PHILADELPHIA — If Penn repeats as Ivy League champion this season in college basketball, Michael Wang, a kid from Mater Dei by way of Taiyuan in Shanxi Province could be one of the key reasons why.
And if the Dallas Mavericks have a rookie not named Luka Doncic who makes some noise in the NBA, it’ll be a different young man from China — the baller with mad moves who was catching alley-oop lobs from Dennis Smith Jr. two summers ago and earning chants of “M-V-P” from an appreciative crowd in Las Vegas.
The Chinese invasion of American basketball is taking place under the radar as this summer winds down, and it is not going away. The world’s most populous nation once sent a bunch of bigs to America, as we all saw with Wang Zhi-Zhi, Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian and Zhou Qi.
The next generation is arriving.
“My goal is to help us win the Ivy League again, make it to the NCAA Tournament, and then get a win there,” said Michael Wang, who played against Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, in the Southern California high school league last season.
“Hopefully after that, I can pursue my pro basketball dream, and represent my country in the Olympics or the World Championship. I have to improve my game to prove that I can play on a high stage like that,” Wong said.
China will play host to the World Cup of Basketball next summer, and the 2020 Olympics will be played in Japan. Qualification of the first eight teams will be determined by the results of the World Cup, which the United States still needs to qualify for. (China, as part of the “field” is 30-1. The United States is -2000, and Australia is the second choice at +500).
No telling whether the Chinese federation will deem Wang ready for the senior national team, but he gained invaluable international experience earlier this summer as China finished third behind Australia and New Zealand at the FIBA U-18 Championship in Thailand.
He will spend this school year studying business administration at Wharton on weekdays and playing back-to-backs on Friday and Saturday nights, which is when Ivy League teams play. The back-to-backs should not be a problem, as he played seven games in seven nights in Thailand.
One of the players Wong is trying to emulate is Ding Yanyuhang, the two-time reigning domestic MVP in the Chinese Basketball Association, who will be in camp with the Dallas Mavericks on a small guarantee. ($5,000 if he is waived and signs with the Mavs’ G-League team, which is about as likely as Willie Nelson folding A-A through the marijuana haze at his weekly card game with Donnie’d dad and Owen Wilson in Maui.)
“There is no doubt that he can compete in training camp, but a couple of years ago we had 17 players on guaranteed contracts in camp, so two guys had to be cut,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told GetMoreSports.com.
“Two years ago he was one of the most beloved guys on the team in Summer League. The crowd went bonkers for him. He plays with joy, he plays with enthusiasm, but what I want to see most is how he has improved his game.
“We’ll see what’s what.”
Ding is not on the board in Rookie of the Year prop betting on BetDSI.com, where Luka Doncic of the Mavs is the favorite at 3-1. Dallas’ win total over/under is 34.
(Click on the screenshot below to place a wager, and use bonus code BBALL1000 for a 100 percent matching bonus up to $1,000).
If Ding does not make the roster in Dallas, there is a school of thought that he will spend some time in the G-League honing his game.
But when you are coming off a season in which you were voted MVP of the CBA All-Star game (beating out several Americans), the idea of toiling in the minor leagues is distasteful.
There are plenty of NBA teams who would like nothing more than to showcase an unknown (in America) commodity and get something resembling Linsanity 2.0 buzzing, because there are about 20 teams that realize they have no realistic chance of competing for the championship, and you’ve got to sell tickets somehow.
Ticket sales are not a problem in the Ivy League, where some of the smartest students from around America and around the world are competing. At Harvard, the roster will include Spencer Freedman, who played with Wong at Mater Dei. (The Crimson are +125 to win the Ivy League title, with Penn second at +150. Other odds: Yale +350, Princeton 7-0, Columbia 10-1, Cornell and Dartmouth 15-1, and Brown 35-1.)
And Penn is not the only school with a new Asian influence.
Tulane’s roster will include Kevin Zhang out of Montverde Academy, Cal-State Fullerton will include freshman Johnny Wang out of Santa Margerita HS in California, and Cal-State Northridge will suit up Michael Ou, who averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting 67.0 percent from the field as a senior at Menaul HS in Albuquerque.
In 2020 at the Olympics in Japan, some of the players mentioned here could be on the senior roster for China.
In 2024, when the Olympics are held in Paris, all of the above could be representing China.
Shaq’s kid has now seen firsthand what is coming out of China, and Americans are going to see it in the upcoming season, too — both in the Ivy League and in the NBA.
You can bet, quite safely, that we have not seen the last of the new generation of Chinese ballers.
Ding and Wong are only two of the most recent examples.
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