Zhou Qi first became a prospect of interest in the 2012 FIBA World Championships U17 in Kaunas, when he led China to a seventh-place finish by posting averages of 1.38 points per shot on 81 attempts and 10.1 rebounds per game. Zhou followed that up in the subsequent summer by helping China to another seventh-place finish in the 2013 FIBA World Championships U19 in Prague, posting averages of 1.51 points per shot on 52 attempts and nine rebounds per game against players two years older than him.
It is rumored Zhou briefly considered going to college in the United States after his impressive performances in international events. However, he gave up that idea due to a couple of complications, including the language barrier and eligibility concerns due to his Li Ning sponsorship. The ‘Big Devil’ (his nickname according to the Chinese version of Wikipedia) led Liaoning’s junior squad to the national title last September but didn’t play any more competitive ball until last month because players under the age of 18 are not allowed to play in the Chinese league (with a few exceptions) and Zhou only turned 18 in January of 2014.
Zhou returned to competitive play with the senior national squad in the Sino-Australia challenge in June, with Wang Zhelin unavailable, and got good minutes in the four-game series, including a 30-minute outing in game two, when he finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He then participated in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, played last week in the Philippines, as China opted to send a team built of players younger than 24 years of age. Zhou was the youngest prospect on the team but started every game and logged 133 minutes of quality work against grown men, averaging 1.44 points per shot on 43 attempts and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Listed at 7’1 and 210 pounds, Zhou has a very thin frame and struggles to set deep post position. He is unable to back opponents down due to his weak base but has shown good footwork on a very slick up-and-under move that fooled Hamed Haddadi. Zhou has also flashed quality passing skills with his back to the basket as his high vantage point permits him to see over the double team. He has proven himself a capable jump-shooter from the mid-range area – on turnarounds from the baseline or catch-and-shoots from 16 feet away – but isn’t particularly consistent at this point as he sometimes releases more of a push shot. He travelled quite a bit on face up drives in the Asia Cup, posting 12 turnovers in seven games. Zhou can get off the ground fine for someone his height and contributes on the offensive glass — he ranked ninth in the Asia Cup in offensive rebounds — with the combination of his leaping ability and rumored 7’9 wingspan, but is not a dominant force extending possessions.
Where Zhou makes a difference on offense is in transition and in the pick-and-roll. He looks very comfortable sprinting down the court and even proved himself capable of leading fast-breaks in the Sino-Australia challenge, which was quite a sight to see. Zhou is a poor screener, who doesn’t look to make contact and whose opponents can easily go around due to his thin frame, but dives to the basket very naturally and has soft hands to catch the ball in traffic. He can play above the rim when uncontested but unfortunately China’s guards didn’t lob him the ball enough. Due to his lack of strength, Zhou struggled to finish through contact but shot his 25 free throws at a 72% clip in the Asia Cup. Despite the size of his hands, he has a natural shooting motion from the foul line and displayed a lot of calmness.
Zhou mostly makes an impact on defense by blocking shots, not only showing good instincts and strong foot speed rotating off the weakside to protect the basket, but also the consistent contesting of jump-shots, thanks to his length. He ranked second in the Asia Cup in blocks per game. Zhou also demonstrated the ability to keep pace with smaller players from the top of the key all the way to the rim in isolation. It is important to put that into context considering the low level of competition, but it was impressive nonetheless. He is an average defensive rebounder who often opted to rely on his physical edge rather than consistently box out opponents.
Zhou just signed a three-year deal with Xianjing, who finished second in the Chinese league last season. Next year will be his first season of full-time professional basketball, so it will be worth tracking how his body reacts to those stresses.
It’s unclear when he will declare for the draft. He will still only be 19 by this time next year. Zhou obviously needs to add strength to his thin frame, but his height, soft hands and foot speed make him a prospect whose development is worth continually being tracked.