20 under 20 Asian stars who should shine in the 2020s - Part One
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on My Mind) - What can inspire us in this time of almost universal lockdown? The burning desire of young stars to reshape the basketball landscape. That ambition is on full display in this list of my own 20 under 20 Asian stars who should shine in the 2020s.
Selecting these upstarts has been a quasi-obsession of mine ever since 2018 when the most promising Asian prospects born 2000 or later dominated various tournaments - the FIBA U16 Asia Championship 2018 in China, the FIBA U18 Asia Championship 2018 in Thailand and the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 in Argentina.
In this list, I will spotlight our continent's most impressive and perhaps more importantly, most inspiring youthful hardcourt gems. I have decided to divide the list into two parts, so I can give the appropriate exposure to each of these wonderfully exciting future stars.
Let's begin with the first ten among our 20 under 20.
Kai Sotto (Philippines)
This 7ft 2in/2.18m Filipino big man has attracted heavy media coverage since moving from Manila to the United States last year, and deservingly so. His performances at various youth competitions both at the Asian and world levels have made US NCAA and NBA scouts drool with his potential, and it's easy to imagine that he may grow an inch or two more as well, given how he will only turn 18 in a few months' time. In a local Philippine podcast, national team program head Tab Baldwin even mentioned Sotto as one of the guys he expects to banner Gilas Pilipinas in the next FIBA Basketball World in 2023.
Lee HyunJung (Korea)
Not since Yang JaeMin in 2015 has a Korean prospect attracted so much interest outside of his own country, but that's exactly what HyunJung has on his plate right now. The high-scoring 19-year-old forward led the entire FIBA U18 Asia Championship field in points per game (26.0), and that opened several doors for him. He was already part of the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, Australia at that time, but he then made the move to transfer to the Davidson Wildcats (yes, the same school that produced Steph Curry). The son of a former women's national team player has already garnered comparisons to Japanese wingman Yuta Watanabe, also a product of the Asia-to-US NCAA pathway.
Michael Wang (China)
Speaking of the US NCAA, another East Asian talent making a name for himself is China's Wang Quanze, more popularly known as Michael Wang in the States. The 6ft 10in/2.08m sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania made a lot of noise, averaging a double-double at the FIBA U18 Asia Championship in Thailand two years ago before making a splash in the US NCAA, where he was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week three times. An injury affected his production at last year's U19 World Cup in Greece and sidelined him for Penn's 2019-2020 season, but the trajectory for this 19-year-old is still very promising.
AJ Edu (Philippines)
Like Wang, Edu was hampered by injury last year as he suffered an ACL tear and a hairline femur fracture at the U19 World Cup in Greece. That was most unfortunate as the Philippines had assembled arguably their deepest and tallest U19 national squad ever, and Edu's injury certainly derailed any hopes the Filipinos had of advancing past the first round. Despite that, Edu remained upbeat and after the competition, he immediately went into treatment and recovery. He still missed the 2019-2020 season for the Toledo Rockets, but the 6ft 11in/2.10m forward-center should still figure significantly in their future as well as the future of the Philippines' national basketball program.
Ma Chien-Hao (Chinese Taipei)
Chien-Hao (nicknamed Riven in the US) may not be as heralded as the previous guys on this list, but that doesn't mean he cannot hang with them. On the contrary, the 6ft 7in/2.01m forward has a wicked skill-set that, combined with his size, makes him a potential matchup nightmare for anyone in Asia. Riven was 8th overall in scoring at the U18 Asia Championship two years ago, where he also hit 2.5 three-pointers per game. His game reminds me a lot of former national team star Tien Lei, who was also a big name youngster back in the early 2000s. Now, it seems like we've found Tien's heir apparent in Riven Ma.
Chikara Tanaka (Japan)
Tanaka made headlines in Japan a couple of years ago after being included in the national men's pool at just 16 years old, and he made good on his potential during the U16 Asia Championship in 2018, scoring double-figures in each of Japan's games. He has since moved to the United States, where he is part of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Though the 6ft 2in/1.88m is not IMG's superstar on the hardwood, he remains a full-blown celebrity back in Japan with more than 26,000 followers on his Instagram account. Tanaka is more than a social media idol, though. He is expected to continue on to the US NCAA and then be available for Japan's future national teams, likely teaming up with Rui Hachimura and the aforementioned Watanabe to form a loaded young core.
Guo Haowen (China)
Unlike the first few guys on this list, Guo isn't playing outside of Asia. Instead, the 6ft 7in/2.01m wingman has remained in the Chinese mainland to continue playing for the Bayi Rockets of the CBA. Even at his tender age (Guo just turned 20 years old in January), Guo has become a reliable contributor for Bayi, averaging close to 11 points per game in 19 appearances for the 2019-2020 season. With his play expected to continue improving with each passing season, it is not a stretch to imagine Guo eventually giving national team mainstays like Zhai Xiaochuan and Makan Kelanbaike stiff competition for their spots.
Muzamil Hamoda (Bahrain)
Bahrain is not known as a hotbed of basketball talent in Asia, but 18-year-old Hamoda is bent on defying that notion. The 6ft 6in/1.99m forward-guard is fast becoming his country's most dangerous two-way player, proving his mettled even against top-flight men's competition in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers, averaging 10.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 block per game. His length, athleticism and versatility make him somewhat of a unicorn for Bahraini basketball, perhaps in the same way Yaseen Musa was a unicorn for Qatar in the early 2000s. We shall certainly watch his career with great interest.
Amirhossein Rezaeifar (Iran)
Iran is currently stacked at the forward spots with Arsalan Kazemi, Mohammad Jamshidi, and Mohammad Hassanzadeh still all in their primes, but don't be surprised if 6ft 7in/2.00m Amirhossein Rezaeifar actually makes an appearance at the senior level soon. Rezaeifar has long been touted among Iran's rising stars, even seeing action in the FIBA U19 World Cup 2017 despite being only 17 years old. Right now, Rezaeifar, who turned 20 in late March, pays a vital role for Exxon Sport Club in the Iran Superleague, averaging around 5.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Princepal Singh (India)
There are only two guys on this initial list that played in the recent Asia Cup Qualifiers first window - Hamoda and this kid Princepal Singh. Standing 6ft 10in/2.08m, Singh is one among a platoon of big men at India's disposal, but he is also one of the youngest and most promising. Singh was 11th overall in scoring and 7th overall in rebounding at the FIBA U18 Asia Championship 2018 while also putting up a respectable 1.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game at the Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers first window, backing up veterans Amritpal Singh and Aravind Annadurai. He is to the Indian program what Amritpal was nearly a decade ago.
Next week, I will profile the last ten kids in my 20 under 20 Asian stars list!
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