No slam dunk for China

Updated: 2011-09-16 07:50

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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No slam dunk for China

China center Wang Zhizhi makes a shot during the team's opening Asian Championship game against Bahrain on Thursday in Wuhan, Hubei province. China won 101-49. [Provided to China Daily]

Injury-riddled host squad faces tough task to reach London 2012 Olympics

Wuhan, Hubei province - Despite an easy win in its opening game of the 26th FIBA Asian Championship yesterday, the Chinese basketball team is still in danger of missing out on next year's London Olympic Games.

After surviving a taxing 30-game warm-up schedule from June to September, Team China has been plagued by serious injuries and came into the tournament as somewhat of an underdog.

The winner of the tournament, which is being held from Sept 15-25 in Wuhan, Hubei province, will receive a direct berth to next year's Olympics.

Although demolishing unfancied Bahrain 101-49 last night in its first group match, questions remain about whether China can outperform either the tournament's defending champion, Iran, or 2010 Asian Games' runner-up, South Korea, in the knockout stages.

Expectations are high but realistic hopes are moderate, at best. The game's traditional powerhouse in Asia could miss an Olympics appearance for the first time since it made its debut in 1984.

"China's redemption journey in Wuhan is likely to become another humiliating tournament following the loss to Iran in the final at the last Asian Championship in Tianjin two years ago," web portal quoted renowned commentator Su Qun as saying.

A lackluster roster, which is missing key players through injuries, is the reason for such pessimism.

The squad's sharp shooter, Wang Shipeng, withdrew from the lineup after hurting his wrist in an exhibition game against Australia last month and his Guangdong teammate forward Zhou Peng pulled out with an elbow injury.

Wang's absence is a huge blow for the China team as the 28-year-old was its only swingman who could consistently create his own shot off the dribble. Without Wang's scoring on the perimeter, the team's mainstay, Yi Jianlian, will face even more pressure in the paint.

No slam dunk for China

Veterans Wang Zhizhi and Liu Wei are having to carry old injuries on to the court, while rebounder Ding Jinhui is playing tentatively on a sore ankle.

Although claiming "we are ready" before the event, head coach Bob Donewald won't talk about the team's chances of winning the tournament and has banned the players from interviews without his permission.

Facing a team without retired center Yao Ming, Asia's new dominant force, Iran, is confident it can disappoint China on its home court again.

"At last year's Asian Games, we found China was a little bit scared to play against us. I think this China team isn't good enough and it should have brought some better players if it wanted to win here," said Iran's Serbian head coach, Veselin Matic, during his team's training session.

In addition to an already strong roster, led by Memphis Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi and veteran guard Mahdi Kamrani, tournament favorite Iran also features Rice University standout, Arsalan Kazemi. The addition of the 2.03m power forward, a Second-Team All-Conference USA selection last year and the only player in his conference to average a double-double, will make Iran even more formidable.

"We won't worry about China or any other rivals before facing them. We just need to focus on ourselves and we are a stronger team now," said Haddadi, who had 19 points and 17 rebounds in 2009's final victory over China.

There are other teams that will provide challenges for China as well. Lebanon, which finished in the top four at each of the past five tournaments, boasts naturalized American forward Sam Hoskin, to strengthen its roster, while South Korea is also geared up to give the host a hard time.

China Daily