Asian Games: China's basketball team look to bounce back

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Despite China's men's basketball team at an all-time low point, the team is looking to hit back with a good showing at the Hangzhou Asian Games, which begins on September 26.

Zhao Rui (R) of China breaks through during the Group B match between Serbia and China at the 2023 FIBA World Cup in Manila, the Philippines, Aug. 26, 2023. (Xinhua/Wu Zhuang)

China comes to the Hangzhou tournament off the back of a nightmare showing at the FIBA World Cup, finishing 29th among 32 teams with a record of one win and four losses, including a defeat by host nation the Philippines. China thus failed to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics as the best-ranked team from Asia, and also lost out on a ticket to the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.

To exacerbate their problems, the team also saw injuries to key players Zhou Qi and veteran captain Zhou Peng. With new addition Li Kaier not featuring in Hangzhou owing to his NBA pre-season preparations, China head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic has called guard Cheng Shuaipeng and shooter Du Runwang onto the team and picked 2.23m-tall center Yu Jiahao to reinforce the team's height in the paint.

China faces their first consecutive absence from the Olympic Games since 1984, and stepping into the long 2028 Los Angeles Olympics cycle, they urgently need to bounce back.

Team Dragon is set to start their tournament on September 26 playing against Mongolia in Group B, following clashes against Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong of China, who is filling in after Lebanon's withdrawal.

World No. 100 Mongolia and No. 119 Hong Kong should not pose too much trouble for China, while Chinese Taipei, who has CBA players Lin Tingqian and Liu Zheng in their training camp, might provide a sterner test, but as long as China makes good ball rotations and gets the best out of their height, it should be a clean sweep in the group phase.

Japan and the Philippines are China's main threats in the knockout rounds, though the two sides will not field their best line-ups. Japan, who secured a berth at Paris 2024, recently revealed their Asiad roster with none of the players used at the FIBA World Cup.

Similarly, the Philippines has kept only Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo and Scottie Thompson from the squad that beat China weeks ago. It was also reported that Calvin Abueva, Jason Perkins, Terrence Romeo and Mo Tautuaa were facing rejection by the Asiad committee, and the team's new coach Tim Cone was seeking replacements.

Moreover, other potential title contenders include South Korea, led by naturalized player Ricardo Ratliffe - also known as Ra Gun-ah - and Jordan, who has left-handed Kobe Bryant template Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who shone at the World Cup.

China started their training camp on September 10 in Shanghai, and in an open training session on Tuesday, coach Djordjevic said that his side is going all out for the Asiad championship.

"The team is practicing really well, the energy is back, we got some needed rest after the World Cup, and we are back on track," Djordjevic said, adding "First of all, we need to regenerate our bodies, and recreate the energy level that is needed for this competition."

"Our goal is to get the gold medal for China."

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