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Han, Li make history as WNBA draft picks

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, April 12, 2019
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Han Xu (R) of China poses for a photo with WNBA COO Christy Hedgpeth after being selected by the New York Liberty in the second round of the WNBA women's basketball draft in New York, US, April 10, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

With a towering frame and versatile skill set reminiscent of Yao Ming, teenage center Han Xu is determined to make her presence felt in the Women's National Basketball Association.

Thursday (Beijing time) marked the first time two members of China's national team-Han and forward Li Yueru-were selected in the WNBA draft, with the New York Liberty taking Han 14th overall and the Atlanta Dream making Li the 35th selection.

Han became just the second player from China drafted directly to the league after Zheng Haixia was selected by the Los Angeles Sparks (16th overall) in the inaugural WNBA draft in 1997.

Three other Chinese players-Sui Feifei, Miao Lijie and Chen Nan-previously played in the WNBA.

Han said the efforts of her senior compatriots inspired her to follow their path to the US pro league.

"It's my dream to make my way to the WNBA and follow their steps. Because of them, I feel less pressure to play in the best league in the world," said Han, who has been training at UCLA since early March to prepare for the draft.

At 6-foot-9, with a soft shooting touch and deceptive mobility, Han's skill set is obvious-but her thin frame could prove vulnerable in the trenches.

"I'm young, I can run, and I'm tall so I can rebound and shoot from everywhere on the court," said Han, who speaks some English but also has a translator to help.

"I've been working hard to become stronger as my physical strength is a weakness at the moment. An American trainer has made a plan for me to put on more muscle, and that will be my priority."

Graduated from the renowned basketball program at Tsinghua University High School in 2017, Han joined Xinjiang of the Women's Chinese Basketball Association last season, averaging 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds en route to earning All-Star honors and being named to the national team.

She scored 20 points in China's 100-88 Group D loss to Team USA at the FIBA Women's World Cup in Spain last September.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Li provides a different style for Team China and potentially Atlanta as her size-6-foot-7, 227 pounds-and shooting ability represent untapped potential to bang in the paint with the WNBA's best.

Li, who plays for Guangdong and was named MVP of the WCBA finals this season, said ahead of the draft she would not compete in the WNBA any time soon, focusing instead on honing her game in the domestic league while helping China qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

According to a Tencent report on Thursday, the four-time WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx offered a contract to Chinese forward Li Meng, a member of WCBA runner-up Bayi, following a tryout camp.

Xu Limin, head coach of the national team, encourages the younger generation to dream big and work hard to trigger another Chinese surge in the WNBA.

"Having two players drafted by the league in one year is an honor for us and a testament to their individual efforts and collectively the improvement of Chinese women," Xu said on Thursday.

"For Han there for sure will be a lot of challenges, physically and culture-wise, to adapt to the WNBA ... but I have strong faith in her potential. I believe she can survive in the league and be a standout."

Bolstered by a young core that included Han and Li Yueru, Team China finished sixth at the World Cup last year, tying its best result since 1994, when it was runner-up at the world championships.

Cheryl Reeve, head coach of the Lynx who was an assistant for the 2018 US team, was impressed with Han and other Chinese players.

"I think the talent level of Chinese players is increasing," she told Associated Press. "They're very young with some serious upside, and again, just having seen them on the national team, the WNBA is a league that I think they could be comfortable in if they get the opportunity."

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