China's basketball team beat Iran 84-74 in the second friendly last weekend after winning their first 77-67 in what many consider to be surprising results.
The head of the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao Ming, witnessed his young team's victory over the Asian basketball giant in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province.
As a part of Yao Ming's basketball reform, the Chinese national basketball team is split into two parts, Team Blue and Team Red, coached by Du Feng and Li Nan respectively.
Team Blue includes former NBA player Yi Jianlian, local stars Guo Ailun, Han Dejun, Zhao Jiwei and Hu Jinqiu.
However, none of the names mentioned above played in the two-game series against Iran. The current Team Blue is led by shooting guard Wu Qian, whose Zhejiang team didn't make into last season's CBA playoffs, and Ren Junfei, who ranks sixth in his Guangdong team's scoring list.
"Many of them are playing their first international games," said Du Feng. "Iran is a strong team, and they rank higher than us in FIBA world rankings, so our main task is to learn from them."
The absence of the stars has left more than enough room for growth. 24-year-old Wu Qian was named captain of the team. Young guards Yu Dehao and Gao Shiyan organize the team. Their consistent contributions played an important role in the two victories. "China is always among the top three teams in Asia, and many young players emerged in recent years," Iran veteran Oshin Sahakian said.
Yao Ming stepped up as president of Chinese Basketball Association in 2017, and the "Blue and Red" plan is a key part of his basketball reform.
As the host country for 2019 FIBA World Cup, China doesn't have to go through the qualification stage to enter the event so Yao Ming decided to make full use of the two years between 2017 and 2019.
According to Yao Ming, there will be two national teams under the entirely new system and each one led by one coach. The two teams will play in different international competitions before they merge into one in 2019 to prepare for the 2019 World Cup in China and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
"Time is precious for Chinese basketball, and we just want to make a change," Yao Ming said. Young players definitely benefit from the plan. Young guard Sun Minghui carried Team Red to victory over South Korea and Wu Qian did well enough to help Team Blue beat Iran. "Yao Ming creates a very good platform for young players," Iran head coach Mehran Shahintab said.
Of course, there are disputes on Yao Ming's plan. Basketball is a team sport, depending not only on individual ability but also teamwork. The "Blue and Red" plan won't leave much time for that after their merge in 2019. "That's also what I'm worried about," said Yao Ming. "The future of the plan is still unpredictable."