Big Expectations, or Wang Zhelin Is Almost Ready

Wang Zhelin may be the next great big man to come from China. In his homeland, they’re already sure he will be.

Love is not a reasonable thing. And so it is that, even as hulking seven-foot centers approach extinction in the NBA, the love affair between Chinese hoops and towering centers remains unapologetically strong. These dinosaurs plod and clog lanes and flip up dorky baby hooks in China in a number that hasn’t been seen in the NBA in years; almost every Chinese organization stocks its roster with a couple of old-style big men. The game has moved on in North America, and to a lesser degree in Europe. In China, love is stronger than basketball progress.

Part of this obsession is a result of the harsh realities of China’s professional basketball leagues and a certain broad failure in coaching. Local coaching and recruitment of players remains simplistic in many places, and undersized prospects are still all too often overlooked in place of taller, stronger kids. Homegrown guards also often fail to make that next step into the Chinese Basketball Association, the country’s biggest league, because of the exceedingly conventional ways in which CBA teams tend to be built.

The CBA has a strict policy on foreigners, and it tends to squeeze Chinese guards disproportionately. The rule is two imports per team, and at least one of them tends to be a gunning wing player whose only job is to keep the scoreboard moving along. Chinese guards, on balance, lack the athleticism and individuality of their American counterparts and thus often become bench guys or complimentary pieces behind the hired guns brought in to do their best J.R. Smith imitations.

However, there’s nothing negotiable about standing seven feet tall. That particular genetic quirk is a great equalizer in any basketball culture, and all the crossovers in the world won’t rescue a slasher when his drive to the rim is rudely interrupted by the forceful presence of a 7’1″ monster. In a league that’s often dominated by trigger-happy foreign scorers, Chinese bigs are seen—and generally used—as brawny counterpoints.

There is also the fact that many of China’s best players have happened to be of the Extra-Large Human variety. For Chinese basketball fans, this belief in the power of size became reality during the 2000 Olympics, as China unveiled their celebrated trio of big men, nicknamed “The Walking Great Wall.” All three of these seven-footers—Yao Ming, Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer—played in the NBA with varying degrees of success, and together, they made the rest of global basketball realize that China was going to handle its business on the global stage.

Not only did they dismantle the patronizing Asian stereotypes for being weedy and soft, but the three bigs’ physicality and commitment resonated neatly within a culture that values togetherness over flashy individualism. Chinese basketball had long wanted respect and its trio of giants became the keys to acquiring it.

Among the Chinese players that have gone on to play in the NBA, only one was shorter than seven feet. Wang and Bateer moved to the NBA in 2001, Yao followed a year later and Yi Jianlian, another seven-footer, made the move in 2007. Only Sun Yue, who signed with the Lakers in 2008, was not a center. Still, at 6’9″, Sun remains one of the tallest point guards to have played in the league.

Though only Yao was successful in America, it seemed to reinforce the idea that Chinese basketball’s best route for success lay in nurturing players whose dominance of the paint could compensate for a traditional lack of flair. In American culture, the most hallowed and romanticized position in sports is the quarterback; in China, that role is arguably now reserved for the traditional center.

***

November 22, 2012, should have all been about Yi Jianlian. He had just returned to the CBA after a humiliating last year in the NBA that was split between the Dallas bench and its’ D-League affiliate. Now the sixth pick in the 2007 draft was back playing for his hometown team, the Guangdong Tigers, after a five-year absence.

Yi’s 26 points and 11 rebounds would have normally been the main sports story on Chinese television. But, far further east, the Fujian Sturgeons were taking on the Qingdao Eagles, led by a new import and old beloved teammate of Yao, Tracy McGrady. Yi was upstaged, again.

The Sturgeons won the game 95-92 on a buzzer beater from Sundiata Gaines, but the score was nearly irrelevant; Fujian’s Zuchang Gymnasium cared more about the people on the court than the score on scoreboard. Mai Difinally playing basketball in China was a big deal but fans were also eager for a first look at Fujian’s vaunted 18-year-old center, Wang Zhelin. The local kid played 36 minutes in his first pro game, scratching his way to 11 points and 6 rebounds. He went 1-for-10 from the field, and at times looked bewildered by the knowledge that the crowd had come to see him as much as they had McGrady.

