When the New Orleans Pelicans’ director of player personnel David Booth flew to China to find to pickup a player for their summer league roster he had an idea of the type of player he was looking for. He wasn’t searching for the next Yao Ming. He wasn’t going after a quick point guard. Booth wanted a guy who fits the NBA role player system. A guy GMs like to call “D and 3” guys for their ability to hit the three and play solid defense.
So Booth travelled across the globe and ended up in Shenyang. A city located about eight hours north of China’s capital city, Beijing. That’s where Booth saw his match, a 6-foot-9 swingman by the name of He Tianju. Booth liked what he saw when he scouted him at a Chinese Basketball Association regular season game with Tianju playing for the Liaoning Leopards.
A few weeks later, Tianju received a letter in the mail from Booth himself.
“I, David Booth on behalf of the New Orleans Pelicans would like to invite Tianju He, a professional basketball player for the Liaoning Flying Leopard Basketball Club, to be a summer league participant with our team from July 3rd until July 23rd, 2015.”
So Tianju and his translator, Liaoning Leopards assistant GM Michael Cheng, were off to the United States for the opportunity of a lifetime.
Game 1 – July 10th, 2015, vs. the Milwaukee Bucks
Tianju is not on the starters list, so he takes his place on the bench and patiently awaits his number to be called. Seeing how Tianju can’t speak a word of English, his translator Cheng is close by. Late in the first quarter Pelicans summer league head coach Darren Erman gives Tianju the nod. It’s go time!
So in the moment of truth, the moment Tianju has been waiting for since receiving that invitation from David Booth, how is he going to react? Well, on a baseline drive, Tianju drifts to the corner, just like Booth had imagined he would, and knocks down the three right in front of his team’s bench. A moment he will never forget as he flexes his muscles and runs back on defense.
Tianju scored nine points in only twelve minutes of action in a successful victory over the Bucks. After the game he took some questions from the media which was facilitated through his translator.
“He did a great job. He made some big shots for us. He picked up stuff off the board, too. He has a good basketball IQ. If we drew up a play, he did a good job. He’s known in China as a three-point shooter and he showed it today.” – Pelicans summer league head coach Darren Erman.
Game 2 – July 11th, 2015 vs. the Dallas Mavericks
In his first game, Tianju had his first good game. But in game 2, he suffered his first bad game. The Mavericks perimeter defense was on point and didn’t allow a single clean look for Tianju. He was ice cold finishing 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. Four points in a total of ten minutes played. Yet Tianju tells the media after the game that it’s important to stay confident within himself.
Despite the poor performance, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry remained positive.
“Defensively, he has got to be able to move his feet better to play the quicker players. But I think he is smart enough and his rebounding is very good. I think he’s done a very good job on the boards (rebounding). The only thing I see is his lateral quickness and guarding quicker players out on the floor.” – Alvin Gentry on He Tianju