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As collegiate stars turned promising pros, China's Zhu Mingzhen sees Rui as example to learn from

OCT . 30 2020
Peking University, October 30, 2020: China's Zhu Mingzhen has a bright future ahead of him.

He's a 1.97M (6'6") forward who can do a little bit of everything. Whether it's knocking down the three-pointer, pounding it down in the post, or even pull off a crossover to break his opponent's ankles.

Zhu Mingzhen

These skills are what allowed him to shine while starring for Peking University while led to a national team training camp invite earlier this year. Zhu is still just 22 years old, but he's already hoping this will be only the first of many more opportunities with the national team program.

"For me to wear the national team jersey, It is an exciting moment," Zhu expressed. "I would like to thank the CBA and coach Du trusting me and giving me this opportunity to learn."

"I understand I still have a lot of things to improve in order to become a real national team player. This opportunity was for me learn from them. There were many professional players in the camp and I can learn from their experiences."

"It is a goal for me to be a player for the national team."

Zhu's introduction to basketball on his way to being a national team hopeful is a familiar story. Most of his friends played the sport and he naturally followed suit. Then, the basketball cultural phenomenon that is the Japanese Manga, Slam Dunk, made him fall in love with the game completely.

Therefore, it's a bit of a coincidence that that he see Japanese star, Rui Hachimura, as someone who he can learn a lot from. Like Rui, whose father is from Benin, Zhu also has a biracial background. His father is a Ugandan diplomat, which his mother is a teacher. Beyond the similarities in their background is how they have had similar paths jumping into the professional level of play.

"I think he [Rui] is a good example for me to learn from as in how to transition from a college player to a professional player," Zhu said.

For Hachimura, he went from high school in Japan to playing at the collegiate level with Gonzaga in the US before landing in the NBA as a Top 10 draft pick last year. Zhu starred at the high school level in Beijing, continued to shine at Peking University, and was then drafted with the second overall pick in the CBA's 2020 draft.

In his first official game ever as a professional, Zhu delivered with 16 points and 8 rebounds in 33 minutes of play against a strong team in the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

The collegiate route that Zhu has gone through isn't a path normally taken by Chinese basketball prospects, as most go through the youth ranks of each respective club. Nonetheless, Zhu has no regrets of this road that he has taken.

"Since I have always played in school system from primary school to high school to college, I always been a student. Now, I've become a professional player. For me, I did not have much professional training at an early age compared to these other players from youth teams."

"Students always spend less time on training but I think I can make up for that with hard work."

"The student experience enriched my experience and since I've had different campus experiences, It's been a precious experience for me."

Now, he's one of the best young talents in China who is also a top draft pick and a senior national team hopeful. Looking back, he's not sure where this seemed like a possible reality.

Because all he did was ball his heart out to get better each day.

"There was no such moment for me [when I felt like basketball could be a lasting career]."

"From high school to college, I was just a basketball player. Playing basketball in college, after reaching a certain level, it was just my instinct to become a better player."

"I have played basketball for many years. I also love basketball so much. I have always it as a dream career in my heart. So I think when I went to university for 2-3 years, at that time, I began to image about becoming a pro player."

"This idea started growing."

"I just wanted to further experience the challenge from the professional league."

"I just made a decision at that time. I just wanted to see it through to the end and then try to see if I could play in the professional league or not."

Zhu's made it clear that he can indeed play. Over his first four games, he's averaging 9.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 34.8 minutes per contest. There's still room for improvement for the youngster and, as a matter of fact, he sees that can also be an advantage for him against other players.

"I think the advantage might be that I still have a lot of potential that I haven't completely developed yet," Zhu said. "As a collegiate player, you might not have been trained systematically before or the practice time is not enough."

"I think our skill level, the potential for improvement has not been fully discovered."

"I think I can continue to work hard to discover my potential in the future."

"Regarding disadvantages, It might be both physically and technically. There may still be a certain gaps compared to the professional players. I think there may still be a lot of gaps, but I will work hard in the future to overcome them."

That tough mentality is why many are hopeful for Zhu's future. It's no surprise that two of his biggest idols are two proven winners that have the similar winning mentality.

"I think [the players I look up to] would be Lebron James and Yi Jianlian," Zhu revealed. "I think they have maintained a high level of competition for a long time and they have been very self-disciplined for a long time."

"Then they have are good leaders on the team, leading the young players to perform well. That's why I like them."

Whether Zhu Mingzhen can continue to improve to come close to the same level as Yi or James is to be seen later down the road. He's still only just scratching the surface of his potential. But he's not thinking too far into the future just yet.

"I do not have such ideas [of playing in the NBA] so far. I do not have time to think about it because I know my level is still quite far from the NBA. I think what I want to do now is to keep my feet on the ground."

"One step at a time to become capable of playing in CBA and then to serve the country as soon as possible."

Right now, he's just focused on playing his best and giving it his all in the CBA, just as he did during college or in high school. Who knows how far it will take him this time, but taking a look at where at it has gotten him now, the future is quite promising.