Howard Herman: Ex-Eph helping build basketball in China
When James Wang first put on a Williams College basketball uniform, all he had to do was fit in. Nowadays, Wang is in the construction business.
Wang, who graduated in 2012, has signed a two-year contract to play in the Chinese National Basketball League. He plays for Guangxi Weizhuang, a team in the southwestern part of the country.
"I didn’t imagine it to this extent," he said. "I imagined that I probably would have done it the way Blake [Schultz] did, just a year to do it and not really make a career out of it.
"I had a feeling I had a better shot at making a career out of it just because of my nationality. But not to this extent."
Schultz, Wang’s former Williams teammate, spent a year playing overseas before heading off to medical school. There have been many former Ephs who spent a year or two playing overseas and then veering off to the working world.
Wang’s team will play a 18-game schedule that begins in May. He heads for China next month.
"Initially when I graduated college, I was supposed to play for another team in the [Chinese Basketball Association]. That fell through because of a rule that if you want to play as a Taiwanese local in China, you have to have played in Taiwan before," he said.
He spent the 2012-13 in Taiwan, and the native of Sydney, Australia, is now considered a local player for the Chinese league.
There are actually two leagues in China. The CBA runs through the winter and the NBL is a summer league. Having the winter off gave him a chance to watch his alma mater play Amherst earlier in the month.
Wang graduated from Williams as the fourth all-time leading scorer, helping coach Mike Maker take two squads of Ephs to the NCAA Division III Final Four.
Former Boston College standout Craig Smith has played in the same league as Wang, while the CBA had three former Celtics -- Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams and D.J. White -- playing there.
Basketball in China has a ways to go to catch up with much of the world, but Wang said it is growing and growing rapidly. He said the sport is really taking off and that the amount of money being invested is "unbelievable".
"Basketball over there has always been one of the favorite sports," he said. "You can see how passionate the fans are. It’s like the U.S. in terms of a passionate fan base, but you multiply that by three because there are 1.6 billion people over there.
"We go to random towns like Williamstown and the stands will be packed because that’ll be the only thing in that town."
Wang didn’t want to say what he was making, but he said he was more than comfortable. He also said that being a pro player isn’t quite as much fun as he thought.
"It’s actually not," he said. "I have to be honest with you. Playing in college was like 10 times more fun.
"The main thing is that it’s a profession, so it’s a job. It comes with all the pressures of a job. There are a lot of times where we train just to train, just because we have to make sure we’re training because the bosses are watching."
Wang didn’t say how long he might want to continue is basketball adventure. But the former Eph did say that he didn’t think the adventure would include either the NBA or the NBA D-League.
"I know there’s no chance for me to make the NBA, and there’s probably no chance of me making the NBADL," he said with a smile. "There are a bunch of minor leagues in New York or the California area, but there’s no way I would do that."
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