Revitalized collegiate program could hold key to China’s hoops future

With student players making a stronger impression in the sport’s top echelons, China’s collegiate basketball program has good reason to believe it can expand the campus-to-pro pipeline.

The renewed sense of confidence in the college game follows an extraordinary, virus-delayed season which was capped by Tsinghua University’s wild title celebrations at the Strait Sports Center in Quanzhou, Fujian province on Saturday.

A tense 83-75 victory over Central South University at the empty arena sealed Tsinghua’s second Chinese University Basketball Association Division 1 crown in five years following a campaign that, like all sports, was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Making the season even more special has been the CUBA’s enhanced profile as an elite talent cradle after a record 11 college players out of a total 25-another all-time high-were selected at the 2020 CBA Draft earlier this month.

With elite academic institutions such as Tsinghua and three-peat winner Peking University (2017-19), committed to investing more in their sports programs, an increasing number of prospects are choosing to remain on campus to perfect their games rather than going full-time into the traditional State-run sports system, thereby not neglecting their all-round education.

Tsinghua head coach Chen Lei, the former captain of three-time CBA champion the Beijing Ducks, says the renewed focus on the collegiate game can deliver huge benefits to Chinese hoops down the line.

“For me personally, it’s quite a different experience. It’s a tough transition for my career. Yet I am excited and honored to be able to bring my experience from the pro level and intensity needed there to help the game grow on campus,” said Chen, who showed just how much his first CUBA title meant to him when he cut off part of the nets as a keepsake following Saturday’s game.

“I wish we could have more retired pros like myself to continue their careers coaching in colleges. It will definitely help raise the bar a lot.”

Once two separate systems overseen by two different ministerial departments, the exchange in coaching personnel and training expertise between China’s school sports system and the pro league’s youth program had been minimal in the past.

Because of coaching shortcomings at ordinary schools, promising talents were often forced to give up their academic education for full-time training at sports bureau-affiliated facilities at an early age in order to pursue an athletic career.

The CBA and educational authorities are, therefore, endeavoring to consign those sorts of scenarios to the past.

Based on an agreement signed with the Ministry of Education in 2017, the CBA reached a memorandum of understanding with the Federation of University Sports of China (FUSC) and the China School Sports Federation (CSSF, representing middle schools) in May to enhance cooperation between the three organizations in the development of basketball on campus.

The MoU will help the two ministry-affiliated sports organizations better train their coaches, expand a campus basketball curriculum, streamline school competitions and upgrade a student-athlete database with more input from the CBA.

“Our goal is not limited on training and supplying talents for professional teams,” said Shen Zhen, a vice-president of the FUSC.

“We are committed to improving all-round education for students in ordinary schools by enhancing the role of sports participation.”

The CBA will offer greater personnel and technical support to the training of coaches in the middle-school and collegiate systems, while the three parties will work on policies aimed at paving the way for more retired pros like Chen to stay in the game as coaches on campus.

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