The hype surrounding Wang had been building for a while. In 2011, the year of Yao’s retirement, an article ran on Sina Sports, one of the country’s largest media outlets. “This is an era that needs a hero [now that Yao is retired],” it thundered. “And today, this task will fall on Wang Zhelin’s shoulders.” After citing coaches, doctors and other league insiders, the article finished on a firm note: “Wang Zhelin will very likely become the next hero of Chinese basketball.” The then-17 year old had not yet played a professional game.

Twelve months later, after starring in a variety of youth team tournaments, Wang made headlines in June 2012 when he was invited to Olympic team trials before he’d so much as played a CBA game. Given the limited number of spots available, the teenager’s inclusion underlined what many had been saying for a while, generally without ever having seen proof for themselves—Wang was for real.

After that awkward CBA debut, Fujian coach Tab Baldwin brought Wang off the bench in the next game, a tricky road trip to Xinjiang. Though the Sturgeons were comprehensively beaten 105-87, Wang acquitted himself well, picking up a 21-point, 15-rebound double-double. Restored to the starting five the following game, Wang coolly hung 28 and 15 on the Shanxi Dragons. He then started the next five games, churning out eye-catching numbers night after night.

Baldwin, a no-nonsense Floridian who had been a successful coach in five continents, did his best to keep his young star from being overwhelmed by the hype. A month into the season, Wang would return to the bench for the second time in his career when Fujian faced the Bayi Rockets in Ningbo. The Rockets, who boast historic ties to the People’s Liberation Army, have long been seen as China’s resident masters of bar-fight basketball. Ten games into his pro career, Wang was already important enough to get some of Bayi’s ‘special attention’ and Baldwin had no intention of feeding his teenage prospect to such a goon squad. The head coach made the right call, but the press pack, already smitten with Wang, was less than impressed.

Indeed, no matter how hard Baldwin tried, the media circus that had quickly began to follow Fujian would not go away. After a 91-85 road loss to Shanghai, Baldwin glared furiously at local journalists during his postgame press conference. Pinning the hopes of a team on a teenager was not the answer, he growled. Everyone needed to back off and let the kid grow. No one listened.

As difficult as the media’s obsession with Wang was to manage, Baldwin’s greater challenge proved to be pulling a competent starting five from a weak Fujian roster. Other than Wang and Will McDonald, a former UCF big man who had been playing in Europe for almost a decade, Baldwin had little to work with, and it showed. Midway through the season, the coach became the sacrificial lamb for the front office’s failings and suddenly there was no one to shield Wang from the spotlight.

Well aware that the team was sinking without a trace, Fujian’s front office knew that giving Wang the keys to the team would keep the turnstiles in motion, and set to it. To the surprise of some, the teenager took the promotion in stride and quickly adapted to life without training wheels. With McDonald able to shoot the three and do some work down low, opposing defenses were too stretched out to stop Wang from getting buckets. The Sturgeons weren’t winning, but Wang was learning on the job with dizzying speed.

At year’s end, Fujian were 11-21 but Wang had averaged 20.3 points a game and 12.9 rebounds. Easily the league’s top rookie, Wang won an invite to CBA All-Star weekend where he won MVP in the Rising Stars game and made his All-Star debut. His coach during the Rising Stars game was Wang Zhizhi, a third of the national team’s beloved ‘Great Wall’ from a decade past. As poetic metaphors went, it was a neat reminder that the baton was being passed to the new generation, and was in Wang’s hands, now.

***

A year on, and Wang’s sophomore season has been just as impressive as his first year with the big boys. He made his second All-Star game and finished the season with 22.8 points on 59% shooting, and grabbing 11.4 rebounds per game on average. Wang is now a problem almost every time he gets into the paint—increasingly confident and aggressive, strong as an ox, and blessed with both a soft touch around the rim and the ability to finish with both hands. He has also begun to unveil an array of pump fakes, hook shots and spin moves. The rebounding is still good, the work rate relentless and Wang is now a 74% shooter from the charity stripe. His game averages are already better than Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi’s at the same age, and he is still getting better. You know where this is going.

The question that Chinese basketball circles are increasingly concerned with is when Wang will think about making the move to the NBA. Websites such as Draft Express have already begun profiling Wang for the upcoming 2014 draft, much to the delight of local media, who gleefully relay any US-based reporting about Wang back to their Chinese audience. Though it’s likely impossible that Wang will move this year, there is still a real belief he will soon become too big for the CBA, and for any stage but the world’s biggest.

