Han Xu and Li Yueru improved draft status with World Cup play

Han Xu and Li Yueru could make China an unstoppable force in the near future. Photo courtesy of FIBA.
Han Xu and Li Yueru could make China an unstoppable force in the near future. Photo courtesy of FIBA. /

A pair of Chinese centers are on many WNBA draft wishlists.

SAN CRISTOBAL de la LAGUNA, Spain – Combined, they total about 13 and a half feet in length and 37 years in age. Chinese centers Han Xu and Li Yueru have impressed throughout the FIBA World Cup. Both were considered WNBA Draft prospects in upcoming years, but after proving they can tangle with players like Tina Charles, Liz Cambage and Natalie Achonwa, that day could come as soon as April.

Han Xu, at 6-foot-9 and rail thin, will turn 19 next month, making her draft eligible. She established herself with 20 points in China’s 100-88 group stage loss to the United States.

“I’m very impressed,” Australia coach Sandy Brondello told High Post Hoops about Han Xu. “When you’re 6-foot-9, she has a good touch from the outside. She’s disciplined on the inside; I think she’s going to have a very bright career in the WNBA.”

Japanese coach Tom Hovasse has witnessed the rise of Han Xu from the other side of the bench at Asian Championships and exhibition matches.

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“For that young of an age,” Hovasse said, “she has a really good shot. She plays older than she is, and we need to figure some things out.”

Han Xu’s twin tower, Li Yueru, turned 19 in March and standing at 6-foot-7, she has a fuller frame.

“She’s a bit in between at the moment,” Brondello said of Li, “but she has that good shooting ability, she has a big, strong body inside. I can only imagine we’ll see her in the WNBA if not next year, the year after.”

Li Yueru drew perhaps the most-challenging assignment of the competition in the quarterfinals, trying to stop the Australian Cambage, who is the same height but eight years older. Chinese coach Xu Limin listed confidence and vision as Li’s keys to success with that type of player, adding that more competitions like the World Cup and Olympics will prepare her for the WNBA.

“Coach told me I needed to defend Cambage,” Li Yueru said. “When I played with Cambage, the strongest center in the world, if feels like I need to go back to China and improve myself.”

So how does Cambage feel about her up-and-coming rivals on the Chinese team?

“Big girls doing their thing,” Cambage said, “it makes me excited seeing so much talent so young. We played a practice match against them, and I wasn’t expecting (Han Xu) to shoot the ball. I think it’s really exciting.”

With more improvement and training, we could see both Han Xu and Li Yueru playing in WNBA arenas next summer.