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» Olympics 2012
Chinese basketball veterans bid court farewell
Publication Date : 09-08-2012
Chinese basketball will undergo a changing of the guard after Games
They're among the greatest basketball players in China's history.
They've played in the North America's NBA and the WNBA. They've won numerous domestic titles and Asian championships.
Now, they're saying goodbye.
The men's national team will lose Wang Zhizhi and the women's team will lose Miao Lijie and Chen Nan, forcing both squads to brace for a changing of the guard as the London Olympics wind to a close.
Four-time Olympian Wang, 35, was Asia's No. 1 centre before Yao Ming rose to prominence. He's calling it quits on the heels of five straight losses in group play.
"We need veterans like Wang," said coach Bob Donewald Jr, who's also leaving now that his contract has expired. "This team is building up and the CBA is building up. But the team still needs him. But this is sports, and everyone gets old and new blood coming up."
Teaming up with retired NBA centre Yao and power forward Yi Jianlian, Wang helped China finish eighth at the Beijing Games, equalling its best Olympic result.
But age and injury limited his minutes in London.
Donewald said the team needs new players like Wang and Yi to emerge.
"I hope more Wang Zhizhis and Yi Jianlians will grow from the domestic league," he said. "China can't rely on one Wang or one Yi to compete against the world's top teams."
Wang was signed by the Dallas Mavericks in 2001 - the first Chinese player in the NBA - and later played for the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat. A tall, athletic player at 2.14 metres, he was primarily utilised as a long-range shooter in the NBA.
Wang made his Olympic debut at the Atlanta Games in 1996, where he started and averaged 11.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, helping China finish in eighth place.
"My last Olympics is over," Wang said. "I will remember all those years with my brothers."
He said he believes China can become one of the world's top teams if the Chinese Basketball Association continues to improve.
"We saw in London that there's a big gap between us and the world's top teams," he said. "The huge task of catching up is going to fall to the next generation. I hope more rising teens will come out and help China become one of the world's best team."
The women's team, which finished fourth at the Beijing Games, also wrapped things up in London recently after losing to Australia in the quarterfinals.
It meant the end of the road for Miao, 31, and Chen, 29.
Coach Sun Fengwu praised their contributions to the team and said young players could learn from studying them.
"They would like to inspire those young guns," Sun said. "They did a good job as team leaders and veterans.
"I know it's their last Olympics. They are among the greatest women's players in history. I always told the rest of the team, most of whom were born after 1990, to learn from them during the Games."
Miao joined the Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA in 2005, but left after a short time. She was the best guard in Asia and no one in China has been able to fill her shoes in terms of shooting and penetration.
Miao said she gave all she could.
"We are old, but we didn't allow ourselves to slow down and lower our play on the court," she said. "We told ourselves we needed to set an example. Young players can make mistakes and they can slow down, but we cannot.
"We went to great lengths in every game and did not want to be sorry when we looked back on this Olympics after many years."
Miao joined the national team in 1997. She retired after the Beijing Games, but was recalled because she played such a pivotal role.
Now, it's all over.
"I'm worn out now. It's over. Everything will be in my memory," she said.
Chen was one of the best centres in the world in her prime. She didn't want to leave, but the battle against age and injury became too much.
"I really wish we had a bunch of good players and then I was dismissed from this team," said a smiling Chen, who played most of the 2009 WNBA season with the Chicago Sky. "I am really unwilling to accept the truth that I have to leave due to my physical condition.
"Women's basketball needs more players to take over."
Up next for Chen is a wedding banquet in her hometown with her husband.
They got married earlier this year but had no time to host the event as she prepared for the Games.
"After that, I will enjoy my honeymoon," Chen said.