Were three players cut, or stabbed in the back? China's Zhang Zhaoxu attempts a layup during a warm-up game leading up to the Olympics...
China's Zhang Zhaoxu attempts a layup during a warm-up game leading up to the Olympics against a visiting American team in Zhucheng, Shandong province, on Wednesday. China won, 106-78. Cui Meng / China Daily
Donewald says early roster trims weren't personally motivated
Bob Donewald has found himself at the center of controversy again, but that hasn't fazed China's national basketball team coach.
Donewald sparked a lot of buzz in the local media when he announced three cuts to his initial Olympic roster last week, much earlier than anticipated.
Xinjiang Flying Tigers guard Xirelijiang, Shanxi Brave Dragons shooter Duan Jiangpeng and forward Li Xiaoxu from Liaoning Jiebao were dropped from the squad just a week before a warm-up tournament against an American squad.
Claiming "the decision was made on Donewald's personal prejudice", the Xinjiang and Liaoning clubs publicly criticized the cuts as "reckless", and said the move affected the players' confidence and enthusiasm for the game.
However, Donewald just shrugged the criticism off, stressing it didn't bother him.
"No, it doesn't affect me at all," he said courtside during a practice session before Wednesday's exhibition game.
"It's normal for this job. You can't keep everybody happy."
Officials from the governing body, the Chinese Basketball Association, have continually supported the American coach, who steered China to victory at the Asian Championship last year and a direct berth to London.
"It's a collective decision made by the entire coaching crew based on the current status of the team. And it's been approved by the CBA," said team leader Zhang Xiong.
Among the three cuts, Xirelijiang's dismissal was the most unexpected as the young guard performed well at last year's Asian Championship when Donewald was also Xinjiang's head coach.
Although Donewald attributed Xirelijiang's dismissal to a lack of point guard skills and height, some local media implied the American did it to get back at the club for releasing him last December after the team had its worst opening record in four years at 7-4.
Xinjiang's vice-manager, Wan Xiaolong, even tweeted on his micro blog, "(Donewald) used his power at the helm for his own private revenge".
Donewald, who was hired by the club last July with the most lucrative coaching contract in CBA history, was aware of the potential response following the cuts.
"For a foreign coach, it comes with the job. It's a shame that some writers didn't write the truth, and they make up stories. That is something I cannot control. We just get ready. It doesn't surprise me," said the 42-year-old
Meanwhile, a report in The Beijing News said Donewald described center Han Dejun, another Liaoning player on the roster, as a "pig" for his slow moves during practice.
That prompted an attack on Donewald from the club's supporters, who were already angry after Li's axing from the squad.
Han said the fans had been misled.
"I think it's a kind of a misunderstanding made by some reporters," Han said after training at the Zhucheng Stadium on Tuesday.
"No coach would insult his players like that.
"Bob is one of the best coaches that I've ever met. He's always tough to every player in terms of training demands, and may be stricter on new guys like me, but has never gone that far (abusing players).
"I don't know where it came from," said the 23-year-old big man, who is on the senior national team for the first time.
Donewald said he could not explain the alleged player abuse charge.
"He's been working hard. I don't know where the false stories came from," he said. "Regardless, none of this matters. What matters is Han gets better than he was before."
Han's large frame gives him an advantage against most opponents he faces in the CBA, but could become a burden when he matches up against mobile foreign rivals.
After a week-long fitness program in Hainan province before the series against the US team, Han lost some weight and improved his footwork.
"Give him some credit. He is quicker now and he can play for a longer time," Donewald said of Han's improvement.