Hoops spring eternal

After China’s World Cup woes, CBA reforms offer plenty of hope for future

In a tumultuous year for Chinese hoops, Wukesong Arena has witnessed the historic lows and, more recently, the hope-inducing highs that point to brighter days for the nation’s basketball fans.

The western Beijing stadium was the scene of Team China’s miserable defeats to Poland and Venezuela which precipitated the country’s worst ever performance at an international event-a 24th-place finish among 32 teams which saw China lose Asia’s only direct Olympic qualification berth to Iran.

These days, though, there are rarely glum faces to be seen in the Wukesong crowd as fans flock to the 18,000-seat venue to cheer on the high-flying Beijing Ducks-evidence that the wide-ranging reforms implemented by the Chinese Basketball Association in the wake of the World Cup debacle are having the desired effect.

With Team China suddenly finding itself in the same vacuous limbo as the country’s perennially underachieving men’s soccer squad, it was clear CBA chairman Yao Ming was determined not to let standards slip any further.

Asked after China’s final World Cup game who was to blame for the host’s woes, a grim-faced Yao responded: “Me! It is me and my association that disappointed the fans.

“We have been forced to open our eyes to realize how far the world has gone in front of us.

“However, we should never let the disappointment shake our faith in carrying on the efforts in professionalizing the league, improving youth and coach training programs while expanding school participation.”

Yao’s courtside presence throughout that miserable Cup campaign was a constant reminder of just how far China had fallen. The former NBA superstar, who retired in 2011 due to a foot injury, inspired China into the last eight of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, its best international performance.

Having qualified for every Olympics since its debut at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, China now looks almost certain to miss out on Tokyo 2020. Its only remaining route to the Games in Japan is to upset the odds against a plethora of global heavyweights, such as Greece, Canada and Turkey, in a 24-team qualifying tournament in June, when only the four group winners will book their Tokyo tickets.

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