Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion
In the 2011 Asian Games Women’s Basketball Final, China versus South Korea. It was close calls with the score 78-78, 10 seconds to go in the 4th period.
On the crunch time, a Chinese player crossed over a defender with a fake, fast broke into the paint zone, spin moved from another defender, jump shot! The ball falls in! What a great Buzzer beater! The girl was hugged by her hilarious teammates! China outscored South Korea and won the championship!
This is one of Zhang Wei’s best performances – and there’s much to admire among her 20+ points per game in the payoff of WCBA, 25 double-doubles during 70 international matches– hinges on the hard and boring daily training.
Zhang Wei, 25, member of the Chinese National Women’s Basketball Team, is also playing shooting guard for Liaoning Hengye club in the professional women’s basketball league – China’s Women Basketball Association (WCBA). As a scorer, she is recognised as one of the most accurate 3-point and free throw shooters in the country.
There’s nothing Zhang Wei likes more than to talk. “I talk endlessly,” she says during a Skype interview with me that comfortably proves the point. Ma Zengyu, her teammate in both the national team and the club, has remarked,” the only reason I knew when we’d started training is because she stopped talking.”
Chatterbox is too feeble a word to describe the vibrancy of Zhang when she ‘s talking about the things that interest her. Charity is one of her primary passions. “The thing is, if you have been given the privileges we have – if you have this many perks – surely you can help out,” Zhang Wei, explaining her long-term backing for the Hope Project, a charity organization to help children nationwide in desperate need.
Born in a small town in northeast China in 1986, Zhang Wei and her twin sister soon found themselves taller than their peers, thanks to the DNA inherited from their parents who both were former basketball players. Zhang recalls, “we were thrust into a basketball training school at 10 and began to learn basic skills that initially helped us blend in with our peers but soon we come to stand out.”
Those skills came in handy at the provincial youth team that followed, where her teammates were “overwhelmingly talented,” she says. “I wouldn’t have survived in that environment if I were lazy and slack.” she solidified her current tough style and three-point shot in the “devil training” during that time.
“We treated every training session as NBA finals.” She leant back and began to laugh. Her then-teammate Hu Nan told me, “She once bled her head just to grab a 50 to 50 ball with me. That period was definitely hard time, even now I can’t even imagine that we survived back then.”
“It’s amazing how all the hard work pays off when we won championships.” she says unrepentantly. But when I hear people talking about a successful athlete, I wonder why they completely ignore the sweat and blood they have shed away from the spotlight. We pierced our hands and learned from injuries.All we did . That’s what we aspired to.”
At 17, Zhang Wei was picked out of the youth team and played professionally for Liaoning Hengye Club, the giant in China’s women basketball league. During her rookie season she mostly came off the bench behind the veteran nationalist Chen Miao, “Initially, I played limited minutes, but as the season continued, I began to see some more playing time.” By the end of the season, she averaged 15.5 minutes a game and began to appear in the starting line-up.
Her second season marked Zhang Wei’s emergence as a premiere guard in the league. Now she has proved that she is the marquee player for her club. She leads her team swept the league for the last two seasons and won two consecutive championships from 2008 to 2010.
As a nationalist
Zhang Wei made her debut in Chinese National team when she was only 19, in the game against Chinese Taipei. She represented the Chinese team in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as the youngest player among the squad. Zhang Wei says, “It was one of the most breathtaking moment that I have ever onstage. I feel extremely proud when I heard my supporters yelling my name at the Olympic arena.”
Her fortunes would soon change when Li Xiaoyong became coach for the Liaoning Hengye Club in 2007. Zhang Wei was closely scrutinized and criticized during the 2007-2008 season when disagreement about tactics between Zhang Wei and Li Xiaoyong began to surface. Their heated feud had led to a loss streak for the club in WCBA.
Zhang Wei laughs when reminded of the incident. “It was the most lethal, deadly spell I’ve never had,” she says, “I was suspended from playing and was forced on the bench for almost a month. Later, Li was hacked and everything went back to normal. I just couldn’t say yes to people I don’t agree with, even if he is my boss.“
“I think the great joy for her is to enjoy her success on basketball court, really,” says Zhangyu, her twin sister. “She’s so passionate about it. She yearns for victory all the time.” And never underestimate the heart of a champion.