A freshman on the Lakers boys basketball team, Fanbo Zeng already is gaining attention for his versatile abilities on the court.
When Fanbo Zeng arrived to Windermere Prep last August, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect — both on and off the court.
Zeng — a native of Harbin, China — was literally on the other side of the world, far from everything he knew. Everything, that is, except for basketball.
“My first game, I was a little bit nervous, but I was still excited for it,” Zeng said. “I just had to try my best.”
The game of basketball has become one of international intrigue over the last few decades, and with that intrigue comes a diverse pool of players. Now kids growing up in different parts of the world — from the U.S. to China — dream of one day becoming the next LeBron James or Stephen Curry.
And with Central Florida being a melting pot for people of all backgrounds, it’s no surprise to find international players such as Zeng making noise on the hardwood.
“My first game, I was a little bit nervous, but I was still excited for it. I just had to try my best.”
— Fanbo Zeng
Although this is his first season of basketball here in the States, the stats that Zeng has stacked up for the Lakers are, well, impressive. Through 20 games Zeng has put up 11.4 points per game while racking up 8.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks.
When you throw in his height — a sky-scraping 6-foot-9 — and raw talent, it makes him a coach’s dream player.
“Fanbo has been a joy to coach — he’s extremely coachable, and he learns really fast,” said Brian Hoff, who coaches the boys basketball team. “He’s a very unique player because he is 6-foot-9, and he is extremely skilled. It’s a nice challenge for me to find way to utilize a guy like him, because it’s not often you get to coach a guy who is 6-foot-9.”
And the most impressive thing — as it relates to his long, lanky frame — is that he can be used anywhere on the court, from the post to the wing.
For a lot of players with that kind of height at the high-school level, one would expect him to be only a legitimate threat in the paint, but that’s not the case.
While his height gives him a clear advantage in the paint, allowing him to block shots and clean the glass, Zeng has a soft touch when he pulls up for a shot, whether it be 12 or 16 feet out.
Utilizing that raw talent and playing at the highest level is also something that has been a must for Zeng, because the talent level he plays against here is higher than what he faced back home.
“The basketball is faster here than in China,” Zeng said. “Playing against the better competition makes me feel like a better player. American players jump higher, and run faster and stronger. (It) makes me play harder.”
Although there are differences both on and off the court — in addition to the language barrier — Zeng has shown he has the determination to accomplish the goals he set as a young kid in Harbin.
Growing up in Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, Zeng grew up with a love for basketball — thanks largely to the influence of his father, who had played professional ball in China.
“He taught me when I was little, but I was 11 years old when I went to a Beijing basketball club and started my basketball career,” Zeng said.
From there, Zeng torched the competition before finding himself on the Chinese Junior National Team in the months leading up to his U.S. arrival.
Of all his experiences in basketball, that short stint on the national team last summer may have been one of the most crucial moments of his young career.
“I was there for a couple of months of practice — they’re a little bit older than me and a little bit stronger,” Zeng said. “So I didn’t (get to) play too much, but playing with strong players made me stronger.”
That experience and fire to be able to compete with the best followed Zeng on the 20-plus hour flight — which covered more than 7,000 miles and 13 time zones — from Beijing to Windermere, and it shows.
With Windermere Prep being his chosen destination — which he picked based on the basketball and academic programs, along with the school offering boarding — the hope is the school will lead to some big things in the future.
Although Zeng hopes to pick up some hardware while playing for the Lakers, the ultimate goal is to get a scholarship to play at Duke, before hopefully making it to the highest level of basketball.
“They (my family) think the school is good for my future and good for my chances at going to an American college,” Zeng said. “My goal is to play (in the) NBA.”