Han confident of conquering WNBA

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Han Xu trains in Los Angeles ahead of being selected by the New York Liberty in the second round of the recent WNBA draft. The 19-year-old center is a member of China's national team. XINHUA

Teenage WNBA draftee Han Xu believes she has what it takes to stand tall in the world's most competitive women's pro league.

With a versatile skill set that fits the modern game, the 6-foot-9 center believes her commitment to adapt to a challenging new life will define her future in the league.

"Besides playing hard, I think there will be a lot of off-the-court stuff for me to try to get used to in the United States. This is probably the true challenge for me," Han told China Daily at NBA China's Beijing office on Tuesday.

"I am more excited than worried," added the 19-year-old, who was selected by the New York Liberty in the second round (14th overall) of the WNBA draft earlier this month.

"I can speak some English to handle most of the daily communication. I like the food in the US and I can sleep like a baby on a plane, so road trips won't be a problem.

"I'm ready for whatever happens during this adventure. I am all in."

Han, a member of the national team, was just the second Chinese drafted into the league after retired center Zheng Haixia was selected by the Los Angeles Sparks (16th overall) in 1997.

Three other Chinese players - Sui Feifei, Miao Lijie and Chen Nan, all retired - previously played in the WNBA.

A month-long stay in the US to prepare for the draft enlightened Han on what to expect in the pro ranks.

"The effort they put into details to make training, nutrition and physical conditioning more effective, the work ethic and the discipline off the court really impressed me," said Han, who worked out with an NBA-caliber trainer at the University of California Los Angeles ahead of the draft.

Han had her body's strengths and weaknesses analyzed by a 360-degree motion camera, underwent liquid nitrogen treatment to relieve muscle inflammation, added 3-point shooting to her four-hour daily training regimen and even took a financial management course arranged by the league for all rookies.

So far it all seems fun for Han, but she knows everything comes down to how she performs on the court.

"My main goal is definitely to prove that I belong here and I will build my own style of play," she said.

Graduated from the renowned basketball program at Tsinghua University High School in 2017, Han joined the Xinjiang Tianshan Magic Deer of the Women's Chinese Basketball Association last season, averaging 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds en route to earning All-Star honors and being named to the national team.

Katie Smith, coach of the Liberty, said she believes Han can handle the pro grind, on and off the court.

"She is a skilled player who can shoot the ball and finish left- or right-handed," Smith said. "She will get stronger and figure out how to play against stronger opponents.

"She wants to learn and be a part of it and that is half the battle. Even college kids who played NCAA ball have an adjustment to the physicality and the grind of the WNBA."

Before rising to the international stage, Han's skills were honed at the NBA Academy in Jinan, Shandong province, in 2017 before she represented Shandong at the National Games.

"It was all about making the physically demanding training fun," Han said of the NBA-standard program.

"Technically, it's not a big change, but training in the US is full of passion and motivates you to always push for extra energy."

As part of the NBA's global elite player development program, in 2016 the league opened academies in Jinan, Zhuji, Zhejiang province, and Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, in cooperation with local sports authorities.

The initiative, which focuses on education, leadership, character development and life skills, exposes elite prospects to NBA-level coaching and competition and provides a global framework for them to maximize their potential.

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