12 - 19
June 2022
15 Qi ZHOU (China)
to read

7 players who have gone from U16 prospects to Asia Cup stars

DOHA (Qatar) - The FIBA U16 Asian Championship was first played in 2009 and has since then been a platform for future Asia Cup stars to flash their potential. Here are the biggest stars from some of the best national teams that started their national team journeys in the U16 Asian Championship!

Zhou Qi (China)

FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2011

Before Zhou went on to be an Asia Cup champion, an Olympian, and an NBA player, he made his international basketball debut in Nha Trang, Vietnam at the U16 Asian Championship 2011.

Zhou was just 15 at the time, and in his debut, he immediately impressed with 13 points and 17 rebounds off the bench.

He saved his best and biggest performance for last - dropping an absurd 43 points, 19 rebounds, and 12 blocks - against Korea in the Final. The 43 points scored by Zhou still stands as the most by any player in the U16 Asian Championship.

Zhou is currently one of the biggest stars in China basketball and is expected to be their main force in the upcoming Asia Cup 2022 and the third window of the World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers.

Other notable stars: The list of China’s stars that have passed through the U16 Asian Championship is a long one. After all they are three-time champions of the event. Aside from Zhou in 2011, Guo Ailun was the star on the 2009 team, while Hu Jinqiu was the star for China in 2013.

Yudai Baba (Japan)

FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2011

Another Asia Cup star that made his international basketball debut at the U16 Asian Championship 2011 is Japan’s Yudai Baba.

The athletic wing averaged 16.0 points per game as one of Japan’s best scorer on their way to a third-place finish, their best in the history of the competition. Baba was impressive in the two games that he played against the Philippines, scoring 26 points in his encounter and 17 points in a third-place game win.

Baba is currently one of the biggest stats in Japan basketball, right alongside Yuta Watanabe and Rui Hachimura. After racking up awards left and right in Japan’s B-League, Baba went on to play in the NBA G-League and win titles in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL) as well.

Other notable stars: Starring for Japan in the U16 Asian Championships after Baba were Rui Hachimura (2013), Yudai Nishida (2015), and Keisei Tominaga (2017).

Hachimura has yet to play in the Asia Cup, but has starred in the World Cup and the Olympics. Nishida made his senior national team debut recently in the World Cup Qualifiers. And while Tominaga has yet to make a senior national team debut, he certainly played like an up-and-coming star in his youth national team runs.

Lee HyunJung (Korea)

FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2015

Lee HyunJung has yet to make an official Asia Cup debut, but his performance at the Asia Cup Qualifiers should be an indicator of positive things to come.

Lee has been previewing what he’s capable of for a long time, going back to as early as the U16 Asian Championship in 2015 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Even though he was the youngest player on the team, Lee played a major role in Korea winning their first ever U16 Asian Championship title. In 9 games, Lee averaged 14.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. One his best games was against the Philippines where he played all 40 minutes to score 22 points in a narrow win.

It didn’t take long for Lee to continue improving and becoming one of the biggest youth stars in Asia, especially at the U18 Asian Championship 2018. After an outstanding run in the NCAA with Davidson University, Lee is now preparing himself as a prospect for the upcoming NBA Draft. His first senior national team appearance was at the Asia Cup Qualifiers where he put up 17.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game, and it certainly won’t be his last.

Other notable stars: Korea have always been one of the top teams of the U16 Asian Championship, making it to all Semi-Finals expect for in 2017. Heo Hoon (2011) is one of Korea’s biggest stars to have played in the U16 Asian Championship, but the list also includes Lee JongHyun (2009), and Yang Jae-Min (2011, 2013).

Kai Sotto (Philippines)

FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2018

Like Lee, as mentioned above, Sotto hasn’t made his Asia Cup debut just yet, but all signs are pointing towards a lengthy career in the competition for the young center.

Sotto was one of the youngest players on the Philippines national team in 2018, but made his presence known from start to finish as he went on to average 16.8 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.

Sotto seemed to click into another mode after the Quarter-Finals started, going off for two straight double-doubles of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds against Japan and China.

The Philippines have not been shy about pegging Sotto as their pillar for the future and have been using him in both the Asia Cup Qualifiers and Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The youngster has held his own and has also put his game on display in the G-League and Australia’s NBL.

Other notable stars: There’s a long list of talents from the Philippines that have played in the U16 Asian Championship. Even though they haven’y played in the Asia Cup just yet, they’ve played other major events and the Asia Cup Qualifiers. Kiefer Ravena (2009) is one of the key leaders for the Philippines national team heading into the future. Jordan Heading (2011) has had his moments as a marksman for the senior national team. Juan Gomez De Liano and SJ Belangel (2015) have also played key roles for Gilas in recent years, especially Belangel who hit the buzzer-beating game-winner against Korea in the Asia Cup Qualifiers.

Lin Ting-Chien (Chinese Taipei)

FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2015

Again, this is another star prospect that has yet to make an Asia Cup debut. Nonetheless, Lin has shined brightly enough in his two games at the Qualifying Tournament for Third-Ranked Teams in the Asia Cup 2022 Qualifiers to warrant a spot on this list.

At the U16 Asian Championship 2015 in Jakarta, Lin was among one of the best players in the competition from the very first game to the very end. The high-scoring guard finished 4th among all scorers in the competition with 21.0 per game, highlighted by 33 points on his birthday against Indonesia. Lin was so good that he led Chinese Taipei all the way to an appearance at the Final, their best performance ever in the competition.

After another impressive run through the U17 World Cup in 2016 and in the NCAA with the Bryant Bulldogs, Lin returned to make a senior national team debut in a FIBA event at the Asia Cup Qualifiers. In an important two games to seal qualification for Asia Cup 2022, Lin averaged 25.0 points per game while also knocking down the clutch jumper to seal the win by aggregated points over Guam.

Other notable stars: Before Lin Ting-Chien, there was Chen Ying-Chun who starred at the U16 Asian Championship in 2009. Chen is arguably be the bigger star at the moment as he’s also played in the World Cup 2019 Qualifiers, but both will certainly be the stars of the future for Chinese Taipei… maybe as soon as Asia Cup 2022.

Karim Zeinoun (Lebanon)

FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2015

Lebanon have formed an energetic, young core for their senior national team and one of the most exciting pieces is Karim Zeinoun.

He was one of the best scorers at the U16 Asian Championship 2015 with 22.3 points per game, the third highest total among all players. His biggest game was against Korea where he recorded 32 points and 15 rebounds in a loss to Korea right after another 30-point game against Malaysia two days earlier.

Zeinoun is hopeful for an Asia Cup debut in 2022 after an impressive performance through the Asia Cup Qualifers. The 1.88M (6’2”) forward averaged 12.5 points, 3.8 rebouds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.

Other notable stars: Keep an eye out for Yousef Khayat (2018). The young forward has been generating buzz every time he takes the court for the senior national team ad could be a key piece in Lebanon’s upcoming Asia Cup 2022 run.

Ahmad Al Dwairi (Jordan)

FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2009

Ahmad Al Dwairi might eventually be one of the most important players for Jordan in the upcoming Asia Cup 2022. He already made his debut back in 2013 in a limited role where he averaged only 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds, but even before that, he had already represented Jordan in the U16 Asian Championship.

At just 14 years of age at the time, Al Dwairi didn’t play much in Johor Baru and scored 22 points across 8 games played. Nonetheless, he had size and would later prove that he was certainly a star in the making.

Since making a return to the senior men’s national team starting from the World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers, Al Dwairi has been on a tear. He’s always a threat to record a double-double and will certainly give Jordan a few assists and blocks on the board as well.