Wang looks best bet for Asian star in NBA

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 1996, 12:00am

Wang Zhi Zhi is Asian basketball's great young hope.

With surveys repeatedly showing basketball as the second-most popular team sport in the region after soccer, and the number one game in some of those countries, the next big boost it needs is a world-class player. That in effect means a player breaking through as a major name in the NBA - a Hideo Nomo of the hardcourt.

Pundits have been touting Wang as the man most likely to. Aged just 17, the centre has already pitted his abilities against Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Co when playing for China in the Atlanta Olympics. But unlike the previous great hope from China, Ma Jian, Wang seems to have what it takes.

This week fans get a chance to see Wang in the Asian Basketball Confederation Junior Championships, with STAR Sports showing four games in their entirety from the recently-completed championships. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday the games (two semi-finals and the third-place game) start at 6.30 pm with the final on Sunday at 8 pm. The tournament, in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, showcased the talents of Wang very well. The surprising thing was Wang had a rival for the spotlight.

The Qatari centre Yaseen Mahmood was, by all accounts, a revelation. And his man-to-man showdown with Wang is the highlight of the four games. The other teams featured are Japan and South Korea. These two stamped their authority on the tournament so that when their teams met it was keenly anticipated and appreciated by the Malaysian crowd.

Saturday sees the consolation game Japan v South Korea which has obvious connotations with regional, historical animosity, and Sunday it's Qatar v China. Last night's Portuguese Grand Prix on STAR Sports failed to decide the World Drivers' Championship as Jacques Villeneuve's victory kept his slight hopes alive and prevented Damon Hill from sealing the title.

That outcome took the STAR folks by surprise as they wrapped up their show, not with the press conferences that we usually see, but with a bizarre montage sequence. The sequence, carefully edited well in advance, was a visual tribute to Hill's season featuring much Union flag waving and scenes of champagne spraying from various podiums from earlier in the season. Surely STAR could have had a contingency plan in case Hill did not clinch the crown yesterday. Now they've shot their bolt.