One of the best parts about experiencing a Shanghai Sharks game in person are the intensity of the fans in the Yuanshen, most of whom belong to the Small Yellow Fish group. A fantastically passionate bunch, their voices and chants echo around the stadium regardless of the opposition or the score.
Speaking before the game against the Tianjin Lions, three fans, Li, Du and Yuan found the time to talk to Shark Fin Hoops about the CBA season so far.
1) After the Beijing game, the Sharks now have a 7-8 record. Is that where you thought the Sharks would be after 15 games? What were your expectations at the start of the season?
Li Jiawei (Li): In early games, we lost to a few weaker team, but then we defeated a few stronger teams. Considering we have a new coach, new players and new system, a 50% winning percentage after the first half of the season is acceptable but our expectation is always the playoffs.
Du Xuan (Du): We are still a “first two out” team, not a “last two in” one. I hope we can get into the top four.
Yuan Jialiang (Yuan): I think the result reflects the level we are currently playing. Before the season started, I hoped we could reach 40% after the first half. Obviously, we accomplished that.
2) Where do you think the Sharks will finish this season? Do you think they can still make the CBA play offs?
Li: We have faith in this team. We can beat anyone in the playoffs.
Du: Top eight.
Yuan: I think after we went through a slow start and a period of adjusting to the new coach, we are gradually getting the feeling on both ends. Most of our losses are fairly close so I believe we will get better. We can get into the playoffs.
3) What are your thoughts about Coach Panaggio? Are you happy with the triangle offense he has looked to bring in and how do you feel the team compares with last year’s team that was being coached by Bob Donewald?
Li: He is intelligent and humble. He’s doing a fantastic job building a team’s defense. Currently, we have the best defense in the entire CBA. The triangle offense is an advanced system. We need more time to learn it. Right now, we still rely on our defense to grind it out and win games. Compared to the team that was being coached by Bob [Donewald], we have more strategies and we can really score on the half-court offense. The coaching is stronger. We don’t really let the opponents pull away. The number of close games we played has been the most in the CBA so far. Other than the game at Guangdong, we always played it into the last couple of possessions.
Du: Coach Panaggio is pragmatic. He’s good at coaching. His triangle offense is easier than Bob’s [tactics]. It is easier for players to comprehend and execute.
Yuan: I am not familiar with Coach Panaggio, but I think he is a different coach after watching the 15 games. He is a terrific coach. His triangle offense is beginning to pay off. I feel we are a very disciplined team, and the execution is good. Compared to last season, the methods we have are more. We don’t have to count on any individual to win games.
4) How do you feel the club’s two main off-season signings (Ryan Forehan Kelly and Tseng Wen-ting) have settled into the club?
Li: Ryan is unbelievable. He’s been very solid after the early three road-game losses. His shooting is consistent. He’s an experienced veteran who can make clutch shots. Though he had some difficulties in attacking the rim and defense, he’s smart enough to use his strengths to help this team. Tseng is a good team player. His playmaking ability on high post is strong and creative. He is a tough defender as well. He is just a rookie, so he needs more time to adapt to the teammates and the team. And he needs to stay healthy.
Du: Ryan is not a big-time foreign player compared to those on other teams, but his signing is a major improvement to this team. What Tseng brought to this team is a bit limited. During most time, he only could prove he’s a legit role player. However, in recent games, it’s easy to see he made his adjustment to the style of CBA. I believe he can be a player like Cheng Chih-Lung, who shows some dominance in certain games, but he has to have more confidence in his game.
Yuan: I think Tseng and Ryan have done a great job fitting into this team. Tseng’s playmaking ability and defense are solid. Ryan is a veteran in CBA. He knows more about some CBA teams than some of our players.
5) Who have been Shanghai’s best players so far this season? Why?
Li: Everybody played well. For defense, you can’t just give all the credit to one individual player. We don’t have a star player, but we have the togetherness.
Du: Feng Tian. He was not regarded as a prospective player last year but he’s done a terrific job filling the void on the point guard position when Liu Wei was out due to injury. His performances have shown he is not a worse player than Luo Xudong, who was dealt to Jilin last year, and made some of his critics shut their mouths.
Yuan: Stat-wise, it’s Mike Harris. He’s indispensable and motivational to this team for every aspect. He’s shown strong ability on both ends of the floor. However, I feel it’s a necessity to mention Meng Lingyuan and Feng Tian. They did their jobs and shown major improvements when Liu was out.
6) What players do you think have not played so well this season? Why?
Li: Zhang Xiaowei and Wang Ligang. The former has to put more effort, the latter is lost in the new system.
Du: Peng Fei. He was in the roster of the national team’s training camp. However, this experience didn’t translated into more confidence and playing time. His performance reminded me of his poor play during Luwan Stadium Era.
Yuan: Wang Ligang. He was Bob’s major weapon for previous two seasons. He was in the roster of the national team’s training camp. However, he choked in this season. Coach Panaggio gave him chances, but the latter didn’t hold it. He just vanished.
7) Are there any players who you wish were getting more playing time? Why?
Li: Tseng Wen-ting and Liu Ziqiu. Tseng’s playmaking ability meets the need of this team. Liu’s creativity and off-ball offense is what the team needs as well.
Du: Ji Xiang. He needs more playing time to translate his potential into dividends.
Yuan: Personally, I hope it’s Ji Xiang. He’s a player who needs playing time and encouragement. He’s a power forward with bulk, which is pretty rare for a local player. He needs more games to learn and get familiar with the space under the rim.
8) What players, in any, do you think will be voted onto the CBA All-Star team this year?
Li: Liu Wei and Zhang Zhaoxu.
Du: Zhang Zhaoxu. His impact on defense is obvious. Stat show he’s become one of the top local centers.
Yuan: Liu Wei and Mike Harris. The chances for rest of the players in this team are limited. You know, it’s China.
9) What has been your favorite game so far this season? Why?
Li: The home game versus Xinjiang. Because of Bob Donewald and Xinjiang.
Du: The home game versus Beijing. We were No. 11, and they were No. 1. The difference in rankings didn’t reflect the gap between these two teams. However, the win exhilarated fans.
Yuan: The home game versus Xinjiang. We defeated a stronger team in the league and this is the team which was coached by Bob. I had a chance to see Kenyon Martin personally as well. Most importantly, we got an amazing win.
10) What has been the worst game of the season? Why?
Li: The road game at Foshan. We were singlehanded dismantled by Gerald Green.
Du: The road game at Guangdong. We had a ton of turnovers. The junk time came early. I believe the fans of opponent were not willing to see a terrible rival as well.
Yuan: None. I think we played well. We didn’t lose by much in any of our losses.
11) What is the best part of being a Shanghai Sharks fan?
Li: I have a sense of belonging to this team and the city of Shanghai. We have followed this team for nearly 15 year. We witnessed a championship, we witnessed a slump, and we witnessed a comeback. We witnessed Yao who grew from a rookie in CBA to a team’s owner. We are willing to wait. We are willing to cheer. We are willing to follow. No matter if it’s a big shark or a tiny yellow fish.
Du: Our support is everlasting. We can accept any result.
Yuan: As a fan, the best part is Shanghai had won a championship. It is a team that we are proud of. We have the passion for this team, and this team provides a platform for fans to exchange our passion. We support this team no matter what.