Hong Kong’s basketballers need to spread their wings to fulfil hoop dreams, say two of Eastern’s promising young pros
Long Lions pair Adam Xu and Douglas Ng will line up with NBA All-Star Shawn Marion and YouTube sensation Jordan Kilganon at Dunk Kong
Do not limit yourself to Hong Kong basketball if you are serious about pursuing a career, say Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions stars Adam Xu and Douglas Ng Chung-tsun.
“One week in the [United] States improves you tenfold because you’re exposed to a higher level of basketball and a different mindset to players here,” said 25-year-old Xu ahead of Dunk Kong, Hong Kong’s inaugural slam dunk showcase bringing NBA All-Star Shawn Marion, YouTube sensation Jordan Kilganon, the world’s best dunkers and several Hong Kong and Chinese Basketball Association players to Southorn Stadium on Tuesday.
“If you seriously want to continue playing, work on your craft and try to [play] outside of Hong Kong. If you just play in the park every day against the same people, you’ll get better but you’ll never reach the next level.”
Xu – born in the US and raised in Hong Kong – excelled through most of the city’s youth development ranks from under-14 level, even earning a brief one-on-one court session with NBA legend Kobe Bryant during one of his early Asia tours. But it was not until he returned to the US for university that he truly felt the chasm in level.
“I thought I was working hard and training well, getting recognition for all the accolades, but when you get outside … you don’t know what you’re missing out on,” he said.
“You think you play well at school and you’re considered [to be] one of the best in your age group – meanwhile, you don’t know how many kids are in China who are the same age as you, two heads taller, more athletic and train year-round.”
The New York University graduate has since competed in US college-level basketball, the Asean Basketball League (ABL) and is now playing his first full-time season in Hong Kong’s top division, which consists of both professional and semi-pro teams.
“The style of play is very different from the pro game,” said Xu. “It’s a lot more structured and systematic. The free-flowing up-and-down pro-style of play [in the US] helped me a lot.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “[US coaches] point things out just like that, and you think ‘I’ve been doing that my entire career, I wish someone had told me earlier’.”
Both of Xu’s parents played high-level basketball in China, which perhaps gave him the confidence to take the leap abroad while still young.
“It starts with the parents, but [Hong Kong parents] want their kids to get extra tutoring, band practice, pay attention to grades … basketball is kind of like getting exercise or a hobby – not really a job they’d consider.
“That’s what I think Hong Kong has to do a better job at. China and Taiwan do it.”
The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has cemented itself as Asia’s leading men’s basketball league. Taiwan’s Super Basketball League (SBL), meanwhile, is semi-professional like Hong Kong but has in recent years invested in overseas experience for its local players.
As it stands after the 2019 World Cup qualifiers, the FIBA world ranking puts China in zone 3, Taiwan in zone 10 and Hong Kong further down in zone 14.
“If you find talent at an early age, you should develop it,” said Xu. “Get their English level up and send them to the States every summer. Taiwan’s really puts resources in that – develop them then they come back and keep it competitive.”
Ng, an Eastern teammate and one of Hong Kong’s most promising local players, opted to study in Taiwan three years ago after a year at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
“I decided to go to Taiwan to play basketball. I chose it deliberately because their training is more focused compared to Hong Kong,” said the 21-year-old, who studies at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.
“Taiwan emphasises your own style whereas Hong Kong places more emphasis on teamwork, sometimes overlooking individual skills.
“I play for the university team and train twice a week. The coaches watch you every day and cater for your needs and development.”
“It’s a cultural problem,” said Ng, who dreams of playing in the CBA one day. “Hong Kong is Hong Kong – you have to balance a lot of things and that’s a time management issue.”
Ng had always wanted to go overseas for opportunities and will finally get his chance when he jets off to Brooklyn later in the year to take his basketball resume further afield.
While Xu and Ng encourage venturing abroad, they both see potential in the Hong Kong basketball scene. It just needs a lot of work.
“There’s a lot of potential for Hong Kong to be a harbour for the pro scene,” said Xu. “Think about the amount of courts available to the average citizen.
“If you have a Hong Kong ID you can book any government court. The square footage [of courts] compared to the rest of the world is uncanny.
“In terms of developing a pro, a lot of things have to happen. It starts with developing local talent really young, a better grass roots system, and we need kids to look at it as a legitimate career. It’s never been the case.”