Putting his name into the 2015 draft pool is a possibility, but 2016—when Wang will be 22 and will have four seasons as a starter under his belt—seems most likely. The move is coming, though, and the right people are already being assembled to give Wang the best chance at a high draft pick. Lu Hao, who has previously represented Yi Jianlian and Yao Ming, is managing Wang’s affairs. Lu, incidentally, also retains close links to NBA super-agent Dan Fagan.

In the meantime, Wang still has some work to do. Fujian missed out on the CBA play-offs by two games as the team’s threadbare bench cost the Sturgeons dearly down the stretch. To continue to justify the hype, Wang will need a postseason run sooner rather than later. McDonald, Wang’s security blanket for the past two years, is now 32 and probably won’t be back next season; Wang will have to step up and become the unquestioned leader of Fujian’s frontcourt. The big man will also need to camp out in the weight room if he is to keep his weight close to 240 pounds. His jump shot could do with some work, as could his grasp of floor spacing and passing. Film sessions, protein shakes and the weight rack beckon.

Two years have passed since the last Chinese player touched a ball in the NBA, and an entire country is hoping that the young center from Fuzhou will be the one to change that. It might be awhile before NBA audiences will see him regularly but Wang has already convinced more than a billion people that he’ll be worth the wait.

via Big Expectations, or Wang Zhelin Is Almost Ready | The Classical.

Filipino Kobe Paras will play for UCLA

There's a new Kobe in town at Cathedral High - LA Times

Don’t be surprised if Filipino flags are being waved en masse this winter in the gym at

Los Angeles Cathedral High. There are more than 375,000 Filipinos living in Los

Angeles County, and a 17-year-old basketball prodigy with more than 50,000 Twitter

and 67,000 Instagram followers is set to make his high school debut in the United States.

Kobe Paras is no ordinary foreign exchange student. As a 15-year-old in 2013, Paras participated

in a Nike exhibition in Manila, and with LeBron James on the court, Paras dunked. That moment

was captured on video, and in the era of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, Paras’ life changed.

“They’re calling me the kid who dunked on LeBron,” Paras recalled.

There's a new Kobe in town at Cathedral High - LA Times

Last week, UCLA Coach Steve Alford showed up at Cathedral to watch Paras practice and ended

up making a scholarship offer. On Saturday, Paras committed to the Bruins. In 24 hours, he

picked up 1,000 more Twitter followers.

“Pinoys in L.A. will go nuts to see Kobe as a Bruin,” said TJ Manotoc, a sports broadcaster for

ABS-CBN in the Philippines.

Junior from Philippines is committed to UCLAIn the Philippines, Paras and his family were celebrities long before his LeBron moment. His

father, Benjie, in 1989 became the only player in the history of the country’s professional

basketball league to be the rookie of the year and the MVP in the same season. He became an

actor and businessman. Paras’ brother, Andre, also plays basketball and went into acting.

Then it was decided Paras, who was named after the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, should come to Los

Angeles to prepare for college and see if he was good enough to earn a college basketball

scholarship. He’s living with a host family.

“I always remind him to continue working hard and to focus on his studies,” his father told

Philstar.com on Friday.

With his youthful looks and willingness to be playful and entertain fans through postings on

Instagram and Twitter, Paras has a gained a large following among teenage girls in the

Philippines.

Whenever Paras does just about anything noteworthy, Filipino media report it.

“I liken him in his country to what LeBron was here” as a high school star, Cathedral Coach

William Middlebrooks said.

Paras is 6 feet 6. He was a center in his country, but he was playing guard last summer for a travel

team in Southern California and picked up scholarship offers from Arizona State, California,

Fresno State, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine even though he’s going into his junior year. Then

UCLA entered the picture.

“While all of this is new to me, I realize that I can only go to one college, so I felt it was not

necessary to continue the recruitment process with so many very good schools and coaches

already at the table,” Paras said in a statement released by Cathedral.

“Most know him for his dunking, but he can shoot the three, dribbles and passes,” Middlebrooks

said. “He’s highly skilled and is adapting to the style of play in America.”

Clearly, Paras’ leaping ability will make him a crowd favorite this season. He hasn’t measured his

vertical leap, but it’s so explosive that you can count on Cathedral statisticians to start keeping

track of dunks.

There’s little doubt the attention he received for his LeBron moment had a huge influence.

“He was my idol since I was a kid, and getting to do that with him is something that changed

something in me big time,” Paras said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Of course, basketball is more than just dunking, and the focus on Paras’ dunks takes away from

his other strengths. He really is a terrific shooter and his work ethic is outstanding.

