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Meet Guo Ailun, who could be the first Chinese guard to impact the NBA

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Guo Ailun doesn’t cut an imposing figure. A slender 6-foot-4, 187 pounds, tall enough for an onlooker’s athlete alarm to sound, slight enough for him or her to ignore it, Guo walked through a crowded lobby of a beachfront hotel last month largely unnoticed. No one knew he was one of the biggest stars of the Chinese Basketball Association. No one knew he could be the first Chinese guard to make a significant impact in the NBA.

Asia, China in particular, is one of the NBA’s final frontiers. Since 1987, when then-commissioner David Stern cut a deal to provide game footage to Chinese Central Television, the league has slowly increased its footprint. Today, more than 300 million Chinese play basketball, with hundreds of millions more devouring the 400 regular-season games available on free TV.

Guo Ailun makes a nifty pass during the
2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (AP)
Yet the flow of talent from China has been slow, with imports largely limited to a handful of big men. Yao Ming, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year, is China’s most prominent NBA player, with Wang Zhizhi, Mengke Bateer and Yi Jianlian among a small group of Chinese players to filter through the league. Last season, not a single Chinese-born player played in the NBA.

“It frustrates me that there are no Chinese players in the NBA right now,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during the NBA Finals last month. “There’s probably more basketball being played in China than anywhere else in the world. And more NBA basketball is being watched in China than anywhere else in the world.”

For years, Guo, 23, was one of those viewers. Growing up in Liaoning, a province in northeast China, Guo, like many Chinese kids, developed an NBA addiction. He would rise early, settle in front of a TV in his living room and watch the two live games CCTV showed each week. Soon, he was buying NBA magazines and DVDs. He was scouring the internet for Allen Iverson highlights.

“That Iverson crossover,” Guo told The Vertical through a translator. “I loved that Iverson crossover.”

In China, Guo rose rapidly. He was identified by the national program in his early teens and added to the national team roster at 16. He led China to a first-place finish at the FIBA Asia Championship in 2015 and averaged 27 minutes per game at point guard in the 2016 Olympics. He has been a regular at offseason camps for years. In 2008, eager to prove himself against the U.S. elite, Guo played through the Adidas Nations camp with bone spurs in his ankle.

“I could barely walk,” recalled Guo. “But I wanted to play.”

As Guo’s game grew, so did his interest in the NBA. His first test against top NBA talent came in 2010, in a scrimmage against the U.S. national team in New York. “Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry,” Guo said. “I was nervous.” It showed. Guo’s final line: eight minutes, five shots, no makes. Added Guo: “I had one pretty good layup attempt.”

Still, he continued to work. Since 2012, Guo has spent summers training in the U.S. This year, he spent six weeks working with Rob McClanaghan, a noted trainer whose client list includes Westbrook, Curry and Kevin Love. For five to six days a week, they worked. Whatever McClanaghan asked, Guo did. And then asked for more.

“He’s a relentless worker,” McClanaghan told The Vertical. “He reminded me of Westbrook. He works so hard, and he doesn’t understand what time off is.”

With McClanaghan, Guo zeroed in on NBA skills. Pick-and-rolls. Change-of-pace dribble. Developing NBA 3-point range. In group settings, he drilled with NBA veterans Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings. Guo, McClanaghan says, “is an extremely good ball-handler, there is nothing he can’t do with the ball,” with a polished midrange game and an ability to finish strong at the rim.

Source: https://sports.yahoo.com/meet-guo-ailun-first-chinese-guard-impact-nba-171004502.html

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