by sportswriters Cao Yibo, Wang Jingyu and Zhang Wuyue
BEIJING, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- What does it take for a second-round draft pick to not only survive but thrive in a professional basketball league, earning more than 40 minutes of playing time per game? In a sparse handful of answers, Wang Ruize's scar, extending from his ribs to his navel, speaks for the CBA Qingdao Eagles' new ace, who is not much of a smiler.
A QUIET BREAKOUT
Qingdao was never one of the print favorites or solid title contenders in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA League). The club only made the playoffs three times in the last 15 seasons since joining the league. However, things took a different turn for the club in the current season, with NBA prospect Yang Hansen spicing up media coverage by joining Qingdao's senior team.
Qingdao has not disappointed the fans' expectations. After 33 regular-season games, the team climbed to sixth place, and people started to realize the belated importance of Wang to the team. Averaging 18.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, Wang delivered his best performance in his fifth season, leading the league with an average playing time of 40.9 minutes.
"I've been playing more and more from last season to this season with coaches' encouragement. Now I have the feeling that when the ball is passed to me, I'm sure I can score," Wang said. In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Wang insisted that he was just a shooter, not overplaying the fact of being the top domestic scorer on the team.
"My strength is shooting, and I will shoot without hesitation. There are times when I have a good feel, and surely there are times when the feel is not good, but even if it's off, I can't lose confidence," Wang added. "Stefan Moody and Myles Powell could draw double-teams, often leaving me wide open. And with Yang's size and footwork, there would be more opportunities behind the arc when he was posting up or rolling down after a pick to draw defense."
Wang raised his 3-pointer attempts to 8.2 per game this season, with most being jump shots in front of tight defense, a change he forced upon himself since the end of last season to improve stability. The 28-year-old knew his capabilities and strived to do his part better. "Coach Liu Weiwei is the leader in the locker room, and we are a united team; we would firmly follow the coach's instruction," Wang noted.
"JUST WANT TO BE ON THE ROSTER"
Back in the 2019 CBA draft, Wang straightened his shirt before CBA chairman Yao Ming announced pick No. 5 in the first round. However, Qingdao picked 29-year-old Lin Weihan from Chinese Taipei, leaving Wang with a little frustration.
"During the trial with Qingdao, the team told me they would pick me, but they didn't specify whether it would be in the first or second round," Wang recalled, eventually being picked in the second round. "Even though not being my team's first pick, I still feel fortunate," stated Wang, adding, "I just wanted to be on a team's roster; that was my original expectation."
In the 2019 CBA draft, 16 players were selected, yet only five stayed active in the league. For a second-rounder, being out of a job was commonly the next concern following the draft. But that was only a minor concern in Wang's experience.
Wang, born in Shangzhi, a small town in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, faced challenges from an early age. His hometown middle school lacked a basketball program, so he traveled to join a club in Rizhao at the age of 15 to pursue a professional career.
The new club, without indoor facilities and lacking competition, didn't make Wang's professional path any easier. Before a tryout with CBA's Shandong Heroes, fate played a joke on Wang as he had to accept surgery to remove an abdominal cyst, leaving him with a scar that almost made him abandon the idea of pursuing a professional career.
"It was pretty severe at the beginning. If I ate lunch around noon and went to practice at one o'clock in the afternoon, while running fast breaks, I would suddenly feel like vomiting, not knowing why. Later, I figured out the pattern. I started eating less before the game, and during the game, I dared not drink too much water. Even with an empty stomach, I would still retch during the game, but later on, I got used to it," explained Wang, who was later recruited by Nanchang University to play in CUBAL.
Wang played for Nanchang University for five years, averaging 26.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in his senior season, earning himself the title of 'Southeast Division's best small forward' among fans. However, when Wang thought he was ready for another try at CBA in 2018, a fracture in his left foot plunged him into deep frustration.
"All plans were disrupted, and I felt down for a while," Wang said. "But I gradually adjusted and understood that I needed to maintain a positive attitude." While some people were born not to cope with giving up.
"He has never slacked off. My office is right next to the court, and I always see Wang practicing alone there," Liu Jian, Nanchang University's head coach, recalled. During the injury, although Wang couldn't play basketball, his training in the gym never stopped.
Liu later sent Wang's video highlights to Qingdao Eagles' manager Zhang Beihai. Just like Liu recruited Wang to the university without hesitation, Zhang promised to select the gym rat in the draft right after the second trial.
CARRYING FORWARD THE KOBE AND YI MENTALITY
With the experience of the injury in 2018, when injuries struck during the 2020-2021 season, Wang became much more calm. "I will just focus on recovery and training, and won't dwell on why the injury happened," Wang said.
After recovering, Wang played the entire 2021-2022 season. In the summer of 2022, Liu Weiwei took over as Qingdao's head coach, and Wang's playing time increased further. In the following two seasons, he set new highs in average playing time and points per game, becoming one of the most outstanding college players. In the 2023 CBA All-Star, Wang was also crowned in the 3-pointer contest.
"The key is not giving up," Wang summarized, who had Kobe Bryant and Yi Jianlian, both standing out as representatives of self-discipline and winning desire as role models.
"Yi's spirit in leading the national team during difficult times, along with his attitude towards professional basketball, is something worthy of us younger players learning from." With Wang's impressive performance, the calls for his selection into the national team are growing louder, but Wang said his priority is the current CBA season.
"I watched the FIBA World Cup last summer, and I can sense there was quite a gap between Chinese players and top-tier players in physical strength," Wang noted. "As a professional player, of course, I want to wear the national jersey, but for now, all I need to do is to concentrate on the league games and keep improving." ■