“I want to show everybody it’s not all about dunking or highlights,” he said. “It’s about what you

do on the court.”

There's a new Kobe in town at Cathedral High - LA Times

But asked if he likes to dunk, Paras smiles and says, “Yes, I do.”

Paras has earned a reputation at Cathedral for being a polite, well-mannered, humble student.

Seeing him walk around campus with other students provides no clue that in the Philippines he is

a media sensation.

“How good that is I don’t know because he’s still a kid, but that’s his life at this point,”

Middlebrooks said.

According to Manotoc, the combination of Filipinos’ love for basketball and Paras’ family

connections and success has led to much attention. A video of Paras winning a FIBA dunk contest

has more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

“Basketball is a religion here,” Manotoc said. “The only time kids on the street don’t play ball is

when Manny Pacquiao has a fight.”

Rarely do homegrown Filipinos receive scholarships to NCAA schools, which means Paras is going

to be followed even more closely.

For now, Paras will try to show that he has skills beyond dunking. But when he soars through the

air and jams the ball through the net, the excitement he generates is likely to prompt more than

just Filipino fans to rise to their feet.

Los Angeles now has more than one basketball player named Kobe with star power.

 

via There’s a new Kobe in town at Cathedral High – LA Times.

Zhou Qi 2015 NBA Draft: Scouting Video & Report

Zhou Qi 2015 NBA Draft: Scouting Video & Report

Summary

Zhou Qi pronounced, Chjoe Chi, is an 18 year old Forward/Center prospect from the Henan, China. Zhou weighs in at 220 lbs and measures 7’2″ tall with a rumored 7’4-5″ wingspan. At this point, his biggest strengths are his length and mobility. On defense he is an excellent shot blocker helping off his man; can also block shots and contest shots on the ball. Zhou runs the floor very well and can catch on the move in transition for a quick finish or early action post up. Qi has a good feel for the game. He can facilitate from the high post finding cutters and also make swing passes or interior passes from the low post. In addition he shows good ESP with guards in pick and roll situations; moves well, can catch on the move and has a soft touch around the rim.

As noted, Zhou has a thin frame for his position at only 220 lbs. He may be more of power forward offensively, but on the defensive end he may wind up guarding centers when smaller/quicker stretch 4 types are in the lineup. Zhou is easily moved off his spot by smaller guards when setting UCLA screens and sometimes struggles to finish into contact in the paint. Along the same lines, he needs to work on his post game. Qi is graceful and can spin baseline or fake spin-pivot-drop step. However, he often has difficulty sealing his man and struggles when meeting a shot blocker at the rim. Also, needs to work on his footwork; prone to traveling violations.

Zhou is an intriguing prospect because he flashes upside potential in various areas of the game. He can put the ball on the floor from 15-18 feet for step back jumpers. From the mid post area he can spin baseline and finish on the other side of the basket. Not yet a great shooter, but has range out to 20 feet. In addition, Qi is a good offensive rebounder, shows a good understanding of geometry in that he moves his body to where he thinks the ball will be. Not to be overlooked, his pick and roll coverage is already better than some current  NBA players. Zhou is familiar with hard hedging strategies as well as soft, shadow schemes.

Unfortunately, its not known weather he will enter his name in the 2015 NBA Draft or 2016 Draft, for that matter. If he participates in the 2015 Nike Hoops Summit and has a good showing, then he will increase his chances of selection in the 2015 draft should he decide to enter.  It is still uncertain what position he can defend at an NBA level; though Center may be ideal given his height, length, and P&R defensive prowess.

Strengths

=> Length - has great length. Blocks shots on the ball and off of weak side or help rotations. Uses length to contest jump shots on ball.

=> Mobility - agile and light on his feet. In transition, can catch passes on the move and finish, draws fouls. Runs back on defense in transition.

=> Feel for the Game - natural facilitator; high post. Makes swing passes from low post. Tracks loose balls. ESP with guards; slips screens & catches on move.

Weaknesses

=> Focus - sometimes struggles with ball-you-man and misses rim protection assignments. Hi IQ player, but makes inexperience related mistakes.

=> Strength - gets knocked off balance by smaller players in the course of play; defense, screens, put backs. Needs to add weight & core strength.

=> Post Game - has potential but still raw. Likes to spin baseline, but no counter. Shuffles feet and gets called for travels. Lacks physical presence.

