When the Chong Son Kung Fu declared their participation into the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), fans around the region were filled with excitement, if not for anything else, simply for the increase in level of competition. They knew they would be able to witness even more eye-catching athletes perform in front of their eyes. However, leading up to the start of the 2017-2018 season, the Kung Fu roster was kept with the utmost secrecy right until just a few days ahead of their opener.
It would be safe to say that the team looked mighty, especially after how they performed in their first few games, with imports playing solid basketball and local player Guo Kai, a reigning first overall pick of the 2016 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Draft, proved to be a consistent threat on both sides of the ball. Things took a turn midseason, as Chong Son’s mother club, the Guang Zhou Long Lions (also known as the Guang Zhou Securities) called Guo back to the CBA.
It was a tough situation for Kung Fu head coach Dube-Brias as most of his local players previously played on the developmental team in the CBA. Their skills and mentality were not ready to compete in the rising ABL, but one man came off the bench hot during an afternoon game at Changhua Stadium and since that day, has never looked back and he continues to deliver good performances from the perimeter.
“I’M VERY HAPPY THAT I CAN PLAY IN THE ABL. I LEARNED A LOT BY PLAYING JUST ONE SEASON.”
21-year-old Luo Yong Xuan, also known as ‘Camel” among teammates, earned his floor time after his superb performance in the clutch in Taiwan. Though it may seem sudden, Luo patiently awaited his turn to rise and shine on stage, doing a good job on leaving his imprints on the regional league.
“I was with Guang Zhou Securities before the season, and I knew our club was also sending an affiliate team to play in the ABL,” says Luo with a confident voice. He further explained why he decided to join the Kung Fu.
“I am young and I know I wouldn’t have had much playing time in the CBA, so I talked to my manager and wanted to give myself a chance to play in the ABL.”
If you’re unaware of just how competitive a CBA rotation is, the previously mentioned Guo Kai, wasn’t guaranteed a spot before the season despite being a highly-touted prospect, which was the reason why he was delegated to the Kung Fu in the first place. This is the same guy that was doing loads of damage in the ABL during his time in the league. For a young player such as ‘Camel’, it took him courage and determination to left his comfort zone and gave himself a chance to try in a new league, gladly, he has been doing well so far.
“I’m very happy that I can play in the ABL. I learned a lot by playing just one season [so far],” adds Luo.
Although he may be sharing minutes with fellow locals on the team, the 6’4” swingman seems satisfied at this stage of his rookie campaign, knowing very well that he can still gain much needed knowledge of the game by chatting with his import teammates, elaborating on what each player has taught him along the journey.
“Anthony [Tucker] is a floor general that controls the game at just the right tempo, in a way that every one of his teammates can play at a comfortable pace, and I really do hope I can learn as much as possible from him.”
For now, he may still be a rather one-dimensional player, but he remains hungry to grow even more. As the reigning NBA champion Kevin Durant once said: hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. There is no shortage of talent in any part of the world, however, it still takes determination and hard work to ensure a respectable spot in any professional league.
“Mikh [McKinney] is a player that can score any time he wants. He is a pure scoring talent in my opinion. As skillful as he is, it came from hard work and determination, so it will be the same for me if I want to be as good as him offensively.”
“I FEEL LIKE THERE IS ONLY ONE RULE TO PLAY WELL ON COURT. THAT IS FREE YOUR MIND, AND DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO”
“Caelan [Tiongson] has something I really wish I had in my game, which is hustle. He shows us that little things matter in any given game.”
Surely, hustle is something that any coach can appreciate. It garners trust and respect, and the Chinese swingman is looking to bring that sort of energy into his game after training side-by-side with Tiongson since Novemeber.
“To speak about Justin [Howard], he is a big-sized center, so I guess I have nothing to learn from him,” Luo says with a smirk, as we both share a chuckle knowing all too well that the differences in size and position are some things that may never fully come to fruition, barring any small-ball ideas from his coach. All jokes aside, Luo mentions his gratitude towards having Howard as a teammate.
“He is the happy pill on our team, and he brings a lot of experience, so I’m glad that I can play together with him.”
If you were to look solely at his ABL statistics on the season, ‘Camel’ is performing at a very steady pace as a rookie playing in his first professional season. He is currently averaging seven points per game, while also contributing two boards and one assist on average in just about 21 minutes of playing time.
“I particularly feel that my confidence on the court has improved tremendously. Now I handle the ball with less panic than from the previous year. With my increased confidence, I will now take my shot whenever I’m left open.”
“Besides, this season has taught me well on communicating with teammates, and that is something you can’t learn if you aren’t playing, therefore, I would say my ability to read the game is also better now when compared to last season,” Luo says while reflecting on his gains on the ABL season thus far.
With such an excited tone, I suppose Luo is just appreciative that he can play the game he loves, while absorbing as much experience as he can with his friendly teammates and coaches. To look at the other end of the spectrum, he could just be another ordinary guy, sitting at the very end of the bench, waiting for a coach to call his name out for a few seconds of garbage time in the CBA.
Many may be wondering just exactly how the locals and imports of the Kung Fu communicate during practices and games. Well, I’ll allow ‘Camel’ to silence those questions for the doubters and the curious.
“There’s only Kamiran and I who can communicate in English with the imports. Others aren’t able to chit-chat with them like us, but we always mess around with each other during practice, so there really aren’t any problems on our team as far as language barriers go.”
