China’s World Cup team see Summer League as opportunity

LAS VEGAS (AP) – China’s national team came to the NBA Summer League looking for education.

They’re learning plenty.

Summer League is essentially several preseason games for the Chinese. They’re in Las Vegas to get ready for the FIBA World Cup, which will take place in China from August 31 through September 15 – with United States of America (USA) Basketball entering as the top-ranked team in the world and the presumed favourites to win the tournament for the third straight time.

Fans in basketball-mad China are already eager for the World Cup. The national team is getting there.

“There’s high expectation so we’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to raise the pressure,” China coach Li Nan said. “Not just the players, but also the coaching staff. We need to concentrate on our details, do preparations now, concentrate on our stuff.”

Among the challenges for the Chinese so far in Las Vegas: Getting used to the speed and strength of the teams in Summer League, and Li said he’s urged his players to start becoming tougher mentally.

China’s Zhao Rui (1) drives toward the basket past Miami Heat’s Kendrick Nunn (25) during a recent NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas. – AP

“It’s so fast. It’s a different level,” Li said. “The contact, we’ve never seen this before. The rules are different. It’s hard to play this tournament.”

The Chinese lost their first two games in Las Vegas – they fell by 41 points to Miami last Friday, and looked much better in a 17-point loss to Sacramento last Saturday. They play Charlotte next this week.

“We’re still improving a lot,” Li said. “We improved a lot when we came here. The first game we weren’t ready for the physical game, the fast game. The second game, on a back-to-back, we started realising some things.”

The players China brought to Las Vegas represent the bulk of what will be the nation’s World Cup roster. Long-time NBA player Yi Jianlian is expected to play in the World Cup, and he’s not playing in Las Vegas because of an injury. Guo Ailun, one of the more talented Chinese players, didn’t play against Miami and scored 20 points against Sacramento. “The intensity of the game is really high in the summer league,” Guo said through a translator. “It’s much stronger than what is in China. The intensity, the pace, it’s really a challenge.”

For group play in the World Cup, China will take on Poland, Venezuela and the Ivory Coast. Based on FIBA rankings, it’s not a particularly strong group and it’s not unreasonable to think that China would make at least the tournament’s second round.

Li believed the level of play at Summer League may even exceed what the Chinese see in group play.

“It’s a lot of help,” Li said. “Those teams, I think they’re better than the other teams in the group. We’re trying to play to win these games and we’ll use those games to have confidence to face the other opponents.”