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Chinese giant Sun set to rise in Japan

by Ed Odeven

Sun Ming Ming is the bj-league’s new center of attention — literally.

According to published reports in China and the United States, the 236-cm, 167-kg center has signed a contract to play for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix next season. He participated in the league’s summer camp in early July at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy in Las Vegas.

Sun, 24, made a solid impression.

“He’s got good hands and he plays hard. He gets up and down the floor better than I thought he would,” Jerald Wrightsil, a former University of Hawaii and JBL player, told the Las Vegas Sun.

“You can’t teach size,” added Wrightsil, who resides in Austin, Texas.

You may recall seeing Sun in “Rush Hour 3.”

His big moment? He had the pleasure of flinging Chris Tucker across the room.

Sun’s Web site, www.sevenfootnine.com, will certainly become more popular in Japan when the 2008-09 season tips off in October.

The Phoenix have joined the bj-league after a long history of competition in the JBL; the team was previously known as the OSG Phoenix.

Retired centers Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan, both of whom are 231 cm, are the tallest players in NBA history.

Since he arrived in the United States in 2005, Sun has said in many interviews that he dreams of playing in the NBA.

That same year, he participated in a tryout with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Three summers ago, Sun’s doctors discovered a life-threatening health issue: a brain tumor was connected to his pituitary gland, and it was causing his tremendous growth spurt. The Skull Base Institute’s Dr. Hrayr Shahinian operated on Sun on Sept. 26, 2005, in California.

“It is a curse because this disease, if it is left alone, if untreated, can be fatal and he may die of heart failure right on the basketball court,” the doctor told Reuters.

Since then, Sun has suited up for Dodge City Legend in the United States Basketball League, Grand Rapids Flight of the International Basketball League and the Maryland Nighthawks of the American Basketball Association. Last season, he played for the Fuerze Regia, a Mexican team in Monterrey.

During his travels, Sun has never lost sight of his giant goal: to become a household name like his basketball idol.

“Yao Ming is the pride of all Chinese people,” Sun told Reuters in 2006. “Could I be like him one day? This is not something that can happen just because I wish it to happen. I need to work hard and even if I work really hard, I don’t know if it will ever happen.”

So now his basketball career takes him to Japan, where he’ll be a part of a team seeking a new identity in a league that begins its fourth season on Oct. 11.

Sun is not a member of China’s Olympic basketball team.