Fanbo Zeng, China’s top basketball prospect, is decommitting from Gonzaga and planning to join the NBA G League Ignite, sources tell The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
The 6-foot-10 forward will be eligible for the NBA Draft in 2022. He was ranked as a four-star high school recruit out of Windermere Prep (Windermere, Fla.), where he played from 2018-2020 after arriving from China in 2017.
Zeng committed to Gonzaga last fall, but sources say the departure of assistant coach Tommy Lloyd — who led the recruitment of Zeng to the Bulldogs — played a major role in the 18-year-old’s decision to head to the G League now. Lloyd recently agreed to become the new head coach at Arizona.
Zeng is set to join an Ignite program that made the G League postseason in its debut 2020-21 season. Last year, the Ignite signed prep stars Jonathan Kuminga, Jalen Green, Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd to contracts. Green and Kuminga are potential top-five draft picks in this year’s NBA draft.
Zeng will be the second elite 2021 prep prospect this week to join the G League Ignite. Five-star forward Michael Foster (Phoenix Hillcrest Prep) announced Friday that he was choosing the Ignite next season over Florida State, Georgia and professional opportunities overseas.
Is Zeng making the right decision?
Sam Vecenie, staff writer/NBA Draft analyst: So, this is a complicated one. On one hand, I don’t think he’ll be particularly successful in the G League next year. He has a long way to go on his frame, and needs to add an awful lot of strength to deal with the physicality he’ll be presented with there. I thought he would be more of a 3-to-4-year college guy, and that Gonzaga would be the perfect place for him to slowly develop his game.
But on the other hand, if Fanbo really wants to try to get some minutes next year, I actually think he has a better chance to do so in the G League, which will be more developmentally focused, than at Gonzaga. If Drew Timme is to return to the Zags, I don’t think Fanbo would have received much playing time next year. He’s a pure 4 that would be stuck behind all of Chet Holmgren, Timme, Anton Watson, Kaden Perry, and Ben Gregg. I can easily envision a world where Mark Few would have played Julian Strawther at the 4 in small lineups ahead of Fanbo. So he was going to have to wait for minutes. Also, former assistant coach Tommy Lloyd played a significant role in recruiting him to Spokane, and is now the head coach at Arizona.
Personally, I think Fanbo would have been better off decommitting and heading elsewhere if the sole focus is his on-court development. But I would imagine there will be real marketing opportunities presented to him by pursuing this route that he wouldn’t have otherwise received. There is an entire billion-person country rooting for his success. So I understand his choice.
What is his NBA outlook?
Vecenie: Yeah, he’s more in the Kai Sotto mold of long-term project as opposed to even Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix, who will likely at least receive two-way contracts next year from NBA teams. Overall, I do like him a bit more than Sotto, who just signed with the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian NBL for next season. Having said that, it would take a pretty substantial jump next season for him to be a one-and-done, in my view. He’s a smooth-shooting lefty who can pass it at 6-foot-10, but I think he’s really going to struggle going up against guys who are bigger, stronger and longer than he is next season. He definitely has a chance to play in the NBA at some point if his physical development goes to plan because he has size and can shoot. But it’s going to take some time, I think.
(Photo courtesy of Fanbo Zeng)