The imminent arrival of NBA player Stephon Marbury has boosted morale at battling Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) club Shanxi Zhongyu.
A two-time NBA All-star and former national team member, Marbury (pictured) will be the highest-rated United States player to take part in the CBA, surpassing Bonzi Wells, who signed with Shanxi last season but left before the end of the regular season.
The team's coach, Wu Qinglong, expects the 32-year-old point guard to lead the team, which has a three-win, nine-loss record, back into the hunt for the playoffs.
"I've watched a lot of his videos. His passing is amazing. I believe he can make the team better organized. That's why we have hired him," said Wu.
The club's owner is also looking forward to a booming market with the arrival of Marbury.
"Apart from winning more games, we hope to provide a spectacle. I know the fans are expecting a fascinating performance from him and it will surely bring more people to the stadium,"Wang Xingjiang, president of the club, said.
The arrival of Marbury has also aroused plenty of discussion in the team's lockerroom and Duan Jiangpeng, the team's 19-year-old small forward, can't wait to play alongside his idol, who is expected to arrive in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, on Jan 26.
"I was a pupil when I first watched Marbury playing on TV. What he did was incredible," Duan said. "If I had known he was coming I would have saved the No 3 jersey for him. That's his number."
Others were more reserved about Marbury's impact.
"I'm just wondering how well he can play now. It has been quite a while since I heard about him playing (in the NBA)," Wei Mingliang, another small forward, said. "If he can regain his form, there will be no problems for him here."
Nicknamed "Starbury", the New York-born point guard averaged 18.3 points and 7.6 assists a game in his 13-year NBA career.
He was an NBA All-Star in 2001 and 2003 and was voted to the All-NBA third team in 2000 and 2003.
However, during the 2007-08 NBA season, Marbury refused to play for the Knicks after being benched by coach Isiah Thomas in a spat that lasted for much of the season.
His unhappiness rolled into the following year before his $42 million contract was bought out in early 2009 and he was signed by the Boston Celtics, the last NBA team he played for.
At first glance, the move to China doesn't appear to be a good deal for Marbury, who earned more than $20 million a year in New York. As a foreign player, he can earn no more than $60,000 per month, according to CBA regulations.
However, there is more to the move than meets the eye, Zhang Beihai, general manager of the club, told Titan Sports.
"The club and Marbury have become business partners. We are willing to help him do brand promotion for Starbury and explore further initiatives."
Starbury is the sports brand owned by the player. Meanwhile, Marbury said he wants to help more children to realize their basketball dreams in China.