All Roads Lead to Manila: Gilas Entry #18 – East Asia’s Old Guard (Part 4 of the 2013 FIBA Asia Key Players Series)

It is July 21, 2013 here in Manila, and there are only 11 nights left before the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championship Tournament, the first ever held in these parts in four decades, kicks off at the ultramodern Mall of Asia Arena and the historic Ninoy Aquino Stadium.

An air of excitement can be felt all around the metropolis as the promotions for the event continue to ramp up each day. Various signs along highways, advertisements on radio and TV, and promo spots on YouTube have popped up, readying the rabid Filipino populace for what should be the biggest sporting event of the year.

And as the last one-time-big-time FIBA Asia Men’s Championship (the format will change after the 2014 World Cup) closes in, we will take a look at the players and teams who will take part in it. Now that FIBA Asia has officially released the rosters on the tournament’s official micro-site, I can get down to making proper team-by-team previews, but before even starting that I have to finish this.

In this fourth in a six-part series, I will put the spotlight on players well into their early 30s from East Asia. These are players who are still persistently chugging along despite wobbly knees. In the last two parts, I will write about the stars who are expected to be in peak form when the basketball version of Thrilla in Manila commences.

This is probably the last time we will see Kim Joo-Sung
in a Team Korea jersey.
(image from

I hope that at the end of this series, readers of this blog and fans of Asian hoops will be more enlightened, and be even more excited for the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships.

Here we go.


Liu Wei (CHN)
Specs: 6’3 - 33 years old
Current Club: Shanghai Sharks (CBA)
Been in National Team Since: 2002
Latest Achievement: Helped lead China to the 2011 FIBA Asia crown in Wuhan, and consequently qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.
Latest Tournament: Played for the Shanghai Sharks in the 2012-2013 CBA season, averaging 21.3ppg, 4.5rpg, and 4.5apg.

Liu Wei returns to guide the new generation
of Chinese hoopsters.
(image from

Liu is without a doubt one of the best point guards to ever play in Asia. If he were on any other team, he’d average beastly stats, but because he’s a member of the Chinese juggernaut, he hasn’t really been a monster in international competitions. Still, he has a unique set of skills that, even at 33 years old, will still be vital for China to defend its continental title.

I remember first seeing Liu Wei in action during the 2002 Busan Asian Games and thinking how this guy posed a significant match-up problem for many Asian teams. At 6’3, he was taller than most Asian PGs, and he was quicker and stronger, too. He is obviously not as quick and strong as he once was, but his experience and court instincts are things coach Giannakis probably hopes will transfer to the younger set.

Over the years, he has remained a mainstay of the Chinese NT, experiencing three World Championship tournaments and two Olympic tournaments. Though he will probably never reach the popularity of more ballyhooed former and current teammates Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, it’s clear that Liu Wei, whether this is his last FIBA Asia campaign or not, will go down as one of the best Chinese to ever grace the hardwood.

Kim Joo-Sung (KOR)
Specs: 6’9 - 34 years old
Current Club: Wonju Dongbu Promy (KBL)
Been in National Team Since: 1998
Latest Achievement: Helped Korea win the 2013 East Asia Basketball Championships held in Incheon.
Latest Tournament: Was the most consistent performer for the Koreans as they finished third behind Iran and Taiwan A in the 2013 William Jones Cup.

Kim Joo-Sung dons the Korean NT uniform
one last time.
(image from

The first time I saw Joo-Sung was in the 1998 Jones Cup as a member of the Korean U22 team that went up against our very own Philippine Centennial Team. He squared off against PBA veteran Marlou Aquino in that game and he, along with the rest of the Koreans, was thoroughly creamed by the crack PBA stars. I remember coach Tim Cone’s wards winning that match by 18 points.

Fast forward to 2013, however, and Marlou Aquino is long retired while Joo-Sung continues to be one of Korea’s best big men. Perhaps more than his skills at the low block or on the defensive end, Joo-Sung’s staying power is his biggest strength. If China’s CBS has someone like Wang Zhizhi still showing the young ‘uns the ropes, then the KBL has Joo-Sung.

He should continue to be a big headache in August especially since he’s partnered with Wonju Dongbu Promy teammate Lee Seung-Jun up front. This veteran crew (Seung-Jun is 35) will banner coach Yoo Jae-Hak’s team at first against the likes of Hamed Haddadi and Yi Jianlian in Group C, and then against Anton Ponomarev and CJ Giles in the second round. Joo-Sung might not have the spring in his step he once had, but his veteran savvy will help him give Korea a solid chance to win every game.

Ryota Sakurai (JPN)
Specs: 6’5 - 30 years old
Current Club: Levanga Hokkaido Sapporo (JBL)
Been in National Team Since: 2004
Latest Achievement: Helped lead Japan to a second-place finish behind Iran in the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo. He averaged 8.1ppg, 3.0rpg, 2.7apg, and 1.4spg while shooting nearly 49% from the floor.
Latest Tournament: Quarterbacked the Japanese team in the 2013 William Jones Cup, where the Nippon quintet won just one game out of eight.

