High level Chinese prospects, like comets, don’t come around all-too-often but when they do, it makes sense to put time aside and be there for the moment. Indeed, given the widespread dominance of imports and increasing irrelevance of Chinese players in their own league, there’s currently not a lot of homegrown guys to get pumped over. This seems set to change with the looming debut of Fan Ziming.
The teenage seven-footer, who reportedly weighs in at a solid 250lbs, has been on the radar in China for several years but was only cleared to play in the CBA once he turned eighteen back in April. In the meantime, he has been gathering solid numbers at the youth level and like Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin (who both turned pro after similar gap years dominating their school-age counterparts in 2012 and 2014 respectively), is now a source of huge interest.
That we’re talking about a large Chinese prospect should not be surprising. There are a number of complicated reasons for this but the Middle Kingdom basketball set-up remains obsessed by height and bringing through big guys. What is remarkable, though, is that the uniform Fan will be wearing for his league debut belongs to the previously small market Guangzhou Long Lions.
Traditionally, the third team in China’s massive Guangdong province, the Long Lions have spent decades living in the shadow of their big brothers, the Guangdong Tigers and the Shenzhen Lions. But in recent months, the team quietly moved from Foshan to the megacity of Guangzhou. This should not be surprising; with Shenzhen struggling for direction following the departure of head coach Brian Goorjian and Guangdong’s once-unstoppable team starting to retire, it made sense for a retooled Long Lions front-office to suddenly get aggressive. Having talked Fan into signing a professional deal over the summer, now the Long Lions have a young cornerstone to further cement their move into a major basketball market.
This isn’t to say the Long Lions are going to their first postseason in over a decade but the presence of Fan means Foshan are going to be of real interest to a lot of locals. Internally, the recent drafting of both Wang and Zhou has also reignited belief that China can be a viable NBA pipeline and now everyone wants to see the next potential NBA prospect.
That would appear to be Fan, whose skillset is closer to Wang’s low-post game than the rim protecting specialist, Zhou. A beefy, somewhat trundling unit, Fan makes up for his lack of mobility with an old man game that belies his years. Put the ball down low and the Foshan giant can punish his man with brute force, a delicate touch off the glass and other assorted tricks. Make no mistake, he is going to need several years to work on a jumpshot that appears to come in installments but there’s enough in his just offensive game to justify considerable excitement.
Off-the-court, there is also confidence that Fan is going to become the real deal. Over the last couple of years, Fan’s name has come up during conversations between Shark Fin Hoops and sources within the Long Lions front office as a player to watch. In recent stories about the big man, Fan has been portrayed as a level headed kid at ease with the pressure of being a highly touted prospect in a basketball crazed country. It also helps that Fan comes from good pedigree– his father, Fan Lichen, was a CBA player back in the mid-1990’s and his mother, Jiang Ying (right), played professionally for Liaoning’s womens team and later become a high level coach at the mens level.
It’s all early days but the anticipation has been building for a while and now Fan is going to get the chance to back up the hype. What’s more, he’ll be doing it on a young roster trying to make a name for itself in a major Chinese market. As far as situations go, an impressive young talent playing for an increasingly ambitious team is a ratings dream for the CBA and expect the progress of Fan to become a regular source of news once the season gets underway.