First Chinese player for nine years enters NBA draft
Chinese basketball player Zhou Qi will enter the 2016 NBA draft, media reports said, bidding to succeed superstar Yao Ming as the league's top name from China.
Zhou, a centre who towers 2.18 metres (7 feet 2 inches) tall, has played two seasons for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), leading it for blocks both times.
Nicknamed "the big devil king," he has already filed his paperwork to enter the draft -- when NBA teams in June select their new players for the season -- and begun training in the US, Tencent Sport said.
Chinese fans are avid followers of the NBA and constitute its largest overseas market, but the CBA has failed to produce top-notch talent, with the exception of recent Hall of Fame inductee Yao.
Yao retired in 2011 and there has been no Chinese player in the NBA since Yi Jianlian left in 2012. American Jeremy Lin, the Charlotte Hornets' point guard, is ethnically Chinese but his parents are from Taiwan.
Zhou weighs 95 kilogrammes (210 pounds), and averaged 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in the 2015-2016 season for Xinjiang, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.
Hou Wei, the Xinjiang club's chairman, told the Beijing Times his team was reluctant to part with Zhou.
"We believe the time isn't right [for him], but he himself wanted to give it a try," he said.
Chinese fans, though, were thrilled at the prospect of finally having a fellow countryman to root for in the NBA.
The hashtag #Fire up, Zhou Qi# had garnered more than 14 million views on China's Twitter-like Weibo social media platform by Monday afternoon.
"After 10 years of waiting, finally there's hot young blood ready to challenge the NBA!" said one commenter. "Here's fuel to add to the fire for our new hope Zhou Qi to enter the NBA and achieve his basketball dreams!"
Another wrote: "No matter how the draft turns out, I'm still very much looking forward to seeing Chinese faces in the NBA once again -- this wait has truly been too long."
© 2016 AFP