Canadian Andrew Nicholson making the most of the Chinese league's hiatus

Andrew Nicholson was vacationing in Bali during the Chinese New Year break when he got the call that would send him home to Canada.

The coronavirus was spreading across China, and the Chinese Basketball Association was suspending its season.

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Nicholson, a six-foot-nine forward for the Guangzhou Loong Lions, and his fiancee changed their travel plans and flew home to Canada.

With his pro team in hiatus, Nicholson was available to play for Canada at its FIBA AmeriCup 2021 series against the Dominican Republic, and is enjoying the opportunity.

"I'm doing this (qualifying) window to stay in shape as well for when they call us back, so it's a win-win," Nicholson said.

The COVID-19 virus, which first showed up in Wuhan in December, has caused almost 1,900 deaths in mainland China, with more than 72,000 cases in the country.

The China sports world has since come to a halt, with numerous events moved, postponed or cancelled outright. The 20-team Chinese Basketball Association has been among the most heavily impacted.

"They didn't really have a choice, I guess it's pretty serious and they're also concerned about the health and well-being of all the players as well, because we don't actually know who'd been to Wuhan or not," Nicholson said.

The 30-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., said there's been tentative talk about the league resuming in April.

"But I'm not sure how likely that's going to be," he said. "(I'll) stay ready until that."

Nicholson and the Canadians host the Dominican Republic in Oshawa, Ont., on Friday in their first FIBA AmeriCup qualifier. The Canadians then travel to Santo Domingo for a rematch on Feb. 24.

The qualifiers feature 16 teams from the Americas zone divided into four groups. Each country plays the other teams in their group twice. There are three qualifying windows: Feb. 21-24, next November, and February 2021.

Canada is in Group C with Cuba, Dominican Republic and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Group A has Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, while Group B includes Brazil, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, and Group D includes Bahamas, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the USA.

The top three finishing teams in each group earn a qualifying berth in the FIBA AmeriCup 2021, which used to be a qualifying event for the Olympics and World Cup.

Numerous former NBA players now play in China, including former Toronto Raptors Jeremy Lin, Tyler Hansbrough and Jared Sullinger, plus Lance Stephenson, Ty Lawson and a handful of others.

Nicholson, whose No. 44 was retired by St. Bonaventure after a standout college career, was selected 19th overall by Orlando in the 2012 NBA draft. He played four seasons for the Magic, then split a season between Washington and Brooklyn before heading to China, where he's played for three teams.

"It was definitely a huge culture shock," Nicholson said of his move to China. "Living there is a complete 180 from living here, but I'm very easily adaptable. So I could pick up on the language and kind of like embrace their culture, which made it easier for me to live there throughout the last three years."

He has the use of a translator, and a couple of his teammates speak rudimentary English.

"But basketball is a universal language, so on the court it's fine," said Nicholson, who's known for his huge hands.

At 11 inches by 10 inches across, they're similar in size to Kawhi Leonard's enormous mitts (11.5 across).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020.

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