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BASKETBALL/Chou Yi-hsiang posts season high in Pilots' New Year's win over Kings

02/19/2024 06:53 PM
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The Taoyuan Pauian Pilots' Chou Yi-hsiang (in white). Photo courtesy of P.LEAGUE+ Feb. 18, 2024
The Taoyuan Pauian Pilots' Chou Yi-hsiang (in white). Photo courtesy of P.LEAGUE+ Feb. 18, 2024

Taipei, Feb. 19 (CNA) The Taoyuan Pauian Pilots saw auspicious signs Sunday as Chou Yi-hsiang (周儀翔) scored a season-high 16 points to lift the team over the shorthanded New Taipei Kings 112-97 in their first P.LEAGUE+ (PLG) game after the Lunar New Year break.

The 33-year-old Chou drained four three-pointers and dished out seven assists, complementing Lu Chun-hsiang's (盧峻翔) game-high 29 points and Jason Washburn's 23 points and 13 rebounds to snap the team's two-game losing streak.

It was a welcome return to the form he had been known for when he was nicknamed the "Taiwanese Lebron James" in the mid-2010s after struggling with injuries and an inability to score this season.

After the game, both PLG anchor Tsai Ching-ching (蔡晴景) and other members of the press said Chou appeared much more confident and aggressive throughout the game, a change he partly attributed to his conditioning.

"I think it's because I've lost a lot of weight, and I have regained my faith and am doing things with ease, but there's still room for improvement," Chou said.

He would not reveal how much weight he has lost since the preseason, when he was thought to be out of shape while still trying to recover from surgery on the meniscus in his right knee in early 2023.

Chou thanked the coaching staff and teammates for their support, but he believed it was premature to say that the vintage Chou was back.

A highlight of Chou Yi-hsiang's 2015-16 SBL MVP season. Video taken from the YouTube channel of Jin Maniac

He earned the comparison to the NBA all-time scoring leader when he was a two-time regular season MVP of the semi-professional Super Basketball League (SBL), Taiwan's top-tier league before the establishment of the PLG and T1 LEAGUE in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Chou then went to the Nanjing Monkey Kings of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) in August 2017 as the league's second overall draft pick and played in China for five seasons before joining the Kaohsiung Steelers (now Kaohsiung 17LIVE Steelers) in March 2022.

To the Steelers' dismay, Chou was not the same player Taiwanese fans had been familiar with. His ability to blow by defenders and drive to the rim had significantly diminished, and his shooting percentage from three-point range slid below 30 percent.

In his two seasons in Kaohsiung, Chou played 16 games, and only shot 31.7 percent from the floor and 28.2 percent from three-point range.

His tendency to either direct his teammates to run a play or put up a shot from outside rather than attack the rim led fans to brand him the "Transportation Minister."

Chou Yi-hsiang (left) posts with a Steelers jersey at a press conference in Taipei for his signing to the franchise on March 23, 2022. CNA file photo
Chou Yi-hsiang (left) posts with a Steelers jersey at a press conference in Taipei for his signing to the franchise on March 23, 2022. CNA file photo

That might have been somewhat unfair to Chou, however, because he was plagued by a right knee injury in his second PLG season that eventually forced him to undergo season-ending surgery in February 2023.

Chou joined the Pilots in the summer of 2023 through a one-for-two trade, a move described by a Pilots staffer to CNA as the relatively young team's effort to acquire an experienced star player.

Prior to the Lunar New Year break, Chou had continued to struggle with injuries, playing in only six of the team's 18 games and missing all of his 10 two-point shots and 16 of his 21 three-point attempts.

It was not until a goaltending call by Tony Mitchell Jr. some three minutes into the second half that Chou recorded his first two-point basket of the season.

That play may have triggered a fresh start for Chou and the Pilots, who still have 21 regular season games left.

Kings combo guard Jeremy Lin (front, standing) is sidelined in Sunday's game in New Taipei due to a lingering left foot injury. Photo courtesy of P.LEAGUE+ Feb. 18, 2024
Kings combo guard Jeremy Lin (front, standing) is sidelined in Sunday's game in New Taipei due to a lingering left foot injury. Photo courtesy of P.LEAGUE+ Feb. 18, 2024

Acknowledging that his recent play has not lived up to his time in the SBL, Chou said his performance Sunday was "just doing what I used to do," and he looked forward to continuing to get better in future games and practices.

Despite the absence of Jeremy Lin (林書豪), Joseph Lin (林書緯), and Byron Mullens, the Kings made eight of their nine three-point attempts in the opening quarter to go up 37-34, but the Pilots followed that with another 34-point quarter to take a 68-55 lead at halftime.

The Kings went back on top 76-75 on a 21-7 run to open the third quarter, but the Pilots soon regained control to take a 12-point edge into the final 12 minutes and never looked back, handing the Kings their second straight loss after the Lunar New Year break.

Kings small forward Yang Chin-min (right) makes a three-pointer during Sunday's game at Xinzhuang Gymnasium in New Taipei. CNA photo Feb. 18, 2024
Kings small forward Yang Chin-min (right) makes a three-pointer during Sunday's game at Xinzhuang Gymnasium in New Taipei. CNA photo Feb. 18, 2024

Two-time PLG regular season MVP Yang Chin-min (楊敬敏) led the Kings with 26 points, his fifth straight game in double figures since his return from a 15-game suspension on Jan. 21.

Teammate Kenneth Manigault had 15 points, 17 assists, and nine rebounds, falling just one board short of his fourth triple-double in the PLG. His 17 assists set a new league record, surpassing Jeremy Lin's record of 16.

Jeremy Lin, troubled by a lingering left foot injury, has now missed five PLG games and an East Asia Super League (EASL) contest since the franchise updated his condition on Jan. 27.

The 13-8 Kings are now one game behind the first-placed Formosa Dreamers in the PLG.

The Pilots are in fourth with a 9-10 record, one game behind the three-time defending champion Taipei Fubon Braves and a half game ahead of the Hsinchu Toplus Lioneers. The Steelers are in last place, 8.5 games behind the Dreamers.

(By Chao Yen-hsiang)

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