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CPA Australia All NBL Australian Team Preview: China

What are these guys made of? That’s what the Chinese coaching staff will be looking to find out about their group of Olympic hopefuls in the three-game series against the NBL All Australian team starting Friday night. That is particularly true of four forwards who played important roles in last year’s rampaging gold medal win at the FIBA Asia Championships and will be taking on some of the NBL’s best. The driving force for China last year was their upstart point guards Guo Ailun and Zhao Ji Wei, and their two powerhouses inside, emerging force Zhou Qi and the legendary Yi Jianlian. Those stars aren’t playing in this series, however, and China will want to see if their versatile forward quartet can carry more of the load - something they’ll need against world-class opposition in Rio. Zhou Peng and Zhai Xiao Chuan are the marquee pair, both mobile 6’9 combo forwards with good handling skills and quality range from outside. The challenge for Zhou is to rebound – he had only 17 boards in 148 minutes in last year’s tournament – but watch for Zhai’s underrated passing to his big men inside. In reserve, Li Gen is a gunner without a conscience – he hit his first nine triples of the 2015 Asian champs, then finished in style with 3-of-4 in the gold medal triumph over the Philippines – while Ding Yan Yu Hang is the opposite, a dependable do-it-all type who was given big minutes in the medal rounds and delivered. Their forward match-up with the likes of Jesse Wagstaff, David Barlow, Todd Blanchfield and Lucas Walker – who all have similar versatility and all-court games to their Chinese counterparts – should be one of the highlights of the series. Those four forwards hit 50 of China’s 65 three-pointers in last year’s Asian champs, so it’s no surprise they are trialling some new marksmen to help share the load. Fang Shuo is a 190cm guard who connected at 43 per cent from the arc for the Beijing Ducks last CBA season, while Korambek Makhan has hit 39 per cent of his triples over the past three seasons. Also included are 210cm ‘stretch big’ Jia Cheng and versatile 207cm forward Chang Lin, who both shot 38 per cent from long range last CBA season. While they will likely test the Australian defence, at the other end they will have a tough job matching the multi-faceted games of Daniel Kickert, Tom Garlepp and Barlow. Inside, 216cm giant Li Mu Hao was a member of last year’s gold medal winning team but struggled for minutes behind Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin. Turning 24 before the Olympics, time could be running out for Li to cement his place as China’s fourth big before the next generation overtakes him. He did not see the court in important games against Korea, Lebanon, Iran or the Philippines last year, but this series is the chance to show he can use his impressive length to dominate Kickert and Majok Majok inside. China’s game is built around pressure defence, and with their two pesky defensive point guards absent, in come Liu Xiao Yu and Sui Ran – both amongst the Chinese leaders for steals last CBA season. The Chinese coaching staff will expect them to play physical defence in the grill of Adam Gibson, Mitch Norton and Jason Cadee all series long. If that’s not enough, keep your eye out for a pair 19-year-olds who are future stars of Chinese basketball – shooting guard Zhao Yan Hao and big man Zou Yu Chen. In their gold medal triumph last year China boasted seven players aged 22 or under, some of whom were stars of the tournament, so don’t be surprised to see one or both of these teenagers in Rio if they perform well against the Aussies. Zhao is already well known around the world. At the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship he ranked second in scoring with 21.6points per game. In China’s huge wins over Italy and France he had 32 and 26 points respectively, while he knocked in 31 and 25 in hard-fought losses to Argentina and Canada. Fitting with coach Gong Luming’s defensive style, Zhao also led the tournament with 3.3 steals per game, and just for good measure he canned the three-ball at a quality 42 per cent. This boy can play. Not as much is known about the 208cm Zou, but at the 2014 Asian U18 Championship he posted quality numbers, including 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the final victory over Iran. Impressively, he has since produced two outstanding seasons against full-grown men in the CBA, last season averaging 15.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for the Bayi Rockets. Zou’s trademarks are his nose for boards, toughness in the low block, deceptive strength and mobility for a big man, so his battle with Majok should make the broadcast on FOX SPORTS compulsory viewing. The series tips off this Friday at 9.30pm EST in the Chinese city of Nanning, with the two remaining games at 9.30pm on Sunday and Tuesday in Guangzhou and Beijing.
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