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Guo Ailun represents a bright future for Asia
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on my Mind) - Six years ago at the 2009 FIBA Asia U16 Championship, Chinese guard Guo Ailun turned a lot of heads with his speed and flair. He was a refreshing sight from the usual mold of Chinese guards who, though effective and productive, were certainly wanting in panache. With Guo at the helm, China swept all its nine games to qualify for the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship, where they won four of eight assignments and finished seventh.
Due to his skill set, Guo was elevated to the senior level shortly thereafter, playing for China in the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup. At just 18 years of age, he was the youngest competitor at the 2012 Men's Olympic Basketball Tournament in London where he featured three games, averaging 3.3 points and 1.0 rebound. Because of these achievements, Guo was anointed as one of the spearheads of the future of Chinese hoops.
Understandably, hopes were high that Guo would be able to impress even more at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. With bemedalled Greek coach Giannakis Panagiotis at the helm, China went in as the defending champions and title favorites. Things, however, didn't pan out as Team Dragon had hoped. Plagued by a couple of injuries and having to adjust to head coach Giannakis's play style, they crashed out of podium contention after losing in the Quarter-Finals to rival Chinese Taipei. China went on to finish a disappointing fifth, the lowest that a full strength Chinese squad has ever finished in an Asian tournament.
Guo had steady numbers in that competition, averaging 8.1 points and 2.3 assists per game, but he was shaky in the big games against Korea, Iran, and Chinese Taipei, putting up a total of just 7 points on 3-of-11 field goal shooting. There were definitely flashes of brilliance in his play, but, by and large, he needed to grow in terms of maturity and savvy if he was to truly rise to the continent's top tier.
Fast-forward to the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship and the 1.92m guard after averaging 10.9 points, 4.0 assists and 3.2 assists per outing while also shooting 54.8 percent from the floor, has blossomed into a bona fide household name, joining compatriots Zhou Qi and Yi Jianlian, along with Jayson Castro of the Philippines and Samad Nikkhah Bahrami of Iran, in the tournament's All-Star Five.
Guo was noticeably steadier in this tournament compared to two years ago, leading his team throughout the competition, especially in the critical moments. He made the all-important assist that enabled the hosts to go ahead in their tight group stage encounter against Korea and then saved his best game for last by outplaying Castro in the Final as China romped to the title, 78-67. Guo stamped his class in that game by scoring 19 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and hitting two three-pointers.
After conquering Asia, the 21-year-old is set to return to the Olympic stage and, now four years the wiser, he is expected to make a much bigger impact than he did in 2012. The competition at Rio 2016 will be much tougher many times over, of course, as world-class playmakers like Steph Curry, Patty Mills, Sergio Llull, Mantas Kalnietis, and Marcelinho Huertas are already waiting.
Nevertheless, as Guo ascends the scaffolds of Chinese and world basketball, he represents a bright future for Asian hoopsters everywhere.
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