It took Zheng Qilong less than two months to become a sensation in Chinese basketball.
On August 21, 2020, the 24-year-old Tsinghua University graduate was selected by the Jiangsu Kentier Club as the fifth pick in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league draft.
"When CBA president Yao Ming read out my name during the draft pick ceremony, I did not realize what was happening. Next thing I know, I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement, because it means I will be able to stand on the stage of the CBA," Zheng told Xinhua in an interview.
It came not only as a surprise for Zheng, but also many league insiders. Some argued that Zheng was picked for his name, as the son of former national player Zheng Wu, rather than his own ability. Although he quickly put those notions to bed.
On Oct 17, Zheng made 10 of 16 shots for 20 points, four rebounds and three steals in his CBA debut, breaking the scoring record for a rookie player. In his second game, Zheng scored 18 points and immediately put himself at the top of the rookie list. In the 10th round, he shone again by scoring 24 points, another personal record in a single game.
"I would like to thank coach Li Nan for letting me play in the first game of the season. I worked really hard, and kept recalling and doing what he had told me before I came on the court," said Zheng.
In retrospect, Zheng has walked a long path to get here.
Zheng was born into a basketball dynasty. His grandfather, Zheng Guobao was a famous player known as "King of the Ball in Zhejiang." His father, Zheng Wu was a key figure in the "Golden Age" of Chinese basketball and participated in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.
"We are a special basketball family. I cannot remember the moment when I first started playing basketball. My father had not retired when I was born. And a picture from my childhood shows that my mom would take me to play basketball at the stadium even before I could walk," he said.
Zheng started basketball training in fifth grade, two hours a day, every day. Later he joined the team of the affiliated high school of Tsinghua University and played under coach Zhang Tao for three years. Zheng helped the team win the national High School Professional League title twice and was admitted to Tsinghua University.
"When I was at Tsinghua University, we were given some extracurricular self-study or remedial classes to make up for our studies, so I didn't lag far behind other students. My parents have no special requirements for my academic study. They just hope that I do not fall behind in any aspect," said Zheng.
But during his career in the China University Basketball Association (CUBA) league, Zheng failed to live up to the hype, averaging 5.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.
With such a mediocre performance, Zheng was taking a massive risk when he decided to take part in the CBA draft, especially considering that he had earned postgraduate admission from Tsinghua University.
"Just like most university students, I was not sure about my future after graduation," said Zheng.
"If I continue my graduate studies, I will probably have to give up playing basketball. But I do not want to let it go since it has been with me for so many years."
Now Zheng is grateful for his decision. And for his performance in the first phase of the 2020-21 CBA regular season, Zheng gives it "7 to 8 points" out of 10.
"After the first two games, I took time to self-reflect. I think as a rookie in the CBA, I need to find my place in the team and try to do better on defense and rebounding," said Zheng, adding that individual scoring is not the only measurement for success.
In order to quickly adapt to the CBA, Zheng learned a lot from his father Zheng Wu in addition to working hard on his skills, tactics, and physical training.
"As I watched videos of my father's games, I was also getting to know him again and learning how he had played. I can see that my father was a very active player on the court, both on the offensive and defensive sides. He was everywhere on the court. And I feel like playing more actively on both sides as well."
"My father has taught me a lot both in being a good person and a quality basketball player. Now he also watches my games and points out my weaknesses and things that I need to improve on," Zheng said.
As for the label of "the son of a national team player," Zheng said he has learned to cope with it.
"I used to feel the pressure when I was young, but now it is not something I care about. After all, my father is my father, and I am still me. In fact, I just want to be who I am and try to do better," he said. "In the long run, I do wish to play for my country and follow my father's journey."
Looking up to the banner of his parents, Zheng has already set his next goal. "I hope to achieve the first double-double of my career as soon as possible, starting with double figures in scoring and rebounding."
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