China’s national basketball team to travel to Qatar for Asia Cup qualifiers
Published: Feb 02, 2021 06:33 PM

Guo Ailun (right) of the Liaoning Flying Leopards dribbles against Zhejiang Golden Bulls players during a CBA match in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province on June 28, 2020. Photo: VCG

The Chinese national basketball team will travel to Qatar later this month for the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers after missing the previous match window, as it unveiled a 21-man squad on Tuesday for the tournament. 

China, grouped with Malaysia, Japan and Chinese Taipei in Group B, will kick off the qualifying campaign with a game against Malaysia on February 17 in Doha, Qatar. 

It will be China's first game on the international stage after an embarrassing home FIBA World Cup performance in 2019. 

The COVID-19 pandemic since December 2019 has presented global sporting events with limited options, as gatherings and long haul flights are among the safety risks to epidemic control, ­leading China to skip the previous match window in November.  

FIBA sanctioned China with a fine of 160,000 Swiss francs ($178,322) and docked two points for failing to participate in the November qualifiers. Half the fine and the deduction will be deferred if the team participates in future qualifiers. 

Due to the no-show in the previous match window, China must compete in six games in seven days in Doha, which will be held in "bubbles" rather than traditionally home-and-away games.

In the 21-man squad list, star center Zhou Qi of the Xinjiang Flying Tigers and point guard Guo Ailun of the Liaoning Flying Leopards are the marquee names. 

Reigning CBA champions Guangdong Southern Tigers has five representatives, including national team captain Zhou Peng.

Promising aces in the Chinese top basketball league CBA like Yu Jiahao of the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, Zeng Fanbo of the Beijing Ducks and Liu Chuanxing of the Qingdao Eagles were also summoned to represent the national team. 

"The list isn't just for the Asia Cup," head coach Du Feng said in a video released on Tuesday. "There are a lot of international events for us in 2021, and we want to discover more young talents through our preparation for the qualifiers."

The list will be whittled to a 12-man squad before the team travels to Qatar to play the qualifiers, which will also be the former China international's debut for the national team as a head coach.

As the domestic basketball league is now in full swing in a "bubble" in Zhuji in East China's Zhejiang Province, the summoned players will gather in Chongming Island in Shanghai for preparations for the Asia Cup at the weekend after the league finishes its first phase. 

Xu Lan, a senior official with China's basketball governing body, said on Monday that the team is considering a chartered flight to Qatar as currently visa and commercial flight transfer reasons have complicated the international trip.

Playing the qualifiers also means that national team players have to skip the holidays for the Spring Festival, as the Lunar New Year kicks off on February 12.

Under current epidemic control measures, Chinese players and staff have to quarantine for two weeks upon their return to China after playing the games in Qatar.