China has had its fair share of influence in the NBA as Yao Ming was the trailblazer who put China and other Asian countries on the map. China has a lot of influence on the NBA as the Chinese Basketball Association holds approximately $1.5 billion exclusive rights to stream all NBA games in the country, while driving up jersey sales and other merchandise.
China’s Next Star in the Making
When Yao Ming retired, China was in desperate need to find their next star as Europe was taking off. Yi Jianlian was the sixth pick in the 2006 Draft, but could not find success on the NBA floor as he spent five years in the league before returning and having a successful career in China.
Fanbo Zeng may be the next star coming from China; however he spent three-years playing high school basketball in both Oregon and Florida. Zeng returned to China during the beginning of the pandemic and originally committed to Gonzaga while also receiving scholarship offers from Florida, Florida State, and Virginia Tech.
No recruiters envisioned him as a one-and-done college player as he needed to develop in many areas of his game. Zeng could have been a part of one of the most hyped and loaded classes in school history as it would have featured (No.1) Chet Holmgren, (No. 6) Hunter Sallis, and (No. 53) Kaden Perry. Zeng would have been (No. 72) if he chose to reclassify.
Fanbo Zeng Chooses a Different Path
One of the most promising prospects out of China and saw a more promising route which is going through the G League Ignite to go pro. It was pretty clear to Zeng that playing for a top program like Gonzaga would be a work in progress for the prospect. It seemed like Zeng would not have gotten the minutes he envisioned if he joined the program.
Zeng has improved on the ESPN 100 list as he is currently ranked number 33, which is way better than his other ranking had he reclassified. In an interview with ESPN, Zeng stated,”This is the best and fastest way to become a pro, and also get better every day,”…This was the best decision I could make while I was in China. I’m not saying the NCAA isn’t good — just that the G League is the best way for me.”
Zeng now stands at 6-foot-11 and is weighing 198 pounds which helps with mobility up and down the court. Entering the high school basketball scene in the United States should help him transition to the G League a little easier.
At Windermere Prep high school just outside Orlando, Florida, Zeng averaged 15.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 2.6 blocks per game. In his sophomore year, Fanbo shot 47 percent from the three-point line that should put him in the five-star recruit category.
Zeng arrived at the G League Ignite practice facility in Walnut Creek, California where he will be cleared to play soon. The Ignite is home to four players in the ESPN 100, but Zeng was initially not included as he wasn’t seen as a candidate to join the upcoming draft class. The G League Ignite also has 17-year old Scoot Henderson who is arguably the top American prospect in the 2023 NBA draft class.
The G- League Ignite may garner more attention as players like Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga played in the league and got drafted in the lottery. Zeng will get a lot of attention from scouts and around the world as the star prospect; only two Chinese players have been drafted in the last fifteen years. Zhou Qi was the 46th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and did not have much impact on the NBA floor, which means all eyes wil be on Fanbo Zeng.