BEIJING, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- Despite progress over the past two years, China women's basketball team coach Zheng Wei still believes that there is more to come from her side in future.
The team departed on Friday from their training base in Qingyuan, south China's Guangdong Province to Xi'an, where they will compete in the FIBA women's Olympic qualifiers from February 8 to 11.
"Our best time has yet to come," Zheng told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in Qingyuan.
NO MINNOWS IN OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS
China will face New Zealand, France and Puerto Rico in Xi'an, capital city of northwest China's Shaanxi Province. As France have automatically secured a place at the Olympic Games as hosts, China will vie with the other two teams for two Olympic tickets on offer.
As China's players reconvened to prepare for the Olympic qualifiers early in January, several carried injuries from their domestic league duties, meaning the team's initial training sessions would be disrupted.
"I was quite worried then," Zheng admitted. "Qualifying for the Paris Olympics is a big task for us. As our opponents are playing quality matches in their leagues, they can fit into competitive matches more quickly. Therefore, these several weeks of training are crucial for us."
For Zheng, China's opponents have different styles of play. "France are powerhouses in women's basketball and maintain their position as one of the world's best teams. New Zealand and Puerto Rico are lower-ranked than us, but Puerto Rico have kept progressing since the FIBA Women's World Cup in 2022 and New Zealand outplayed South Korea at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup last year," she commented.
"There are no weak teams in the Olympic qualifiers, so we need to get onto the pace of international matches as soon as possible, both physically and mentally."
"Only when you make full preparations can you play at your best level," said Zheng.
STEP BY STEP
China women's basketball team had an impressive run in the past two years. Following a runners-up finish at the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup, China continued their momentum to triumph at the Asia Cup and the Asian Games in 2023.
But with consistent glory often comes greater expectation and pressure.
"In competitive sports, there is no team that can always keep an upward trend, and it should be a fluctuating one. But we need to strive to become better every time, which brings about huge pressure," Zheng noted, while trying to motivate herself and the team at the same time, just as she had three months ago.
"In crunch time, China never let you down," said an emotional Zheng after her side clinched the Asian Games gold medal in Hangzhou in October last year.
In retrospect, Zheng said, "I just want to offer motivation to myself and to the team. After achieving successes, we need to do our job step by step, and also remind everyone in our team to make solid preparations to not let people down."
"It should come down to our everyday training," she added.
Zheng attributed her team's recent successes to a solid foundation in the past and the strength of spirit.
"China's women have taken silver medals at the Olympic Games and the World Championship in the past, and it's our responsibility to carry forward the team's spirit and tradition," Zheng remarked.
STRIVE TO BECOME BETTER
With consecutive successes at the Asia Cup and the Asian Games, Zheng said that 2023 was a year of dreams coming true for her side, though she envisages a tough task in 2024.
At the last Olympic Games in Tokyo, China finished only fifth after losing in the quarterfinals against Serbia.
"Qualifying for the Olympic Games is our primary goal this year. We must earn a spot at the Olympics and try to gain the best result as we can to make up for our regret at the Tokyo Olympics," Zheng said.
"I hope that everyone can keep fit to play, this is my biggest wish."
Despite placing second in the world rankings and boasting a balanced roster in terms of depth and age profile, Zheng urged a note of caution.
"We finished runners-up at the World Cup and regained the Asian Cup after a 12-year wait, and have been on the rise over the past two years, but we still have much to improve on. Now is not our best time yet," she explained.
"Some players have favorable physical conditions, which may explain why they are called a golden generation, but they have to improve their skills, and they are young and inexperienced. Hopefully we can live up to our billing as a golden generation with our performances at the Olympic Games," Zheng concluded. ■