Zhou Qi aims high in NBA

By Sun Xiaochen in Beijing and Heng Weili in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-07-10 10:08

Zhou Qi has embraced the challenge of charting his own path in the NBA after signing with the Houston Rockets - Hall of Famer Yao Ming's former team - to become the league's sixth Chinese player.

And if Zhou's debut on Friday against the Denver Nuggets in a National Basketball Association Summer League game in Las Vegas is any indication, he could be on course.

The 7-foot-2 Zhou dropped in 17 points in 25 minutes of play as the Rockets defeated the Denver Nuggets, 102-99.

The Rockets, who picked Zhou 43rd overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, officially announced on Friday that the team had signed him to a multiyear contract after the Chinese national team center spent three years playing with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.

The shot-blocking 21-year-old will follow retired stars Yao, Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer and join current national teammates Sun Yue and Yi Jianlian to become China's sixth player in the NBA.

"This kind of attention stuff, this kind of stuff (is) more of a challenge because a lot of Chinese people are behind (me)," Zhou said through interpreter Chandler Yu in a July 5 story in the Houston Chronicle. "Yao achieved a lot here, stayed here for a long time. This is a new country, new lifestyle, new culture here. There's some difficulty there, but it's also a challenge to be a better player."

Zhou, who has been training with the Rockets' coaching staff in Houston since leading Xinjiang to the 2016-17 CBA title in March, said in a statement that he feels honored to be able to fill Yao's big shoes.

"I appreciated the opportunity offered by the Rockets organization to fulfill my childhood dream to play in the NBA. I feel very privileged to follow in the legendary predecessor Yao's footprints to join the same team he played on before," Zhou said.

The CBA sent a congratulatory letter to Zhou and his family, encouraging him to build his own identity in the highly competitive league.

"We wish he will gain a firm foothold in Houston and make his own impression by playing hard with the Rockets. We hope he can further contribute to the China-US cultural exchange as a hoop ambassador from China," the CBA said.

The Rockets didn't disclose the financial terms of Zhou's contract, but the team made no secret of its hefty expectations for the versatile player.

"We feel Zhou Qi has the potential to become the best Chinese player since Yao Ming," said Daryl Morey, the Rockets' general manager.

Standing 2.17 meters tall with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, Zhou features a versatile game with excellent mobility for his size, a long shooting range and rim-protection ability that make him a theoretical fit in Rockets' head coach Mike D'Antoni's fast style of play,.

Still, the thin frame of Zhou, who weighs only 216 pounds, has raised questions about his strength to survive in the rugged NBA, observers said.

"I see a very young guy who is raw right now, but his ceiling is so high because he is a guy who can run the floor, he can shoot the ball from deep, he can pass the ball," Rockets assistant coach Roy Rogers told the Chronicle.

"Whether Zhou could play his game to the fullest now seems to rely heavily on if he can improve his strength by putting on about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of muscle," said Yang Yi, basketball commentator with

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