Photo from Subaonet
After a 1-4 start set them up to face one of the tournament’s top teams in the knockout round, China made its exit from the FIBA World Championships (basketball) last night, losing to Lithuania, 78-67.
The highlight of the tournament for Team China was the play of Yi Jianlian, who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds, and took it to the competition with some aggressive play inside. His performance has Washington Wizards bloggers buzzing about what he might bring to their team this year—but playing well in international tournaments has never been Yi’s problem. It’s when he goes up against NBA bodies that he seems to wither. And he’s already a little banged up, sitting on the bench for China’s game against Turkey with a sore Achilles tendon.
The low point of the tournament for Team China was a 47-point loss to Turkey. With Yi out of the lineup, China only managed to scrounge up an anemic 40 points—and just 6 and 7 in the first two quarters. Not surprisingly, the loss led to some questions in Chinese sports media as to whether new coach Bob Donewald is the right man for the job.
As he starts facing more scrutiny from Chinese media. Donewald is benefiting from a misguided “young and inexperienced” label placed on China by lots of sports media. It’s true that they are playing without veteran centers Yao Ming and Mengke Bateer, and elder statesman Li Nan has finally traded his jersey for an assistant coach’s polo shirt, but the average age for the starting lineup is over 27.
And that’s before you take into account the rampant downward adjustment of ages that goes on in Chinese basketball. All of the starters played in the 2008 Olympics, and four of them—Yi, Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei and Sun Yue—have NBA experience (point guard Liu only played in some pre-season games, but the rest al signed with teams for the regular season). Despite all of that, most Chinese media describe the team as young—a convenient excuse for its 1-5 record in Turkey.
Next up for China is the Asian Games in Guangzhou this November. Yi will stay with the team through then, before returning to the Wizards.
This article also appeared on China Sports Today.