Friday, October 20, 2006

Examine the position of Taiwanese basketball

So here we are. Nearly five and a half years after the total shakeup of Taiwan national team and a silver medal it won in Osaka East Asian Games (EAG), what has Taiwanese basketball become?

Is it better because of the youth movement that dropped the veterans a couple years earlier? Is it worse? I guess the answer is the latter.

Let the numbers talk first. Take a look at how it did in recent Asian tournaments.

Senior national team:
2001 East Asian Games (Osaka) 2nd
2002 Asian Games (Pusan) 7th …all-time worst
2003 Asian Championship 11th …all-time worst
2004 Stankovic Cup 3rd
2005 Asian Championship 9th
2005 East Asian Games (Macao) 1st

Junior national team:
2002 Asian Championship 6th
2004 Asian Championship 6th
2006 Asian Championship 4th

Taiwan did finish in the top three in the 2001 and 2005 East Asian Games (winning gold in Macao) and the 2004 Stankovic Cup. But those tournaments were considered second-tier in the region with stronger countries sending their second national teams or junior teams.

In the more competitive tournaments like the Asian Championships and Asian Games, Taiwan faltered, setting two all-time worst records in final placing.

On the junior side, making to the semifinal this year was its best performance in six years.

The performances obviously did not justify or reveal the real strength of Taiwan, one of the most basketball-crazy countries in Asia.

It makes you wonder why a team with these players failed to live up to its potentials. Taiwan national team boasts Chen Hsin-an, who was dubbed in 1998 as one of the most promising young players along with Yao Ming and Yuta Tabuse and became the first Taiwanese invitee in the NBA pre-season training camp in 2002 with the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets in 2003.

The team has 202cm forward Tien Lei, who has as quick a jump as you can imagine and a soft shooting touch rarely seen in big men. Tien was in Kings’s summer camp in 2004.

The team also has 204cm center Tsun Wen-din, who many foreign teams expressed interests, and 204cm center-forward Wu Dai-hao, who just completed his first year with BYU-Hawaii, a Division-II school in the United States.

In addition, the team has 192cm dynamite Lin Chi-jay, the reigning SBL leading scorer who can break down opponents with his explosive first step and crossover moves and knock down jumpers consistently from 20 feet.

The players have been playing together year round, so chemistry will not be a problem. And obviously they belong in the most talented group in Taiwanese basketball history.

Which brings us to the issues of coaching and training. Lee Yun-kwang, head coach of Yulon, took over the national team in 2001. At the time he was a young coach who didn’t have any head-coaching experience and was still learning the nuances of coaching.

For a young and inexperienced team like Taiwan, it needs an experienced head coach to develop players as well as getting good results in the international competition. The reason is simple, there’s no time to let the coaches and the players to learn at the same time. At least that’s my theory.

In terms of training, the CTBA (Chinese Taipei Basketball Association) failed to organize an effective and professional national team program. All it did, it seemed to me, was send the team overseas and see what happens. Taiwan NT always went to China, Korea or the U.S., scrimmaging with second-fiddle American players or playing Chinese and Korean teams without purpose.

After the long road trip, players either got hurt or got sick of basketball by the tournament started. It was partially why Chen Hsin-an missed three straight Asian Championships and why the team always entered the major Asian tournament with incomplete lineups.

Without good coaching, training program and scouting, Taiwan NT always lost the most important preliminary games that would have sent them into the final eight in the Asian Championship, dropping heartbreakers to countries such as Iran and Kazakhstan.

To sum up the position of Taiwan NT, their defense sucks. They are afraid of playing physical game and can’t win the important ones either.

The national team program of Taiwan national team should come back to square one and start from the fundamentals. The quick solution, in my opinion, will be hiring a seasoned foreign coach. Give him all the resources and authorities he needs and at least two to three years.

Otherwise, it will be very hard for Taiwan to be in the top eight in Asia, let alone top four.