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Yao's new-school thinking targets next gen

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-21 09:20
President of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Yao Ming speaks to the media after the CBA signed a reciprocal cooperation agreement with the Federation of University of China (FUSC) and China School Sports Federation (CSSF) in Beijing on May 19, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

CBA chief says measures to improve campus hoops will feed into pro game

A major exponent of physical education on campus, China's basketball chief Yao Ming is counting on teamwork with the country's school athletic system to boost the game's profile from bottom up.

Despite being busy preparing the country's top professional league to restart amid the COVID-19 crisis, Yao, the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, continues to focus his energies on the grassroots game.

The former NBA All-Star is determined to bolster campus basketball by building greater chemistry with the country's school sports governing bodies.

The CBA, the Federation of University Sports of China (FUSC) and the China School Sports Federation (CSSF, representing middle schools) signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday in Beijing to enhance cooperation between the three organizations in the development of basketball on campus.

The MoU, based on an earlier agreement between the CBA and the Ministry of Education signed in 2017, will help the two ministry-affiliated school sports organizations better train their coaches, expand a "mini-basketball" program on campus, streamline school competitions and upgrade a student-athlete database with more input from the CBA.

Yao said he's pinned high hopes on the collective effort to lay stronger foundations for the sport's future in China.

"The fundamental part is that we expect to improve with the cooperation," Yao told media after a signing ceremony at the Peking University on Tuesday.

"The promotion of physical education should never be just a slogan. Combining sports in all-round education is the future, and that takes a collective effort to push forward consistently."

In a country where an estimated 300 million people regularly shoot hoops, Yao has often reiterated that sustainable success on the elite stage rests on a solid school-based system as a supplement to the shrinking talent supply within the country's State-run sports system.

The Chinese national men's team's disappointing home performance at last year's FIBA World Cup, where the host finished 24th to lose Asia's only direct qualification spot for the Tokyo Olympics, has exposed the stagnant player development of the Chinese game.

However, the pathway from school to the pro leagues remains a long shot in China due to the country's emphasis on academic excellence and the lack of quality basketball training in schools.

Improving the coaching level in schools is at the core of the cooperation, Yao said.

"Maybe we pay more attention to the development of players, but how do they become players? They should be trained by coaches. So the development of coaches is our top priority," said Yao, who was elected CBA chief in 2017.

The CBA will offer greater personnel and technical support to the training of coaches in the middle-school and collegiate systems, while the three parties will work on policies aimed at paving the way for more retired pros to stay in the game as coaches on campus.

"We all are aware of the deficiencies of the coaches in our system. We earnestly need to set up a coach training system," said Shen Zhen, a vice-president of the FUSC.

Yao also revealed that the CBA will collaborate with the school sports bodies to build a database of student players registered within the school system, which he believes will help spot more talent.

"It can allow us to trace and follow the growth of players over a long period of time, and it will also enable us to know their past and predict their future development," he said.

Thanks to the joint efforts of the CBA and the Ministry of Education, the quality of players emerging through the school system has significantly improved in recent years, underlined by the stronger presence of Chinese University Basketball Association talents at the CBA drafts.

Last year saw a record number of college players-24-participate in the draft, with top-pick Wang Shaojie of Peking University enjoying a highly encouraging debut season as a pro with the Beijing Royal Fighters before the COVID-19 outbreak put the brakes on the campaign.

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