After all, the players are speaking the same language. It is basketball at the end of the day, and as deep as it may sound, you can find some agreement with Luo when given the opportunity to play basketball at a park in a foreign land. Eye-contact or a simple gesture speaks volumes, providing a common ground between teammates in anticipation of a potential move.
Just a few weeks ago, the Kung Fu were very shaky during a road-trip to Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore, where they lost all three of those games. Once could probably imagine just how stressful the team was when they flew back to China. From the coaching staff to the players, every one of them were still scratching their heads, trying to figure out what went wrong and finding ways to overcome them and win.
To make matters worse, the team was scheduled to play against three of the top four teams within a seven day window on their home floor in Nanhai Gymnasium. It was an extremely tough schedule, for any team in any league, but the team prevailed, conquering the competition with swagger and determination.
As the inscription on Anthony Tucker’s left arm suggests, the adversity that the Kung Fu were faced with could have either broke them or challenged them to rise to the occasion. After all the dust finally settled, it was the latter that ultimately won out.
Recalling that hectic week, Luo is just relieved that his team was able to win all four of contests during that stretch, remaining unbeaten at home.
“The coaches and imports were very stressed during that week because we all knew we couldn’t afford to lose any more games, and that sort of pressure turned into motivation when we took the court.”
After sharing his thoughts on their previous four home games, Luo moved onto sharing his own personal mentality and approach towards every game.
“I feel like there is only one rule to play by, to play well on that court, and that is to free your mind and do what you have to do.”
As young as Luo is, his mind and attitude have proven him to be wise beyond his years, as he continues on about his game-day mentality.
“If you think too much during a game, it will affect you and sometimes your teammates as well, so eventually, that can harm your team.”
A sad, yet honest truth for many young and talented players ranging from the ages of 18 to 22 in the Southeast Asia region are that they still wonder and have to question whether basketball is a viable long-term career, and it’s not much different for teenagers in China, especially with an Eastern culture stigma which doesn’t encourage sports as an occupation. However, Luo was one of the lucky few, being given an opportunity at an early age.
“THIS KIND OF EXPERIENCE TAUGHT ME TO APPRECIATE AND BE ATTENTIVE TO MY IMPORTS HERE, AND I’M GLAD I DID THE PART WELL BECAUSE IT BECAME A REAL BROTHERHOOD BETWEEN TWO MEN NOW.”
“I represented my country at an Asian level tournament when I was 16 years old, then at another World Youth Basketball Tournament the year after. We were the champions at the Asian tournament, and ranked seventh at the World level tournament. Since then, I felt like I can take basketball as my lifelong journey. Also, my parents have been very supportive of my decision.”
‘Camel’ is lucky for two reason. To start with, he was good enough to attract attention from his national team’s scouts. Kind of a right place, right time situation. Secondly, he has two very supportive parents that understands their child’s passion.
“I actually came from a basketball family. My father is currently part of the coaching staff for the Guang Zhou Securities youth team. He was the guy who brought me into basketball. I was the track team back in primary school, but I was bored during one of the summer breaks, so my father introduced me to basketball, and I fell in love with it as soon as I played,” attributing his basketball icebreaker to his father.
Luo laughs as he shares his mother’s side of the story.
“My mother also played basketball when she was young, but she chose to work after graduating. Anyways, I think that was how my parents met. On a basketball court.”
If the story is indeed true, it sounds like a better love story than any that Shakespeare could have conceived himself.
Since he is still an active member of the Guang Zhou Long Lions, his future may be a little uncertain at its current juncture, but he does have his mind already set and ready to take on the next challenge.
“It’s up to my club to assign me, but I would like to stay on my current team next season, if I’m given a choice. Like I said, I learned a lot from the ABL, and the competitiveness makes me want to develop even more into a complete player.”
Many may not know, but Luo formerly studied in the United States for one year when he was in eighth grade. During that time, his parents’ intentions for sending their son there was for academic reasons, hoping that he could finish his long-term studies in the U.S.
“I as focused and committed to do well on my studies at the time. Then there was a long summer break where I flew back home and was notified by the national team that there would be a training camp around my area, so I went there and never went back to the United States,” states Luo, although he was grateful of the experience gained during his short one-year stint.
It was a choice the Luo family made, to allow their son to receive a slightly better education, thought it didn’t go exactly according to plan, but it was that instance that really strengthened his command of English, and now, it is paying dividends for him in communicating with his teammates.
He offers more insight on his experience in a foreign land, and how it changed him from a boy to a man, and the responsibilities that come with it.
“The experience I have had in the United States taught me so much. I was alone and all by myself during that time. I had no friends, nor any family there, so the feelings of loneliness were surreal to me as a 13-year-old kid from China. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone there, which is why, when the imports landed here in China, I tried my best to be the guy that can help and talk with them, because I know the struggle well.”
“This kind of experience taught me to appreciate and be attentive to my imports here, and I’m glad I did the part well because it became a real brotherhood between two men now.”
If you’re a follower of Anthony Tucker, Caelan Tiongson, or Mikh McKinney on Instagram, then you’d probably know how close they are with ‘Camel.’ In fact, their bond and friendship didn’t just happen out of the blue. It took time to develop, and more importantly, it took one party to first lay their hand as a foundation to create the entire thing.
As someone who has spoken with both Anthony Tucker and Caelan Tiongson during the course of the season, I’m very glad to know that they’re enjoying their time in China, especially having a local guy like Luo alongside them on and off the court.
Be ready for ‘Camel time,’ because the next time you see him, he could quite possibly be hitting a game-winning shot in a very tight playoff series not too long from now.