Meet Shao Ting: China's 'pocket-sized' trailblazer

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

There are two reasons why the China team nominates small forward Shao Ting for the media interactions at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup in Bangalore, where China joined Australia, Korea and Japan as teams to qualify for the World Cup in Spain next year in Bengaluru on Thursday.

For one, she is the captain and the driving force of the team that has won 11 of the 26 previous editions of the tournament. Secondly, she had a brief stint earlier this year at the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) with Minnesota Lynx. She impressed in the pre-season games and training, but missed out on participation in the main league when coach Cheryl Reeve had to trim the roster to 11.

"I liked the team culture - so helpful and co-operative. I liked the passion about the basketball," she says, when asked about her favourite memories of her spell in America. "The western culture is different from the Chinese culture. The Chinese people always keep to themselves and don't talk too much. In the US, they talk, and there is so much passion. It always influenced me."

Only four Chinese women have been WNBA regulars - Miao Lijie, Sui Feifei, Zheng Haixia and Chen Nan - in a country where one of the most recognisable faces of sport remains eight-time NBA All-Star Yao Ming. Yao, who now serves as the president of the Chinese Basketball Association, was in attendance at the Kanteerava Stadium on Thursday, sitting back and watching the Chinese women stamp their authority over a hapless Philippines in a lopsided 117-43 contest.

One of the outstanding Chinese players on the day is forward Zhao Shuang, who speaks to the media with her captain acting as the interpreter. "She is so excited because this is her first time with the China team. She wants to do great things for the country and let people have a memory of her," says Shao about Zhao.

Would the six-feet tall Zhao one day like to go abroad and carve a career like Yao?

"Sure. That's her dream. Being the women's Yao Ming."

For the moment, China are happy in the knowledge that they will feature in the World Cup next year, but Ting knows there are a lot of areas they need to work on if they need to compete against the best. It is a team in transition post Rio, where they finished 10th under Australian coach Tom Maher. Maher's place has now been taken by Xu Limin.

"I have been with him for four years. Chinese coaches like to play together; (they) put emphasis on defence. It's the same like Tom, but it is Chinese style for the new coach,"says Shao, who worked with her national coach while at the Great Beijing Wall team in the Chinese league.

However, both women want to put the joy of World Cup qualification behind and go full-throttle at Japan on Friday.

"We have a lot to do to prepare for the next year. But for now, we need to think about what we need to do against Japan tomorrow. It will be the biggest test," says Shuang.

Japan have won the last two editions of the Asia Cup, and beat China in the final on their own turf in Wuhan two years ago, and Ting pulls no punches when asked about a team that has improved a lot over the last four-five years.

"Japan is a strong team. We lost the last championship and our aim is to win it back."