|China's rising center Wang Zhelin drives to the basket during the CBA All-Star Weekend Rookies Challenge on Saturday. Wang was the game's MVP. (China Daily/Cui Meng)|
Teenager Wang set to take over mantle from legendary Yao.
When Wang Zhelin earned the MVP award of the CBA's All-Star Rookie Challenge in Guangzhou on Saturday, two giants of the game nodded in appreciation of his performance. Wang Zhizhi, China's trailblazer in the NBA, stood at courtside as his coach (for the South team) with a smile while Yao Ming, the nation's most lauded player, applauded from an upper-deck box.
Their primes are well past, and it seems 19-year-old Wang is about to rise up and become the next tower on the "Moving Great Wall".
"He reminds me of Yao at the same age," Wang Zhizhi said at the weekend. "Maybe because of his frame, mobility and intelligence, or maybe he has the same thick legs like Yao. Whatever, his first (CBA) season showed he has lived up to the high expectations so far."
Since a dazzling performance of 19 points and eight rebounds at the Hoop Summit last year, pundits and media have been hailing Wang as the next Yao.
The hype surrounding an apparently imminent NBA future grew even bigger after he finished his debut CBA season with an average of 20.3 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, a tally much better than Yao's rookie stats line of 10 points and 10.8 rebounds in 1998.
"To be honest, I don't like the comparisons (with Yao)," the shy youngster told China Daily on Saturday. "No one wants to be the next somebody else. But his presence has set a standard for me and I hope I can develop towards that level."
Wang appears destined to play in the NBA, but has not reached a level of play so far that would make him a high draft pick.
"Normally, I don't pay attention to that kind of hype," Wang said of his potential to be a lottery selection in two years.
The first predictions of an NBA future came from his parents' friends when he was in primary school.
He didn't take it seriously then, and doesn't now.
"It's too early to think about the NBA as I still have to prove myself in the CBA," Wang said.
Before joining the Dallas Mavericks in 2001, Wang Zhizhi led the Bayi Rockets to six league titles. Yao steered the Shanghai Sharks to their first and only CBA championship in 2002 before landing in Houston.
So far, Wang boasts only 11 regular-season victories and Fujian failed to reach the playoffs this season.
"He just needs more high-intensity games to better understand how to play the game under pressure. He's already a better player than me and Yao at the same age. But his decision-making has a long way to go," former NBA forward Yi Jianlian of Guangdong Southern Tigers said.
Boasting great potential and rising popularity, Wang's market value is expected to soar as he is represented by Starz International Sports, the same agency that looks after Yao.
His image has already appeared with Yi during Nike's promotional campaign at the All-Star Weekend.
Wang's individuality, which is highlighted by his gelled hair and colorful sneakers, has already made him quite a marketable commodity.
"He is different from Yao because he shows his personality through things like his outfits and hairstyle. That helps people remember him," Chen Jingyi, an executive at Starz, said.
Wang said his interesting hairstyle helped boost his confidence on court while the customized blue-and-white sneakers showed off his team's colors.
"I even wrote my name inside each of the shoes. Hopefully, that will bring me good luck on the court," said Wang.
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