#FIBAU17: Seven Asian stars to watch at FIBA U17 World Championship

(Image from FIBA.com)
*This first appeared on my column on FIBA.com.

Asian teams haven’t really consistently made a splash at the world level of FIBA youth basketball, but that may just change this year. Continental champions Korea and fellow qualifiers Chinese Taipei and China are all poised to make some noise with several budding superstars leading the way.

Korea have been drawn into Group D with European champions Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Dominican Republic and France rounding it out. Chinese Taipei, meanwhile, have been pooled with three-time reigning undefeated champions Team USA, fellow debutants Turkey and African kings Egypt into Group A. China, for their part, have their work cut out for them as they tangle with strong FIBA Americas team Canada, Oceania champs Australia and dangerous Finland.

Korea, Chinese Taipei and China surely won’t be the most highly-touted squads as they take part in the tournament that will be held in Zaragoza, Spain, but we shouldn’t automatically dismiss their chances of springing a few upsets and making it past the preliminary round, especially with the following very promising talents making up their vanguard.

Bai Haotian (China)
The 1.92m/6ft 4in 1999-born Bai starred in the 2015 Jordan Brand Classic along with two other Asian players (Rui Hachimura of Japan and Kao Kuo-Hao of Chinese Taipei). Bai impressed with 4 points, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal for the White Team, and he followed that up by averaging 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship. He looks to make an even bigger impact for China in Zaragoza, and their guard play will certainly be heavily dependent on his production.

Zhu Rongzhen (China)
At 2.10m/6ft 11in, Zhu definitely stood out in the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship, but he will be bumping against foes as big and as tough as him in Zaragoza. The likes of Simisola Shittu of Canada (2.05m/6ft 9in), Aapeli Syrjamaki of Finland (2.10m/6ft 11in) and Australia’s twin towers of Samson Froling and Mate Colina (both standing 2.08m/6ft 10in) will be lying in wait, and Zhu will be China’s own version of the Walking Great Wall. He led the team in scoring last year, but he needs to improve a lot more in terms of rebounding and protecting the rim.

Wang Rui (China)
Wang was a terrible match-up problem for China’s foes in the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship. He was bigger than most teams’ centers and had the skills of a wingman. He showed his range in the Semi-Final against Korea and in the battle for third place against Japan, going for a total of 4-of-5 from deep, and his superb slashing deftly balanced out his offensive arsenal. As long as Wang cuts down on those turnovers, he should be an impact player for the Chinese this year.

Shin Minsuk (Korea)
At a shade under 2.00m/6ft 7in, Shin isn’t going to be the most imposing center in Zaragoza, but he comes in with a lot of versatility. He rebounds really well and is a strong finisher around the basket, but what makes him a unique find is his ability to stretch the defense with his outside shooting. He hit 1.6 threes per game last year for Korea, and if he can continue to be his sharp-shooting self, that will compensate for the inches he will give up to bigger slotmen.

Yang Jaemin (Korea)
Yang was the most experienced player in the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship, having played in the same tournament in 2013. He was strongly heralded prior to the joust in Jakarta last year, and he didn’t disappoint, leading the Koreans in scoring with 16.0 points per contest. With his vaunted perimeter game, Yang forms a two-headed frontline monster with Shin, and they will certainly be among the main barometers of Korea’s success.

Jonah Morrison (Chinese Taipei)
Morrison wasn’t able to play in the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship because of an ankle injury shortly before the team flew to Indonesia. That was a shame, of course, as he could have given the Taipei quintet even more ceiling with his lanky 2.02m/6ft 8in frame. He will team up with another long-limbed big man, Wu Pei-Chia (2.05m/6ft 9in), to patrol the box for Chinese Taipei, and there will be no shortage of high expectations for the two young men, who have been described as the future frontliners of Taipei’s senior team.

Lin Ting-Chien (Chinese Taipei)
Lin is perhaps the most explosive young player from Asia coming into this year. He has enrolled in the States to get exposed to a higher level of competition on the hardwood, and we’ll see just how much he has improved when he leads the Taipei five in Zaragoza. His averages of around 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 triples per outing last year were eye-popping, and if he can turn his play up a notch even more, then all bets are off. For sure, Lin can light up the scoreboard, but the question is will that be enough to propel his team to the Round of 16?




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