Team China’s ills laid bare in early Asian Cup exit

 ,Despite severe health issues caused by COVID-19, Team China’s early exit from the FIBA Asia Cup still comes as a major blow for Chinese hoops fans, with the domestic league stars’ lackluster performances deepening concerns about stagnant talent development.,With most of the squad’s players struggling to recover from COVID-19 infections, Team China was outgunned and outpaced by a surging Lebanon squad 72-69 in their Asia Cup quarterfinal in Jakarta on Wednesday. The defeat saw China miss the continental tournament’s semifinals for a second straight time following its fifth-place finish at the previous edition in 2017.,The conditioning issues caused by COVID-19, which reportedly infected Chinese players during their stay in Australia to play World Cup qualifiers earlier this month, took a heavy toll on the team. Star guards Guo Ailun and Zhao Jiwei were left out of the Jakarta roster to recover, while the rest of the squad had barely practiced in scrimmage as they battled fever and fatigue after arriving in Indonesia.,Still, losing to an Asian opponent that China had previously beaten 11 times in a row in such sloppy fashion-underlined by China’s 22 turnovers to Lebanon’s eight-was an unacceptable outcome, according to head coach Du Feng.,”We need to apologize to basketball fans across the country,” a heavyhearted Du said after the game. “The fans can’t accept it and neither can we.,”We are out of shape. A lot of the players were unfit to play at this level. However, we shouldn’t make any excuse for such poor performances.,”We underestimated the level of competition, took the opponent lightly, turned the ball over too frequently and missed too many free throws. It wasn’t the opponent or the pandemic that beat us. We lost to ourselves.”,A rare positive for Team China on the night was former NBA center Zhou Qi’s team-high 22 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks. Zhou’s contribution and three fourth-period 3-pointers from young guard Xu Jie kept the game alive in the closing stages.,Still, the Zhou-Xu tandem proved not enough against the fierce defense and fast offense of a Lebanese side led by veteran guard Wael Arakji, who scored a game-high 32 points to eclipse the nine-point total by China’s starting backcourt combo Sun Minghui and Hu Mingxuan.,Lebanon’s US-born center Jonathan Arledge added 16 points and 11 rebounds while guard Sergio El Darwich contributed 10 points, six rebounds and three assists to help set up a semifinal clash against Jordan on Saturday, who stunned Iran in a 91-76 quarterfinal win.,Declining power,Despite his towering presence in the paint, China’s former NBA center Zhou often found himself crowded out by an aggressive Lebanese defense, with none of his teammates managing to score in double-digits.,Sun and Hu, both multiple CBA All-Stars, had their lack of international experience and shooting consistency exposed in a physical game, where they were forced to make contested shots and were repeatedly trapped by the double team.,The limited level of competition in China’s domestic league, where most clubs rely heavily on import players in key positions, has been blamed by media as a major cause for the national team’s decline in recent years.,Even with the pandemic-enforced travel issues blocking some high-profile ex-NBA players out of the league, the CBA’s 2021-22 season remained a happy hunting ground for foreigners, who dominated stats like average scoring, rebounds, assists and steals.,Homegrown guards such as Hu and Sun, despite boasting impressive stats for their respective clubs, seldom have their playmaking abilities challenged in the domestic league to the extent that they face at international level, not to mention sharing offensive duties with Zhou when needed.,”We dug a big hole for ourselves in the beginning that we could not get out of with so many mistakes made in the rush. We were just not ready for a physically contested game at this level,” said Sun, who led the Zhejiang Lions to this year’s CBA Finals where they lost to the Liaoning Flying Leopards.,With China’s golden generation, who fought into the quarterfinals of the home Olympics in 2008, almost all retired, it now seems unlikely that the CBA-chaired by hoops legend Yao Ming-will produce yet another group of elite talents competitive enough to rebuild China’s prowess in the sport anytime soon.,Due to sluggish performances on home soil at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Team China missed the Olympic Games for the first time last year in Tokyo since the country’s debut in 1984, sending a warning to the governing body that its talent system is in desperate need of a rebuild.,Speaking after that disappointing campaign in 2019, veteran forward Yi Jianlian, currently the only active player from the 2008 Olympic roster, was in no doubt where the problems lay for Chinese hoops.,”The national team’s performance comes down to the player development in our league system,” Yi said. “It’s time for the younger generation to step up and shoulder more responsibilities starting from the CBA league.”