It’s been nearly a decade since a Chinese national was picked during the NBA draft. But an early-entry candidate from Henan has just broken the barren spell, being the number 43 pick by the Houston Rockets.
Man of stature
The Rockets’ new recruit, 20 year-old Zhou Qi, is only in his second professional season with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Currently playing centre for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, Zhou quickly rose to prominence, becoming the third highest paid player in the CBA.
Standing at 7’2”, with a wingspan close to 7’8” and a standing reach of 9’5”, Zhou has a natural advantage at the hoop, commanding a high rate of blocks and rebound pick-ups. But the young star is also praised for his shooting, averaging 16 points per game in the CBA last season and sinking 64% of his shots from the floor.
The next Yao Ming?
Zhou hopes to follow in the giant footsteps of Hall of Famer Yao Ming, who, in 2002, was also drafted by the Rockets. Comparisons are inevitable, although Zhou is already considered by some pundits to be a more versatile player than Yao. On the other hand, there are fears he could be too skinny to be truly effective in the NBA. The Rockets intend to leave the slim Zhou, who weighs in at 218 pounds (Dwight Howard, Houston’s starting centre, is 6’11” but he weighs 265 pounds), to develop in China over the next season, hoping that he can put on muscle.
There is some speculation over Zhou’s real age. He claims to be 20 – though others within the industry suspect that he might be as old as 25. The last Chinese player to be drafted by the NBA, Yi Jianlian, had a disappointing career, which began with the revelation that he was older than he had initially claimed. The worry for the Rockets will be that if Zhou is not the age he reports, it may be too late for him to develop his game and his physique.
As for Zhou himself, his biggest concern seems to be his level of English, telling reporters after the announcement, “I am just shocked right now. I have terrible English and I have to work on that.” Indeed, after the draft pick Yao Ming joined a conference call between Zhou and Rockets manager Daryl Morey to help translate.
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