Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin made the cut at the 2016 NBA draft, ending a near decade-long period which saw no Chinese players compete in the elite basketball league.
Zhou, the 20-year-old center from Xinjiang, and Wang, a 7-foot big man from Fujian, were selected by the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies with the 43rd and 57th pick respectively.
The 2016 draft also marks the second time that two Chinese prospects have been selected in one NBA draft. Back in 2007, Milwaukee Bucks took Chairman Yi and the Lakers went with CBA and NBA double champion Sun Yue.
Leading up to the draft, analysis from pundits at ESPN projected that Zhou would be selected late in the first round or early in the second. Zhou has a massive 7-foot-8 wingspan and is known for his outstanding mobility and shot blocking ability.
Zhou is thought to have more range than Yao Ming did and an advanced postgame, making him probably the most polished offensive center in the draft. With a skinny frame weighing in at 218 pounds, he is not expected to make an immediate impact on the game.
Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey told the media that he had Yao Ming join him on a conference call on Thursday night to help translate and welcome Zhou to the team.
“He has as high upside as anyone in this draft,” Morey said. “He’s a skilled, high basketball IQ player. Can shoot the ball; rebound the ball, block shots. Very mobile for his size. He is a thin, thin player right now. But a lot of guys come in thin and develop over time. It’s not uncommon.”
On the other hand, Wang Zhelin’s selection by the Grizzlies came to the Chinese fans as a huge surprise as he had gained little to no recognition for the 2016 NBA draft. Before the draft, Wang was most notably known for his performance at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2012.
According to Chinese media, Wang himself had absolutely no clue that he was getting drafted. “I was sleeping. I didn’t know that I was drafted until my phone imploded with my friends’ WeChat messages. I am just shocked right now. I have terrible English and I gotta work on that.”
Both Zhou and Wang will be playing for the Chinese national team at the upcoming summer Olympics in Brazil.
By Chong Li