When China’s men’s basketball team is drawn in the same group with home team Canada and powerhouse Greece, everyone is aware of the difficulty this team will face in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
The Chinese side has been undergoing a low ebb since they missed out on direct qualification to the Olympics through the FIBA World Cup on home soil in 2019.
Punching an Olympic ticket may be a long shot for the Chinese team but they can expect something from this experience of competing with powerhouses of world basketball.
With a younger squad featuring several players that shone in last season’s Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league, team China is midway through its first international appearance in almost 20 months after some matches were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After finishing the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers a week ago in the Philippines with four wins in a row, the team used 28 hours transferring to their next competition site of Victoria in Canada.
Undoubtedly, it’s another level of competitiveness awaiting them.
The FIBA World Cup 2019 produced seven directly qualified teams for the 2020 Olympics and Japan received automatic qualification as the hosts, meaning the final four Olympic spots are reserved for the winners of the four FIBA Olympic qualifying tournaments in Victoria, the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Kaunas in Lithuania, and Croatia’s Split respectively.
Canada features eight NBA players, including Andrew Wiggins and RJ Barrett. For the Chinese players, another familiar face is Andrew Nicholson, who played for the CBA side Fujian Sturgeons last season.
While for Greece, even without the two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo who is contending in the NBA playoffs, and recently retired playmaker Vassilis Spanoulis, the team is still regarded as the favorite when squaring off against China.
Uruguay, the Czech Republic and Turkey are placed in the other group in Victoria. The top two sides from each group will advance to the semifinals before deciding the sole berth of the competition zone.
Hard as it looks, the Chinese side will not give up without a fight.
“I hope they are not afraid of difficulties in this process and dare to challenge themselves. They need to persevere in difficulties and setbacks and have confidence in overcoming this,” said the head coach Du Feng.
China has qualified for every Olympics since 1984, nine Games in a row, but it’s a rare experience for them to play in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
“We failed on direct qualification, and have drawn some lessons from it. We are confident in and well prepared for our first Olympic qualifying tournament. Hopefully we can showcase our characteristics and strive for better performance,” commented captain Zhou Peng, who was sidelined for the FIBA World Cup 2019 due to a foot injury.
The Chinese team has called up some international debutants this time, and many deem it a move to consider the future, including the FIBA World Cup 2023 and the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.
Due to the lingering pandemic, possibly there are few chances for the team to compete with those strong sides, making the Olympic qualifying tournament more precious as the team hope to regain their ground in the future.
“I believe through concerted efforts, this new team will become better and better,” said Du. Enditem