US all-stars lure China for long-awaited return

Donal Scully

CHINA'S national team will end a 12-year absence from Hongkong by playing in a challenge match in the territory on June 26.

The new-look Chinese national team will meet Team America, an all-star line-up of US players, at the Hongkong Coliseum.

Billed as an East v West challenge, the showdown in Hongkong will be the ninth in a series of games between the two teams which will be played in seven countries over May and June.

Officials of the China Basketball Association and Team America Sports announced the series in Beijing yesterday.

The series will include three matches in China and one-off matches in Macau, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Play starts on May 28 in Beijing's Capital Gymnasium, which seats 17,000.

The first three games, in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have a trophy at stake - the Marlboro USA Challenge.

Eight-time Asian champions China, who are also three-time Asian Games champions, will field their new post-Olympic line-up featuring many changes from the side which lost all five games in the Barcelona 1992 tournament.

They are now grooming new talent for their defence of the Asian Championships in November in Jakarta.

The average age of their squad is 23 compared to the 32 of the seasoned Team America campaigners.

Coach Jiang Xingqian said: ''We've made a lot of changes since Barcelona. These matches give our line-up a chance to test themselves against some top-class professionals.'' Jiang's squad includes five of the team who won the last Asian Championships in Kobe, Japan. Two more were members of the team who played in the 1991 World Junior Championship. And there are five entirely new faces.

Team America, established in 1989, are an occasional team who last toured Asia in 1991 when they notched up a 9-1 win-loss record. This will be their first time in the territory.

They will be led by player-coach George Gervin, an NBA great.

Known as ''The Iceman'' for his ice-cool shooting, Gervin is a 12-year NBA veteran who spent most of his career with the San Antonio Spurs and one season with the Chicago Bulls. He has the seventh leading all-time points average and is one of only 10 professional players to score 25,000 points.

He has four scoring records, second only to Wilt Chamberlain's seven, and was Most Valuable Player in the 1980 All-Star game.

Now 41, Gervin is expected to have only about 15 minutes court time in most of the matches against China.

The Team America squad also includes Bob McAdoo, who won an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers and played for the New York Knicks; former San Antonio guard Johnny Moore; and eight-season NBA veteran Lewis Lloyd who starred for the Houston Rockets.

As well as established performers, Team America include up-and-coming players such as University of Nevada forward Jarvis Basnight who is set for his first season with the New York Knicks.

Team America president, Hongkong-based Jerry Barisano, predicted a highly-competitive series yesterday, saying: ''We expect a war on the floor.

''It will be the greatest basketball series ever held in Asia. The kind of play the fans will see will be much more than just exhibition standard.

''There is a lot of pride at stake. Both teams will be trying to kick butts. Regardless of who wins, both teams will know they have been in a fight.''