Is Zhou Qi Really Ready to be a Star Player?

Zhou Qi (source: the paper.cn)

Zhou Qi, the former NBA player for Houston Rockets, got himself on fire for two critical turnovers in the final moments against Poland in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Those turnovers led to a bitter 76-79 loss for the Chinese team against the Polish in overtime.

With 12.5 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, China led Poland by 3 points, with a score of 70-67. After spending a timeout on the floor, Zhou was attempting to pass the ball inbound to his teammates from the sideline, but failed unfortunately. Later in a similar occasion, Zhou made a bad pass to his teammate and ended up turning the basketball over to the Polish team. Zhou later missed a dunk in the overtime, which some argue was the reason why the Chinese team lost the game by only three points.

After losing to Poland, the Chinese national team now sits on a 1-1 record in Group A, and will face Venezuela for the final group stage game. The winner of the upcoming match will qualify for the next tournament. The losing team, on the other hand, will go into 17-32 place classification game of the tournament.

China played Venezuela in the 2016 Olympics, and dropped a 68-72 decision to the South American team. Key players on the current Chinese squad, such as Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi, Guo Ailun, and Zhao Jiwei, all played in that disappointing Olympic game three years ago.

This Chinese team aims to automatically qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 by finishing as the best Asian team in the tournament. If China fails to qualify for the final round of 16, there is no guarantee that this Chinese team will go into the Olympics through its performance in the FIBA World Cup.

Zhou Qi’s turnover, together with the disappointment from former national team player Yao Ming and Wang Shipeng, became the trending topic on social media after the game. Chinese media started to point fingers at the 23-year-old former NBA player, blaming Zhou as the primary person responsible for the critical loss in this must-win game against Poland.

Zhou, the 7-foot-1 Chinese basketball player was a rising star in his teenage years. With his extraordinary performances in the TBF International Under-16 Tournament, Zhou quickly amassed attention from Chinese professional basketball clubs and joined the Xinjiang Flying Tigers at the age of 18. He played for Xinjiang for four years from 2014 to 2017, and won a CBA championship title in 2017 while getting awarded the defensive player of the year. He was the 2015 CBA rookie of the year and was also a three-time CBA all star.

The Houston Rockets called up Zhou to its roster in 2016, making the pick with a second-round 46th overall pick. Zhou played for the Rockets for a short period, and spent most of his time in the G-league team Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Not yet ready for the NBA, the Houston Rockets waived Zhou in December 2018. Zhou subsequently signed with his old team in 2019 to play in the upcoming CBA season later this year.

Zhou showcased his talent on the international stage in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship tournament, and became a key player in the great comeback against South Korea in the group stage. Zhou had a solid ball control overall in the final seconds of the game and helped China take down South Korea with a final score of 76-73.

There is no doubt that Zhou is a player with great potential. Standing at 7-foot-1, Zhou has demonstrated his effort and capability in ball control and tide-turning and was a two-time block leader in the Chinese tournament. Zhou’s defensive length was also proved to be one of his strength in the NBA.

However, Zhou suffered from a significant underweight problem, leaving him vulnerable against other post players both in the NBA and in the international games. Furthermore, as a result of having limited playing times with the Rockets, Zhou had experienced great challenges on getting ready in games. He was once caught on the famous Shaqtin A Fool sports show, which made fun of players who committed unreasonable turnovers.

It is important for Zhou to learn from two fellow players in the field: Jeremy Lin and Gerald Green. Being an undrafted player who faced doubts and prejudice from others for almost his entire career, Lin was always prepared for his games and was awarded for his efforts in the Linsanity games in 2012. Green, the 18th overall pick from the 2005 NBA draft, struggled to get a roster spot in the league later in his career and was forced to spend time in the Chinese basketball league before returning to the NBA. Coming into the Houston Rockets as an underdog, Green demonstrated his willingness to make an impact on the game and finally reserved a spot in the competitive Houston team for the upcoming season.

For the 23-year-old Zhou, this is certainly not an ‘end of the world’ scenario: The young Chinese basketball player still has many opportunities to bounce back and return to the NBA. In response to his latest turnovers in the game, Zhou admitted that as the player who had the ball, he had major responsibilities in the acts that led to the losses of the team.

Making those mistakes could be silly and to some degree, unacceptable. It might be an important lesson that Zhou and this young Chinese team need to learn in a hard way. However, the tournament is still underway. For these youngsters booming with passion and love for the sports, there are still many ways that they leverage to make up for past mistakes. The Chinese team is now in a less than ideal situation, but the more important question remains in the hands of these players: Do they want to repeat the losses three years ago, or are they willing to fight hard to advance into the next level?