Will Ryota Sakurai continue to be effective
as a big PG for Japan?
(image from

He doesn’t look it, but Ryota Sakurai is already one of the elder statesmen on Team Hayabusa. In fact, he has spent nearly 10 years as part of the Japanese National Team, experiencing play in the 2006 and 2010 Asian Games, the 2006 FIBA World Championships in Saitama, and about 5 FIBA Asia Men’s tournaments. If there’s any guy on the Nippon NT that can be described as a battle-hardened soldier, this guy is it.

For most of his career in the JBL and for the NT, Sakurai has played mainly as a small forward or shooting guard, but starting last year coach Kimikazu Suzuki, who is known for using tall playmakers, converted the Levanga Hokkaido Sapporo mainstay into the team’s primary floor general. A 6’5 PG, of course, is uncommon in Asia (the only other names that come to mind are Jordan’s Sam Daghlas and Gilas’s Gabe Norwood), and it should create a few match-up headaches for opposing teams.

This was in full display in the FIBA Asia Cup last year, when Japan took full advantage of their homecourt edge to go all the way to the championship game, narrowly losing to a deep Iran team. Sakurai was instrumental in leading his relatively young guys past more seasoned teams like Qatar and Taiwan, and he will certainly be one of the barometers of success for Japan when it starts its campaign in Manila.

Tien Lei (TPE)
Specs: 6’8 - 30 years old
Current Club: Dacin Tigers (Taiwan SBL)
Been in National Team Since: 2001
Latest Tournament & Achievement: Helped Taiwan capture second place in the 2013 William Jones Cup, finishing behind champions Iran.

Can Tien Lei and the rest of Taiwan finally fulfill
what they were expected to do?
(image from

Early in the 2000s, the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association (CTBA) made a controversial move, junking its veteran-laden national squad (featuring the likes of Cheng Chih-Lung and Lo Shin-Liang) in favor of a bunch of tall, talented, but inexperienced teeners. Tien Lei was one of those teeners, along with now established stars Tseng Wen-Ting, Wu Tai-hao, and Lin Chih-Chieh.

The objective of the CTBA back then was to create a team built to win “for the future.” The mindset was this team would gel and learn the ropes now and bear fruit within the next decade. Now, it’s well over 10 years since Tien Lei and co. first played in the FIBA Asia Men’s tournament, and their highest showing so far has been fifth, but all that can change with the addition of Quincy Davis.

For his part, Tien Lei will probably play less center (something he’s probably thankful for) and more SF/PF. This will definitely be good for him and the rest of the team, since his physique and skill-set are built for the perimeter game. He is an unusual breed, of course, because he has the size and athleticism to be competitive down low, but he also has the outside shooting to stretch opposing defenses. And, yes, even at 30 years old, he can still hack it.


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6 Comment

Correction: It was with the Korean Under-22 team where Kim Joo-Sung made his Jones Cup debut in 1998. His teammates included core players of the Korean Under-18 team that ruled the 1995 ABC Youth Championship held in Manila, upsetting the Wang Zhizhi led Chinese Under-18 team. Kumbaga mga batchmates yun nina Romel Adducul, Danny Ildefonso, Paolo Mendoza, Bryan Gahol and Ogie Gumatay.


And you are correct! Thanks for the correction! In retrospect, it does make sense that a 22& Under team would play against other senior teams rather than an 18 & Under! My bad :) Thanks and will update!


Kim Joo-Sung was actually 18 years old during that time amongst "elder brothers". Of course South Korea likes to subject their young bigs to an early baptism of fire much like what they did to Seo Jang-Hoon in the 1994 Asian Games, Ha Seung-Jin in the 2003 ABC, Oh Sekeun in the 2008 Olympic Wildcard Qualifier, Kim Jong-Kyu in the 2011 FIBA-Asia and now with Lee Jong-Hyun and Choi Junyong. It's a practice that our coaches should emulate.


Totally agree! Man I loved seeing Seo Jang-Hoon back in the day! I think he's even playing in the KBL till now! And sayang Oh Se-Keun won't play this year :( Kim Jong-Kyu and Lee Jong-Hyun are two kids I really want to see this August! I think the main limitation in the Philippines is our basketball calendar is just so all over the place. Basketball literally never stops -- after the PBA, we have the UAAP & NCAA and then the PBA again. Just no room for our best guys to just practice and think single-mindedly of the NT. For instance, college & high school wars coincide with most of the FIBA competitions. Of course, it all boils down to the business side of basketball. Sigh...


Seo Jang-Hoon suffered a neck injury sometime in 2003 or 2004 and has worn a neck brace ever since which has hampered his game a lot. His last NT appearance was in the 2006 Asian Games where he played sparingly. For me he was the last great true center South Korea has had. Kim Joo-Sung is more power forward ala-Japeth Aguilar.

South Korea, like China, Japan and Chinese-Taipei, also has numerous basketball leagues that run for an entire calendar year. The major difference between ours and theirs is that their basketball leagues all fall under the umbrella/supervision of their basketball NSA's unlike ours which run independently and not obligated to heed the calling of the SBP.


marlou aquino should be re-activated to play for world fiba 2014...i think he can be a big factor playing defense against the big guys...we also need 3 allan caidics...