Former Houston center coy on rumors as national team duty takes priority
Two months after being waived by the Houston Rockets, 7-foot-1 Chinese center Zhou Qi is still searching for a new job.
Amid all the rumors about his future, the 23-year-old is keeping tight-lipped, but admits he is still hopeful of returning to the NBA.
Zhou is widely expected to resume his career in the CBA, with the Liaoning Flying Leopards reportedly ahead of his former team the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the race for his signature.
Liaoning currently sits second in the league behind the Guangdong Southern Tigers, however the CBA rulebook has scuppered hopes Zhou could join the title charge after he missed the registration deadline earlier this year.
And, with his dream of returning to the NBA seemingly still alive, Zhou was coy when he asked if he'll play in the CBA next term.
"Now I have no league games to play, so I keep training to maintain an ideal condition," the 23-year-old told media on Sunday at a national team training session in Beijing.
"It's not clear if I'll join the CBA or the NBA, but the NBA has always been my goal. I can't tell what will happen next, but I'll try my best to return to the NBA.
"In terms of the CBA, I will still try my best to play my best game if I join a team. That would also be a way for me to return to the NBA."
Constant speculation about Zhou on Chinese social media appears to be irking him. Last week he posted the online message: "Cooking up a story just requires a mouth and I'm wondering if more rumors can be made."
For now, Zhou is focused on Team China as it prepares for this summer's FIBA Basketball World Cup.
"For every one of us, joining the national team is no doubt a great honor. So everyone should try his best to win honor for his nation. It's our responsibility," said Zhou who helped China win Asian Games gold in Jakarta last summer.
National team head coach Li Nan revealed said Zhou is still struggling with a swollen foot.
"Zhou Qi has had this injury for three months, and he has been doing some recovery training for now," Li said on Sunday.
"He's not in perfect condition. It's a process for him to recover. I hope he will be fit and healthy soon to play in the World Cup."
Despite his massive media profile, Zhou is not considered Team China's main man on the court by Li. That title is held by veteran Yi Jianlian, the former Milwaukee Bucks power forward who has represented the country in four Olympics.
"Yi Jianlian is no doubt the leader of the current national team and he has been an iconic player in Chinese basketball for the past decade," said Li. "He has rich experience of playing in World Cups and Olympics.
"I hope Yi can take the lead and be an example for the young players. Young guns should learn from his attitude, his pride in playing for his nation and his self-discipline."
Yi was drafted by the Bucks in 2007 before being traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2008. Two seasons later, he joined the Washington Wizards.
Yi's NBA career pales in comparison to that of the legendary Yao Ming, but easily outshines Zhou, who only played sparingly for the Rockets and spent most of his time with the club's G-League team.
Zhou's departure from Houston in December left 25-year-old Ding Yanyuhang, who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks' G League affiliate the Texas Legends, as the only Chinese player in the world's premier basketball league.
Ding is currently recovering from knee surgery in the US but is expected to regroup with the national team next month, according to coach Li.