China’s Zhang Ziyu Is 7 Feet 2: The 17-Year-Old Scored 44 Points Against Japan and Could Become The First WNBA Player With Yearly Salary Of $1 Million

[Note: Story never says whether she can and does dunk …]

Zhang Ziyu is a 7-foot-2, 17-year-old basketball prodigy that is being called the “female Yao Ming” in China. 

That’s high praise for anyone as Yao Ming is a revered pioneer, Hall of Famer and the most popular Chinese player in NBA history and one of the tallest. 

Zhang scored 55 points in her two international games before exploding for 44 points to lead China to the FIBAU18 Women’s Asia Cup semifinals. 

The automatic bucket towered over all of the other girls also comically getting to the basket whenever she wanted and at point blank range. She only missed two shots the entire game (20-of-22) to break the tournament’s all-time scoring record of 39 points set by Chinese Taipei’s Hsiao YuWen in 2022. Zhang also collected 14 rebounds as China romped Japan by a score of 97-81.  

The win also earned China a ticket to the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup next year in the Czech Republic.

“Our team was united as one tonight. I feel very happy and excited to break the record,” Zhang said.

WNBA Future Waiting For Zhang Ziyi?

She has to turn 20 before she can go to the WNBA but eyes are surely already on her as she’s not only a physical specimen the likes of which most have never seen, but also has some talent around the rim. She’s already an attraction and when she hits the states in a couple of seasons, the fanfare is going to be ridiculous. 

In China’s opening game against Indonesia on Monday, Zhang was a perfect 9-for-9 from the field for 19 points in just 13 minutes. She also pulled seven boards, dished two assists and swiped two steals and three blocks for good measure inChina’s 109-50 blowout win. 

The unstoppable force came out the next day and dropped  36 easy points against New Zealand, while dominating the glass with 13 rebounds and four blocks as China won 90-68. 

Zhang certainly saved her best for last as she blitzed Japan for 44 points 

On Chinese social media, Zhang’s incredible height has drawn wonder and comparisons to Yao, a former Houston Rockets star.

“How do you want to attack when there is a tower under the rim?” read one comment on YouTube.

“She’s still 17 and tall, but I wonder if she’ll keep growing? It must be hard to find clothes for her,” said a user on X. 

Zhang comes from a set of parents who both played professional basketball in China so she’s been getting expert training since childhood. Reportedly, she was 5 feet 2 in the first grade and had exploded to 6 feet 9 by the sixth grade. 

Several hoops insiders and international scouts have suggested that she could become the first $1M per-year salaried WNBA player. By the time she hits the scene, Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese should have helped elevate the league’s brand and salaries to coincide with its newfound and expanded fan base. 

The Yao Ming comparisons are fair, Zhang is a few inches shorter than Yao, who clocked in at 7 feet 5 and was one of the tallest players in NBA history, along with 7-foot-7 specimens Gheorghe Mureșan and Manute Bol. 

Players in the Women’s National Basketball Association average about 6 feet, but there was a player of similar height to Zhang named Margo Dydek. Dydek is the tallest woman in WNBA history and was an eight-time league shots blocked leader and a two-time All-Star. Dydek was influential in bringing attention to the league during her career which spanned from  1998 to 2008. She began her career with the Utah Starzz (now San Antonio Silver Stars) and later played for the Connecticut Sun. 

Margo, had a successful career in Europe before starring in the WNBA in the United States.She finished her WNBA career as the career leader in blocks. She also reached the pinnacle in Europe with the Polish national team, helping the team get back to the Women’s EuroBasket in 1999 and even capturing the title at home in Poland. Dydek performed on the biggest global stages before her sudden passing at age 37 in 2011. 

Zhang’s height will surely be the talk of international hoops as she moves up the ladder. 

“There are some things we can’t control. I regard it as a gift to me,” Zhang was quoted as saying about her height in an article published Wednesday by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

Zhang initially popped on the sports radar in 2021 when she led her team to win China’s U15 National Basketball League. Right now, her focus is improving her skills and she understands that her height advantage will only get her so far. 

“I can easily reach the basket. But basketball is definitely more than that,” she said. “I have to learn a lot.”

Stay locked on Zhang because the 7-footer is sure to continue to grow in popularity over the next few years.

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