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Han Xu is showcasing the spirit of China early in career
BEIJING (China) - The comparisons are easy to draw between the legendary Yao Ming and the young Han Xu. Both are exceptionally tall, relatively fluid for their size, and viewed as the hope of the nation at a young age.
Both also possess a wide, friendly smile.
Like many other young kids in China, Yao was a big-time childhood idol for Han.
"The reason I like Yao Ming is that I watched him play on T.V. ever since I was a little girl," Han said in a promotional video for the WNBA. "I watched him dress in a China national team uniform for Team China."
She still has a long way to go to match Yao's career, but the 20-year-old has been doing well in her own regards.
Han Xu was the force of the youth women's national team for China, going on a successful run in 2016-2017. She led them to their second-ever U17 Women's World Championship Semi-Finals appearance in 2016, a fourth straight U18 Asian Championship for Women's in the same year, and an inspiring run through the U19 Women's Basketball World Cup in 2017.
(FIBA U18 Asian Championship for Women's 2016)
It didn't take too long before Han finally made it to the senior national team, playing for Team China at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018. On the stage of the largest women's basketball event, Han made sure to catch everyone's attention, specifically in China's game against the powerhouse, USA.
The 2.05M (6'9') center recorded her senior national team high with 20 points, though China ended up losing 100-88. However, it was the closest margin ever in a game between these two teams in 35 years.
(FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018)
The performance caught the eyes of many in the basketball circle, especially those on the opposing end like Nneka Ogwumike.
"For someone that tall, I guess you don't expect her to have such a fluid game," Ogwumike said, as per ESPN. "It was really interesting to see someone [with the] amount of skills she had."
USA's center Tina Charles also took notice. After she and Han clashed in the Chinese league a couple of months later, Charles expressed her interest in working out with the youngster someday in the future.
Charles eventually got her requested granted when her WNBA team, the New York Liberty, drafted Han with the 14th pick in the 2019 draft.
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"I feel some pressure. I represent the whole of China." Han Xu said, as per the New York Times.
You can rarely tell how Han carries herself. She's still a cheerful youngster, going through so many new experiences at an accelerated rate.
Nonetheless, the amount of pressure is anticipated considering the expectations for Han from a proud basketball nation like China. As the first Chinese player in the WNBA in nearly a decade, everyone sees and expects a bright future ahead.
"She is very gifted and also works very hard. I have high hopes for her future," said Chen Yue, Han's high school teammate who is currently playing in the U.S. collegiate system.
"She is young and energetic, and her understanding of the game has surpassed players of her age," said her national team head coach Xu Limin.
"Physically and mentally, she's so talented, she can be the best player in the world," said Li Meng, a senior teammate on Team China.
"She has a high I.Q., incredibly skilled, wants to be one of the best players in the world," said Matt Blue, her coach at the NBA Academy, as per The New York Times.
"I can't think of a better person to usher in the new wave of Chinese players."
Han is now undoubtedly one of the most important players for China heading into the future. She's already one of a key piece for the national team right now.
Despite playing only 17.1 minutes per game at the Women's Asia Cup 2019, Han averaged 11.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and led all players with 2.6 blocks per game as China made their way back to the title game. She then put up similar numbers at both the Women's Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament and Qualifying Tournament, building up her way towards an Olympic debut.
She's done a good job representing China in the WNBA, too.
Han Xu wrapped up her rookie season playing 18 games for an average of 7.9 minutes and 3.0 points per contest. The numbers are slightly more impressive than they initially seem, considering that Han was the youngest player in the league.
"I hope, through my own experience of participating in the WNBA draft and the WNBA, more Chinese kids will be inspired to love playing basketball and become one of us," she said.
That is what has always seemed important for the hope of women's basketball in China. Ever since watching her idol Yao Ming as a little girl up until today, proudly representing the country has always been one of her top priorities.
Han said it best, as she headed into the WNBA draft:
"I want to showcase the spirit of the Chinese women's national team."