Can Zhou Qi follow in Yao Ming’s gigantic footsteps and become a Chinese NBA star? Houston Rockets believe so after confirming deal

Former Xinjiang player is very tall but also very skinny, with some doubting he has the physicality to make it in the US league

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 11:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 10:16pm

The Houston Rockets believe Chinese basketball player Zhou Qi can be the next Yao Ming after confirming he has signed for the NBA team.

Daryl Morey, the team’s general manager, said on the team’s website: “We feel Zhou Qi has the potential to become the best Chinese player since Yao Ming.

“We’re excited to have him join the Rockets and will continue to develop his talents with our coaches and training staff.”

Yao joined the Rockets in 2002 and became an NBA Hall-of-Famer, but no Chinese player has emulated his success.

Zhou is 2.16m (7ft 1in) tall, but a skinny 95kg (210lbs), leading some to doubt he has the strength to make it in a brutally tough league.

The Rockets are convinced they can bulk the 21-year-old up to cope with the physicality of the NBA and follow in Yao’s gigantic footsteps.

Zhou spent the past three seasons playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association, and played at the Olympics last summer.

Houston said he averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds last season, was second in the CBA in blocks (2.3 bpg) and was named defensive player of the year.

He was drafted by the Rockets last year but stayed in the CBA for another year.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but reports have claimed Zhou has signed a four-year contract.

Zhou has been training with the Rockets’ summer league team over the past few weeks.

“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 Houston Chronicle.

“We’re very excited about his future. He’s gotten stronger. Obviously, we need him to get a little stronger so he doesn’t get thrown around as much in the interior.”

Zhou – or more likely his handlers – has quickly established his presence on western social media, with accounts on Instagram and Twitter, both of which are banned in China.

“I want to thank the Rockets organisation for giving me the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream to play in the NBA,” said a post on his Instagram.

“To follow in the footsteps of a legendary pioneer in our sport in Yao Ming and play on the same team as he did is a great honour.

“I want to thank my parents, my former coaches and my former team, Xinjiang Flying Tigers for all of the support in my development as a player and allowing me to achieve this goal.

“I look forward to representing my country and my family as a member of the Houston Rockets. Go Red Nation!”

The NBA is desperate for another Chinese star to break through, with commissioner Adam Silver admitting last month: “It frustrates me that there are no Chinese players in the NBA right now”.

He added: “There’s probably more basketball being played in China than anywhere else in the world. And more NBA basketball is being watched in China than anywhere else in the world.

“One of the things that we have worked on with Yao is the creation of academies in China.

“So we can bring together some of the best players at a young age, they can compete against each other, they can compete internationally in the summer, because ultimately that’s what enables them to become NBA players.”