Seven-footer Zhou Qi has reached an agreement with his Chinese team, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, that will allow him to buy out his contract and join the NBA in 2017, his agent, Alex Saratsis, told The Vertical.
Zhou is considered one of the most important prospects China has produced and has already established important roles in his country’s domestic league, the Chinese Basketball Association, and on the Chinese national team, which will compete in the Rio Olympics this summer.
His team, which lost in the semifinals of the CBA playoffs, was initially reluctant to let him fly to the U.S. to work out for NBA teams and enter the 2016 draft. It also was hesitant to agree to part with him so soon because he still has another five years left on his contract. The deadline for early-entry candidates to withdraw from the draft is 5 p.m. ET on Monday.
After much back and forth, Zhou’s representation in China and the U.S. secured a buyout that will allow him out of his contract at the conclusion of next season for the maximum league mandated amount permitted, which is $675,000. With that hurdle now past him, Zhou will look to find an NBA team that will guarantee to select him in a favorable spot, likely in the first round, with the knowledge that he will join the franchise after an additional year of seasoning in China.
Zhou could also decide to withdraw from this year’s draft and try to improve his standing in 2017.
Zhou has attracted a great deal of interest because of his length and polished skills. He has the longest wingspan in the draft at 7-7 ¾, but also has a soft touch with three-point range. Zhou led the CBA in blocked shots in each of the past two seasons at 3.3 and 3.2 per game, respectively, while shooting 65 percent from two-point range in 73 total games.
At 218 pounds, he will have to work on his narrow frame, which measured over 7-1 without shoes, as well as improve his English to help ease his adjustment to the NBA.
Before leaving the U.S. at the end of May to rejoin the Chinese national team in its preparation for the Olympics, Zhou had conducted private workouts at the facilities of the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns.
DraftExpress, which ranks Zhou as No. 31 in the 2016 class, was present at two of his private workouts after the NBA combine.