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Gong Luming steps down as China coach

BEIJING (FIBA Asia Cup 2017) - Gong Luming has ended his short but storied run as head coach of the Chinese national men's basketball team.

Under his watch, China reclaimed the FIBA Asia Championship title in 2015 and returned to the Olympic stage in Rio last summer, where they showed flashes of brilliance despite finishing win-less.

On Friday, Gong Luming formally stepped down as China's coach, paving the way for a new era as Team Dragon enters dangerous waters. With Australia and New Zealand both entering the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 and the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers for Asia, China's history of dominance in the continent is in a precarious position.

The early candidates to succeed coach Gong are American Brian Goorjian, Greek Ilias Zouros and Croatian Neven Spahija.

Goorjian, who coaches the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), seems to be the favorite given his experience and achievements. He served as Australia head coach for seven years, steering the Boomers to the the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. After leaving the Aussies in 2009, Goorjian journeyed to China, where he stays until now.

Goorjian first served as technical adviser to the China national team before coaching the CBA's Dongguan Leopards till 2015, handling player development for the GuangDong Southern Tigers in 2015-2016 and then switching to Shanghai this season. It is likely that nobody would be surprised if he takes over, given his presence in China and the Chinese fans' familiarity with him.

My new home #Guandongtigers #china #cba #tigers #dongguan @athleteperformance

A photo posted by Brian Goorjian (@briangoorjian) on

When asked about possibly getting the China national team coaching job, however, Goorjian was non-committal.

"Coaching the Chinese team is a great honor," he said. "But I will only focus on Shanghai for now."

Greek tactician Zouros, meanwhile, has also had a decorated coaching resume. He is a revered coach in the Greek pro circuit and has coached both the Greece and Georgia national sides. In Asia, Zouros once steered Lebanon to the FIBA Asia Champions Cup as Sagesse beat Syria's Al Wahda in the 2004 Final. He is a close associate of former China head coach and fellow Greek Giannis Panagiotis, and he has also coached in France, Lithuania and Turkey among others.

As for Spahija, the 54-year-old Croatian is currently one of the assistant coaches of the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA. Like Zouros and Goorjian, Spahija has coached all over, having helmed many Euroleague clubs as well as having steered the Croatian national side in two Eurobaskets (2003 and 2005). He was also in the shortlist of the 2013 China national team's coaching search before Panagiotis got the nod.

Whoever rises to the China national team coaching post will have the weight of expectations on his shoulders. China are expected to do well in this year's FIBA Asia Cup and the first window (November) for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 qualifiers.