Mon, 26 Oct 2020

By sportswriter Su Bin

CHENGDU, China, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- For China's national team captain Shao Ting, a move back to Women's Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA) side Sichuan is a challenge that she is ready to embrace.

"This is more about a challenge, but I'm honored and willing to face it," she told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

Shao, 30, was trained under a program between the Sichuan Provincial Sports Administration and Beijing Normal University.

Before her move to Sichuan in July, Shao had played for Beijing since 2013, helping the team win three straight WCBA titles. This followed a stellar university career which produced five China University Basketball Association (CUBA) titles and three China University Basketball Super League (CUBS) crowns.

"My teammates in Sichuan are quite energetic. Developing together with them and offering them some advice is also a process of self-improvement for me," Shao explained.

Along with Shao, Sichuan made several other signings during the off-season, including fellow Chinese international Gao Song and players such as Zhang Wanglai and Huang Ping-Jen, and also saw former Guangdong coach Pan Wei take charge.

Sichuan had a 4-1 win-loss record early in the current campaign, including a stunning win over powerhouse Xinjiang in the season opener.

"This is a good start. But we are a new team and just trained together one month before the season kicked off. Despite some wins, we can still see some problems during the process," Shao admitted, adding that she thought that the team has a good atmosphere and that everyone wants to help the team achieve better results.

"We talk a lot during training sessions to learn more and compensate each other for common improvement."

"I hope to help my teammates progress without thinking too much about the target. I think we should better our 12th-place result last season," Shao said, once again emphasizing that Sichuan is a young and new group.

"We hope to build chemistry game by game to make a more mature team," she noted.

The 2020-21 WCBA season kicked off on October 1, following a nine-month hiatus after last season's remaining matches were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everyone shows gratitude for the league's resumption, and we cherish this opportunity a lot," said Shao, adding that she feels games are fiercer than before, which signals everyone's full preparation for the restart.

"Without foreign players this year, domestic players will get more chances to play, especially young players."

As for the national side, Shao had an enjoyable Olympic qualifying tournament in February, when the Chinese team advanced to the Tokyo Olympic Games with three wins in as many games, including a morale-boosting victory over European champions Spain.

That result took on a greater meaning as China was already battling against the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I will never forget it in my life," Shao said.

"At such a difficult period, we stepped up to overcome those opponents, which not only encouraged our fans back home, but also boosted our own confidence, making us realize that with hard work and dedication, we still have great potential."

"If we can overcome this, what can't we overcome?"

Shao said if the team had carried its momentum into the Tokyo Olympics originally slated for this July, it would have achieved a favorable result, but the Games' postponement to 2021 has brought about more uncertainty.

"Without international matches, we don't know how the other teams are doing. So we have to focus on ourselves and solve problems on our own. If we can manage this, no matter who we face at the Olympic Games, we can handle it in a good fashion."

Shao, who competed at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, thought her biggest change over a four-year span comes from mentality.

"I was thrilled in my first Olympic appearance. Actually I felt a bit nervous at the start, as it is the highest-level playing field for athletes across the globe. I just focused on enjoying the process and showing my character."

"But next year, as a veteran and team captain, I have to shoulder more responsibilities. I need to play well on my own, while also helping those young players better fit into the Games," Shao said.

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