"I know I can give something as the center for the [Chinese] national team," said Tang. "I hope I can be included again soon."
His coach Jason Rabedeaux said he has made a strong return and is happy he's back.
"I think when Tang is 100 percent fit and healthy, he is very, very difficult to match up with because he is so big.
"This is really Tang's first CBA match in almost 15 months because of his injury. It's good to have him back. He is the leader for us."
Recently, the 2.13m, 135kg center showed his huge game, dominating his first two matches during the CBA Summer League. He scored game-high totals of 29 and 23 points during respective wins against Zhejiang on Saturday and Shaanxi on Monday.
"I'm feeling good right now," Tang said. "I'm yet to be fully fit. But it's a very good start for me. I think I will be very competitive in the CBA's new season and hope to play a big part for the team."
A big rebounding force who has the ability to score from the low-post with a hook shot or shoot from the three-point stripe, the Jiangsu-born player was named Chinese Basketball Association MVP in 2004-2005.
He was among 108 players listed by the NBA for the 2005 draft but withdrew later, claiming that he wasn't ready for the rigors of the US league. In 2006, he was attending practice sessions with the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and the Toronto Raptors but wasn't picked in the draft that year.
And though his chances to play in the NBA are slim right now, Tang's chances to play well for the Dragons and for the national team are very real.
Rabedeaux is optimistic about Tang's chances as long as he gets fully fit and said that his player is vital to the success of the team, who have yet to win a CBA championship.
(China Daily August 5, 2009)