Upside

=> Scoring Threat - has a developing midrange game. Puts the ball on the floor for step back jumpers. Shoots out to 20 feet, Spot-ups. Post game potential.

=> Off. Rebounding - reads where the ball is going then moves his body to the spot, uses length. Brings the ball down to gather then lifts for a put-back.

=> Pick & Roll Defense - agile and quick enough to execute hedging strategies like show & recover. Also skilled at playing soft while protecting the rim.

Prognosis

=> Draft; Late 1st, Early 2nd

=> Feel for Game, Highly Skilled

=> Needs to Add Strength

=> D Upside; Mobility & Length

=> When Will He Come Over?

 

Dallas Mavericks near deal with Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi

IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Mavericks are finalizing paperwork to sign Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi.

The plan is for the 21-year-old Togashi, who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 145 pounds, to spend the rest of the preseason with the Mavs before joining their D-League affiliate Texas Legends.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Togashi said.

The Legends will automatically own Togashi’s rights in the likely event that he is waived by the Mavs.

Togashi played the last season and a half in the Japanese pro league and was on the Mavs’ summer league team.
via Dallas Mavericks near deal with Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi – ESPN Dallas.

Yuki Togashi invited to Dallas Mavericks training camp

The Dallas Mavericks have invited point guard Yuki Togashi to their preseason training camp, according to Cloud9, his management company.

The announcement was made on Tuesday, and Togashi is scheduled to travel to Dallas on Saturday.

Japanese supporters expressed their excitement via Twitter.

Exhibit A: “Yuki Togashi was invited (to) the last camp by the Dallas Mavericks!!” tweeted Akira Tokusatsu. “Great! I know it’s really tough but I believe he takes the chance!!”

Guard Yuta Tabuse, now with the NBL’s Link Tochigi Brex, became the first Japanese to play in the NBA in 2004 during a four-game stint with the Phoenix Suns.

The Mavericks meet the Indiana Pacers in a preseason game on Sunday, and have five more upcoming exhibition matches after that. They open the regular season on the road against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 28

As of Tuesday night (Japan time), the Mavericks had six guards listed on their current roster: Monta Ellis, Raymond Felton, Ricky Ledo, Gal Mekel, Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson.

In July, Togashi, a Niigata Prefecture native, suited up for the Mavs’ NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas. In four games, he saw 37 minutes of court time, including 11 against the Charlotte Hornets in a contest that he had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

Togashi recently played for the Japan national at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

The 167-cm Togashi is viewed by some basketball experts as an NBA Development League project for the upcoming season. The 2014 D-League Draft will be held on Nov. 1.

Some insiders believe he’s on the wish list of the Texas Legends, Dallas’ D-League affiliate.

In an interview with dleaguedigest.com in July after the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Texas Legends assistant coach/operations manager Tyler Gatlin was quoted as saying,” We did a bunch of different workouts with Yuki, and eventually we built him up to five-on-five competition where he demonstrated his true point guard abilities. He’s a distributor, and handles the ball really well. He can play in the pick-and-roll offense and doesn’t have to be overly aggressive on scoring. Yuki understands how to get his teammates involved, he’s very savvy.”

Dean Murray, a Legends assistant coach, analyzed Togashi’s overseas pro prospects after the Summer League wrapped up.

“As a player in the D-League, (Togashi) would have to be able to come off the bench and be a ‘change of pace’ player and get the tempo of the game up,” Murray told The Japan Times in July.

“He seemed to be able to make good decisions and not turn the ball over in transition. He also was able to hit the open jump shot, but as a half-court set-up guard that is not his strength at a higher level on the offensive end.”

Murray said Togashi’s size put him at a distinct disadvantage on the defensive end, which could be the biggest factor in whether he earns a roster spot in the NBA or D-League for the coming season.

“He obviously is a good competitor and fan favorite,” Murray said, “but the reality is can he be an effective player off the bench on both the offensive and defensive end and he will have to prove that against bigger and stronger guards.”

Togashi began his pro basketball career with the bj-league’s Akita Northern Happinets in February 2012. As a second-year pro, the 21-year-old led the bj-league in assists (7.9 per game) last season and helped the Northern Happinets earn a championship runnerup finish.

via Togashi invited to Dallas Mavericks training camp | The Japan Times.

