Saturday, September 28, 2002

Asian Games Preview – Taiwan

CTBA’s “ Grand Experiment 2002 ” goes to a territory that almost no one has gone before. With 8 of 12 players on roster born after 1979 and a second-year head coach who has no previous head coaching experience on any level, the youngest-ever Taiwan NT goes to Pusan without local fans’ blessing.

After winning the silver medal in 2001 Osaka East Asian Game, Taiwan NT took a nosedive during this past year. In the 2001 ABC Championship they finished for 7th place, the worst outing in ABC in the last 20 years. In the Jones Cup, they were even booed by local crowds in the game vs. SINA Lions and finished 7th in 8 teams.

It is hard to believe, this is the same team called by many as “ the most explosive and promising team in Asia “ during the EAG.

Believe it or not, things get worse. In the warmup tour to Philippines, Taiwan NT lost both friendly games to Philippines NT – by a combined margin of 62 points. In the final warm-ups this week, they lost all four friendly games in Korea (Univ. of Korea, Korean NT, LG and Tongyang). In the Korean NT game, the score in the end of first period is an unbelievable 4-33. Taiwan NT finished the game losing by more than 20.

Most fans opposed to the CTBA’s plan of dropping veterans and recruit all young players to the national team. Also they can’t understand why CTBA chose Lee Yun-kwang, who has no previous head coaching experience on any level, to replace Chien Yi-fei as the new NT head coach.

Lee’s strategy, game experience and personnel decisions are highly questioned. He moved 202cm F Tien Lei, who grabbed 22 rebounds in the EAG win over Japan and is one of the quickest jumpers in Asia, from PF to SF. Tien failed to improve and became a strictly three-point shooter now. But his shooting comes and goes.

Taiwan NT was hurt by losing two important players. Yen Hsin-shu (182cm, PG), who is expected to be the starting PG, was denied for his return after injury. Lee said Yen has been sidelined too long and the team chemistry will be hurt by adding Yen. Later on, leading scorer Chen Hsin-an (196cm, SF/SG) dropped out of the NT to chase his dream of playing in the NBA.

Handling the middle will be two athletic but raw teenagers – Tsun Wen-din (204cm) and Wu Dai-hao (202cm). Both have great potential to be special. Tsun needs to add more weight on his frail body, but he is a fast-learner and sees his teammates well from high post. Wu is as athletic as anyone and has a seven feet wingspan. However, the starting center will probably be veteran Wu Chih-wei (202cm), although his competitiveness is always questioned.

Without Chen Hsin-an, Taiwan NT has a big hole to fill in SF. Tien Lei can shoot when he’s on, but he has no drive-and-dish game like Chen, who can break down opponents’ defense.

Chen Chih-chun (182cm), who is always tenacious on defense, will be the lead guard once again. Compared to Yen, Chen Chih-chun is more of a traditional point guard. He is quick. He doesn’t attempt risky pass, doesn’t turn the ball over, and sometimes will wow opponents with his scoring. On the downside, he commits too many ticky-tack fouls and get himself into foul trouble.

Backing up Chen will be 18-year-old Lee Chi-ming (175cm), who was a SG in high school. Head coach Lee also plan to use Chiu Chi-yi (182cm) and Yang Yu-min (180cm), both are shooting guards, to share the point guard duty.

At shooting guard, Taiwan NT has another problem. Chiu and Yang are too short, which gives them matchup trouble. 190cm Chou Shi-yuan are inexperienced.

Among the other players, Chou Hong-yu (195cm) and Lee Chi-yi (197cm) are effective when they are on the court. Seldom-used SF Ho Sho-jen (195cm) has a better overall game than Tien Lei at this point, but coach Lee obviously doesn’t like him that much.

Lee prefers the run-and-gun style. But you can’t run if you don’t control the boards, which is the most glaring weakness of Taiwan NT. Plus, they are not organized in the half-court set. Too often you see them shoot in a hurry after one pass. And the team is without a go-to man, a leader who can be trusted with last shot in the crunch time.

If the performance in the past year tells us anything, don’t expect too much on Taiwan NT in the Asian Game. With their play right now, it will be hard for them to get past preliminary opponents Qatar and Kazakhstan. In other words, they probably will not make the final eight. Even if they do, you cannot ask for more in the second round.