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The Newest Phenom in Women’s Basketball Is a 7-Foot-3 Chinese Teen

3 minute read

As China’s youth women’s basketball team takes the court this week for the Under-18 Asia Cup, held on home ground in Shenzhen, it’s impossible to miss one powerful weapon in their arsenal: 17-year-old Zhang Ziyu, who at 7-foot-3 towers over everyone on the court.

Standing taller than any WNBA player ever, she’s been called a “cheat code” and “unguardable” by social media users and compared to Yao Ming, China’s retired 7-foot-6 basketball legend, and Victor Wembanyama, last year’s 7-foot-4 NBA first draft pick from France.

It’s not hard to see why Zhang is attracting attention: in her international tournament debut, she’s already chalking up impressive stats, shooting 9 for 9 to score 19 points during 13 minutes off the bench as China cruised to a 109-50 victory against Indonesia on Monday and helping China beat New Zealand 90-68 on Tuesday.

She scored a combined 55 points across her two games so far this week—and has barely had to even jump at all.

Women’s basketball has been enjoying a global surge in attention, helped in large part by Caitlin Clark, the Indiana Fever guard and WNBA sensation hot off a record-breaking college career. Now, Zhang is having her own moment in the spotlight. 

Born to professional basketballers, Zhang measured 5-foot-2 as a first grader and by sixth grade had grown to a height of 6-foot-9, according to the state-owned Global Times.

Zhang’s performance in China’s youth leagues saw her steadily gain popularity domestically as the sport’s up-and-coming star—particularly in 2021 when footage of the literally outstanding then-14-year-old in China’s U15 National Basketball League went viral—but she soared to international fame this week as video montages of her at the Asia Cup rack up millions of views and many reactions on social media. 

“What the hell am I seeing?” Spanish sports journalist Luis Vallejo posted on X in response to a video of Zhang. “No, this is not AI,” another user posted. Others are already anticipating her potential career in the WNBA when she turns 20 in a few years.

Viewers in her home country are also continuing to enjoy Zhang’s dominance on the court. On Chinese microblogging site Weibo, the topic “Zhang Ziyu is too strong” has over eight million views. “This is bullying. There’s no way to play ball now,” reads one post

For her part, Zhang remains humble about her rise. “I regard it as a gift to me,” she said of her height, in comments published by the International Basketball Federation. “I can easily reach the basket. But basketball is definitely more than that. I have to learn a lot.”

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