Hawaii girl Marysa Carr joins NBA ranks as new Laker Girl

Marysa Carr will realize her own hoop dreams when she takes the court at the Staples Center in Los Angeles as a member of the famed Laker Girls dance squad.

COURTESY LOS ANGELES LAKERSMarysa Carr will join the Laker Girls this season in Los Angeles.

She will literally be following in the footsteps — not to mention the high kicks and spins — of choreographer and former “American Idol” judge Paula Abdul and “Falling Skies” actress Moon Bloodgood, both former Laker Girls.

“I was so excited. It was like I was on a rollercoaster,” said Carr, 25, recalling the moment she learned she had made the 22-member team.

This was the second time Carr auditioned for the Laker Girls. She tried out last year, making it to the final round before being cut.

“I was really bummed for a while but I got over it and I decided to try again,” said the Kamehameha Schools and University of Hawaii graduate.

Her selection this year came after an intense audition process in mid-July involving two days of dance and two days of interviews, competing against about 500 other women at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif.

“You’re just in awe because you’re in the Lakers practice gym and you look around and there are just so many girls and they all look amazing, so it’s definitely a lot of pressure,” she said.

Carr, who graduated from UH in 2013 with a degree in marketing and management, is now busy rehearsing with the team and looking for additional employment. Laker Girls are paid per appearance — 41 regular season home games, as well as preseason and postseason games, if the Lakers advance to the playoffs, and other public events.

Carr was captain of the dance teams at UH and Kamehameha and danced with Kaneohe-based 24-7 Danceforce. Her training at UH came in handy for the auditions, but she knows she’ll have to take it to a different level for the Laker Girls, considered one of the elite squads in sports entertainment.

“I think our style at UH was a little bit more contemporary, and the style of the Laker Girls is a little bit more sharp with their movements,” she said.

She’s looking forward to the Lakers’ upcoming season, hoping to watch an injury-free Kobe Bryant lead a young team, and is throwing herself into learning the Laker Girls’ routines.

“We’re just working really hard,” she said. “I didn’t realize how hard the Laker Girls work to perfect their craft.”

via Carr joins NBA ranks as new Laker Girl – Honolulu Pulse – Hawaii Entertainment, Food and NightlifeHonolulu Pulse – Hawaii Entertainment, Food and Nightlife.

Yao Ming makes appearance at NBA preseason game in Shanghai

20110604110929506SHANGHAI — Mirza Teletovic sank a 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining to lift the Brooklyn Nets to a 97-95 preseason win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday in the first of two NBA exhibition games to be played in China this year.

The Kings had a chance to tie the score with 20 seconds remaining, but Sergey Karasev blocked a jumper by Ben McLemore beneath the rim as time expired.

Brook Lopez led the Nets with 18 points and six rebounds and Deron Williams added 12 points and six assists. Teletovic and Jarrett Jack had 10 points apiece.

The Kings were led by Ramon Sessions off the bench with 18 points and Darren Collison with 15.

Sacramento opened up a 95-91 lead on a jumper by rookie Nik Stauskas with 2:23 left in the game, but Marquis Teague sank three of four free throws down the stretch before Teletovic sealed the win with his 3-pointer off a pass from Jack.

The game marked the 10th anniversary of the NBA’s first pre-season exhibitions in China, played by the Kings and Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets in Shanghai and Beijing in 2004.

Yao was on hand to celebrate the anniversary, entering the arena midway through the first quarter to a huge round of applause. He was joined by a handful of other former NBA stars, including Shaquille O’Neal — who grabbed the microphone late in the game and bellowed “Ni hao” (Hello) to the fans — as well as former Kings players Vlade Divac, Mitch Richmond and Peja Stojakovic.

The Kings and Nets play again in Beijing on Wednesday.

A lot has changed since the first NBA game in Shanghai in 2004, which was played at a rundown city gymnasium with only 3,000 tickets available for fans. By contrast, Sunday’s game was played at the state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat Mercedes Benz Arena with giant screens mounted over the courts, corporate hospitality booths and a halftime acrobatic show.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver noted how important the Chinese market has become in recent years, saying there are now 300 million people playing basketball in the country-nearly the entire population of the United States.

“The growth of the NBA over the last decade has exceeded our expectations,” he said. “It’s been remarkable over the past 10 years how knowledgeable the Chinese fans have become about the NBA, and not just its superstars but every roster from player one to player 15.”
via Brooklyn Nets vs. Sacramento Kings – Recap – October 12, 2014 – ESPN.