Widening the net in China's talent trawl

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Zhou Qi.

China's National Youth Basketball Open (NYBO) is widening its reach as the country bids to unearth the next Zhou Qi.

The brainchild of Chinese sports company Starz Sports, the NYBO hopes that its expanded schedule for 2018 will encourage more kids to pick up basketballs.

Last year's inaugural edition featured over 800 games in ten cities across China, attracting over 3,000 young players aged between 4 and 14 years old.

This year the tournament aims to stage about 3,000 games involving more than 10,000 kids.

"Our vision is to stage games every weekend in every single district and county for basketball-loving children," said Starz Sports chairman Lu Hao at a media conference in Beijing on Wednesday.

"When I was a little boy, there were no such basketball tournaments for children. I remember how desperately that I wanted to have a platform to display my skill."

While finding players to follow in the footsteps of Houston Rockets rookie Zhou would be a bonus, Lu stressed the tournament wants to avoid putting too much pressure on youngsters.

"Our purpose is to increase the basketball population in China," Lu said. "If we push children of that age too hard and force them to win every game, basketball will be a nightmare instead of a lifestyle that they can enjoy for their whole life.

"Making the game enjoyable and letting children have fun is the top priority."

Beginning in September and ending in August, the NYBO is comprised of fall and spring seasons and national finals.

The tournament welcomes teams of all kinds, including from schools, communities and basketball training organizations, with age brackets divided into Under-6s, U8s, U10s U12s and U14s.

Any outstanding talent discovered during the course of the tournament will perhaps have a chance to eventually graduate to a CBA franchise.

The NYBO is also supported by the General Administration of Sport of China, the CBA and China School Sports Federation.

"Youth development is one of the CBA's top priorities," said Bai Xilin, CBA secretary-general. "Through the NYBO, we plan to start a new chapter in Chinese basketball's talent development."

The CBA also stressed the importance of increasing participation numbers.

"Through tournaments like the NYBO, talent-training bases and schools, we will focus on increasing the youth basketball population in China," said Xue Yunfei, the CBA's deputy secretary-general.

"We will help more children fall in love with basketball and keep improving the quality of youth games."

The birth of the NYBO is part of a bigger picture. CBA president Yao Ming has placed reforming the domestic game at the top of his agenda, with cultivating youth talent an integral part of his strategy.

"Basketball faces stiff competition from sectors such as electronics sports in attracting the young generation," Yao said in January.

"That's why we will encourage Chinese basketball to continue its cooperation with the education and entertainment sectors to create a platform where children can enjoy learning different things simultaneously."

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