China finished in fourth-place in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The top team in Asia, the Chinese are ranked No. 7 in the world by FIBA. So why does FullCourt.com think they may founder at the preliminary-round stage and may consider themselves just happy to be in London for the 2012 Olympics?
Consider first that while China is an Olympic regular, it is also a team that hasn't medaled in the last 20 years. Second, China has been in a downward spiral since Beijing. Three key Chinese players retired after the 2008 Olympics, and China didn't even make it out of the preliminary rounds at the 2010 Women's World Basketball Championships, finishing 13th with a 2-3 record.
Third, and perhaps most important, China's performances in friendly matches against the United States and Canada this May revealed a team considerably weaker than the one that surprised many with its strong finish in Beijing. The 100-62 thumping by Team USA was no great surprise, nor was the 98-71 preseason spanking a few days earlier by an understaffed Los Angeles Sparks' team playing without starters Candace Parker, Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton-Jones. But going 1-2 in its exhibition series with 11th-ranked Canada was far from a good sign. Perhaps worse was a narrow 75-73 escape against New Zealand, a team that couldn't manage a single win at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. And though China beat Angola, the runt of the Olympic litter, in June, the 68-59 win was not the rout one would have expected.
True, neither veteran 6-5 center Nan Chen nor China's captain and leading scorer, Lijie Miao, who averages 17.9 points per game, played in the friendly against the United States, as Chinese head coach Sun Fengwu endeavored to give his seniors some rest and his newcomers some experience. On a positive note, 6-0 forward Zengyu Ma emerged as a scoring threat in their absence, putting up 20 points against Team USA. Thus, China -- a stereotypical Asian team in terms of its outstanding perimeter scoring, while breaking that stereotype with its considerable height (22-year-old center Wei Wei stands 6-9 -- may yet surprise if the full complement is in top form when they arrive in London.
But Sun hit the nail on the head when he summed up the lessons learned on his team's trip to North America: “We need to see improvement on defense, the physical game and scrambling for the ball," he told FIBA.com. "We are at a disadvantage in our body weight and height compared to the American and Canadian teams."
Add to that the observations that the team seemed a step slow, both on offense and in their defensive rotations, and were more than a little bit foul-prone, and it appears unlikely that China will repeat its Beijing Olympic accomplishments.
- London 2012: Angola -- Just happy to be there
- London 2012: Australia -- Can team training offset the loss of Penny Taylor?
- London 2012: Brazil -- With Castro Marques gone, so are Brazil's medal hopes
- London 2012: Canada -- Needs a little luck to advance
- London 2012: Croatia -- Here's the upset special
- London 2012: Czech Republic -- Experience plus size could equal a medal
- London 2012: France -- It's now or never for Les Bleus
- London 2012: Great Britain -- Hosts hoping for a win
- London 2012: Russia -- As usual, an enigma
- 2012 London: Turkey -- Plenty of size, but shooters are the key
- London 2012: The United States -- Only gold will satisfy