China loads up to take on the world

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With the dust settled on the domestic league, it's time to jostle for national glory as the Chinese Basketball Association announced a 20-player training camp roster to prepare for the home World Cup.

The CBA capped its 2018-19 season last week with Guangdong's 4-0 sweep over Xinjiang to claim the franchise's ninth league title, but hoops fever keeps heating up as a group of league standouts have been summoned to stand tall for Team Dragon at the FIBA World Cup this fall.

The Cup tournament, previously the world championships, runs from Aug 31-Sept 15, with the world's 32 best teams competing in group stages in eight Chinese cities.

Drawn in Group A with Cote d'Ivoire, Poland and Venezuela, Team China has pinned high hopes on a group of CBA-tested stars to make its presence felt on the global stage.

"All the players selected were outstanding performers in the past CBA season, who have proved their ability and will fight not just for their clubs but for their country," national team head coach Li Nan said after the roster was unveiled on Monday.

"With the best talent assembled, we are going to leave our mark at the home tournament despite knowing the focus will be on the title struggle between the United States and the rest of the world's best."

League champion Guangdong contributed the most by sending four players, led by star forward Yi Jianlian, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016 before returning to the domestic league.

Runner-up Xinjiang has two players selected, including rising star Abdusalam, who played in the 2018 NBA Summer League representing the Golden State Warriors.

Other notables are Zhou Qi, the Houston Rockets' 43rd overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and Ding Yanyuhang, who made the Dallas Mavericks' training camp roster before being sent to the franchise's G-League affiliate last October.

Zhou and Ding, the backbone tandem driving China to gold at last year's Asian Games in Indonesia, haven't competed in any official games this year. Zhou was waived by the Rockets in December and Ding has been recovering from knee surgery.

Still, Li is upbeat on the two stars, who will be healthy by the opening day of training camp on May 15.

"Zhou and Ding will return on time. They didn't play in the CBA, but they have done quality personal training in the US to be ready for the call-up," said Li, a sharpshooting forward on China's 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics team.

Just three months away from the Cup tournament, strong contenders such as Spain, France and Argentina have been assembling lineups aimed at challenging the US Dream Team, but China is also planning to make its home crowd proud.

After going 0-5 at the 2016 Rio Olympics and failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Spain, China is under heavy pressure to deliver an improved performance at home.

According to CBA chairman Yao Ming, China's primary aim is to finish the tournament as the top Asian team in order to qualify directly for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"I hope that 10 years from now this team will be remembered for what they did at the World Cup," Yao said earlier this year.

Should China emerge from Group A, it will face one of the top two teams from a tougher-looking Group B, featuring Argentina, Russia, South Korea and Nigeria.

China will take on all three group opponents at the 18,000-seat Wukesong Arena in Beijing, where the host finished eighth at the 2008 Games to tie its best Olympic performance.

The challenge to repeat the top-eight finish lies in how quickly Li can mesh a roster that previously trained and played on two separate teams.

In the summer of 2017, the Chinese national program launched a dual-team experiment initiated by Yao, splitting the domestic talent pool into two lineups-Red and Blue-with independent coaching staff.

The experiment was aimed at doubling the opportunities for youngsters at the international level, and after alternately representing China at the World Cup qualifiers, the squads were merged last September.

"It's about how soon and how well players who played on two different units can connect with each other and build the chemistry we need facing stronger rivals," said Li.

Team China will join all 30 NBA teams and the Croatia national squad in the 2019 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in July as a warm-up for the World Cup campaign.

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