Thu, 03 Dec 2020

SHENYANG, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- China's women's basketball national team player Li Meng remains headfast in chasing her dream, despite facing several hurdles along the way.

The path to pursuing her basketball dream started from the age of five, despite her coaching labelling her as "too small". In her twenties, Li suffered anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures to both knees within six months.

But the 25-year-old Chinese international just kept it rolling towards her basketball dream.

"Because I love it," she told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

Li was hailed for her sporting talent at a young age, and her parents wanted her to take up a sport, so they brought her to a swimming class when she was four years old.

After swimming for just one year, Li often suffered from painful ear ache, so her mother took her to see a doctor.

"Do not let your child swim again, as she may get otitis media due to her ear's constant exposure to water," the doctor said.

Her mother finally gave up hope of Li becoming a future swimming star. She heard about a basketball class from a friend, and decided that her daughter should give that a go.

"When the coach saw me, he immediately refused as I was only five years old then. From his viewpoint, such a young kid could not hone anything. But my mom persuaded the coach to give me a chance. As you see, I've persisted in playing basketball until now," Li recalled.

Li immediately fell in love with basketball. "At five years old, I never knew what it would bring me. But after I took it up and was involved in it, I found a passion for the game."

Li rose to fame at the FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup in 2010. She averaged 15.4 points and 6.2 rebounds as China claimed the bronze medal. Her stellar performance earned her the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award at the competition.

"I was taking photos with teammates at the ceremony, and suddenly heard my name called and received the trophy. I didn't realize how important it was until my coaches informed me after I returned home."

Li began to look ahead to her professional career. But the darkest days of her basketball career arrived, when she ruptured the ACL in both knees in less than six months.

"When I was injured for the first time, I was not quite worried about it. But then I got injured again, I began to think about it seriously," Li revealed.

She told her mother she wanted to stop playing basketball and go to school.

But following her coaches' persuasion, Li decided to persist with her life-long dream.

Li made her professional debut in the 2012-13 Women's Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA) season.

"You can be successful in the youth leagues with good skills. But in the pro league, you have to know how to spur your teammates on with your character and strength."

China punched its ticket to the Tokyo Olympic Games this February, which carried more weight as China was already battling against the COVID-19 outbreak.

Li was the driving force in China's successful qualification campaign, and again won the MVP award.

"It is my dream (to play at the Olympics), and my responsibility to represent my country. It also boosted everyone's confidence during that special period," she noted.

Li believes the postponement of the Olympics will offer the team more preparation time, while calling for the team to maintain its training level and match fitness.

"Getting an Olympic spot is not our destination. We have to fully prepare for the Games. We have to review and see if there are some weaknesses, whether in mentality, condition or technique. Hopefully everyone can make some improvements before the Olympics," Li commented.

After missing out at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Li expressed her anticipation towards the Games in Tokyo.

"I will strive to win an Olympic medal. This is also the team's target," she said.

Due to her outstanding physical quality and all-around performance, Li is dubbed "LeBron Meng" in China, in reference to her idol and NBA megastar LeBron James.

"Mentally he (James) has a huge impact on me. He can step up anytime when the team needs him. I have a big gap from him, but I will spare no effort to get closer to him," Li said.

Li, who recently signed an agreement with world-renowned sports brand Nike, said it reflected the brand's recognition towards her, while pushing her to work harder in future training.

"Now more and more people are following women's basketball. We are also getting better to make more people realize our value," she commented.

"I'm on a road of challenging myself. I have a lot to improve on," said Li, who received a contract from Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) side Minnesota Lynx last year, but decided not to go overseas to better prepare for her national duties.

"No matter in the national team or club, I always target the top of the podium," she added.

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