Source: China State Council Information Office
Go big or go home.
Frustrated and exhausted, Team China is vowing to recover from Monday’s heart-wrenching overtime loss to Poland in time for Wednesday’s do-or-die final group match against Venezuela at the FIBA World Cup.
Most of China’s woes in Monday’s 79-76 setback at Wukesong Arena were self-inflicted, ranging from lax execution on offense to poor shooting decisions.
The victory guaranteed Poland a berth in the second round while leaving the host in a must-win situation against Venezuela.
Losing to higher-ranked Poland was not unexpected, given Team China has managed just one international win (against Cote d’Ivoire) in the past nine years. But blowing a lead due to unnecessary fouls and egregious late turnovers stunned the capacity crowd of 18,000.
Watching in the arena where he led China to an eighth-place finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese Basketball Association chairman Yao Ming was pictured on the jumbotron in the final seconds, shaking his head in disbelief, while retired forward Wang Shipeng, another member of the 2008 team, wept during his post-game TV commentary.
“It was so difficult to accept losing this way. It was a huge confidence-boosting opportunity thrown away,” Team China head coach Li Nan told the post-game media conference.
“After so many years struggling at rock bottom following the era of Yao and his peers, the current generation of players is in a desperate need of proof they can compete internationally. Today they just fell short after coming so close on the biggest stage they’ve ever had,” added Li, a prolific shooter on the 2008 squad.
“I understand their frustration and regret, but it’s all over now as we have to pull ourselves together to prepare for one last stand, which really matters.”
Since Yao’s retirement in 2011, Team China has been pummeled internationally, low-lighted by a fifth-place finish at the 2013 Asian championships, disqualification from the 2014 World Cup and 10 straight losses at the Olympics (2012 and 2016).
The World Cup, being held in eight cities across the country, is considered a major confidence-building test for the host as China aims to rebound for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
It now appears the younger generation needs more time to mature.
“They have to learn their lessons,” said veteran forward Yi Jianlian, who notched a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds in the loss.
“Sometimes, to grow you have to experience a painful period and I hope this one is tough enough for them to remember and to draw motivation from.”
As the only member on the 2008 squad still playing, Yi is proving in an awkward way that he remains the go-to guy, with no one else in the post position coming up strong.
Aggressive guard Guo Ailun, the most promising offensive threat alongside Yi, fouled out midway through the third quarter with just six points in 13 minutes, reflecting his lack of maturity.
Still, pushing an average European team like Poland to overtime should not be considered a failure, said former national team guard Zhang Yunsong.
“The way we lost was disappointing but the takeaway from such a close game against the strongest team in the group is definitely positive,” said Zhang, now coach of Beijing’s entry in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association.
With both teams entering the final group game with 1-1 records, China versus Venezuela should play out as a contrast of styles between the host squad’s dominance in the paint and Venezuela’s small yet sharp assault.
The winner will join Poland in the next round, drawn into a second group stage, possibly with Russia and Argentina, to compete for two quarterfinal spots.
“It was a sleepless night for us yesterday but we know we have to put all the negative emotions behind our back to refocus on our next game,” said Yi, who will celebrate his 32nd birthday next month.
“Venezuela’s strength and athleticism especially on the backcourt is something we must prepare for and we should stick to our strength in the paint to dictate the play,” added Yi, who spent five turbulent years in the NBA with five teams after being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007.