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Liberty’s Han Xu comfortable with Yao Ming comparisons

New York Liberty

On Thursday, Han Xu will become the second tallest player ever to take the court in a WNBA game. The 6’9” teenager will play for the Liberty in their exhibition game vs. the Chinese women’s national team at Barclays Center.

She could have played for either team, being the starting center for the Chinese team, but last week decided to play for New York, announcing her decision by tweet...

The game, of course, is a big deal for Han and her boss, Joe Tsai, the Nets minority (for now) owner who bought the Liberty from James Dolan and MSG back in January. In fact, in an interview with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Tsai made comparisons between Han and the first two big names to play in the NBA.

“Han Xu’s joining is like Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian,” he said. “It will definitely play a positive role in Chinese basketball and will become a role model for young people, encouraging them to work hard to realize their dreams.”

Han is not afraid to embrace the comparison.

“It’s common for Joe to compare me to Yao Ming because of my traits: Height, second (Chinese) woman drafted to the WNBA,” Han told The Post through interpreter Hannah Rothkuo. “It’s the expectations that Joe set for me, so I want to accomplish this mission. I take this as an expectation that I should meet, and I’m here to accomplish this mission.”

There will be pressure of course. The Liberty took her with the second pick of the second round (14th overall). Other than playing for the Chinese national team in FIBA competition, she has had only one season as a pro, playing last season with the Xinjiang Magic Deer.

As Brian Lewis notes, in last summer’s FIBA Women’s World Cup, Han faced several of her new teammates. She had 20 points vs. Tina Charles’ gold medal U.S. team, and 12 points and nine rebounds in a 76-71 win over Kia Nurse’s Team Canada in the fifth-place game.

Here’s some highlights from when she played for China’s U17 team two years ago...

Like her counterpart on Tsai’s NBA team, Han says she needs to get stronger.

“Han has an incredible skill set, especially to only be 19. Her presence in the paint will be crucial on both ends of the court,” coach Katie Smith told Lewis. “She finishes well and has a good-looking shot.

“In order to compete in this league though, one of the areas of improvement will certainly be her strength. That’ll only come with time.”

Tsai, a native of China who’s also a Canadian citizen, has said that he does not want the Liberty or the Nets to sign players just because they could help marketing in China.

“The general manager of the team (Jonathan Kolb) has observed her for a while. He told me a while ago that there was a Chinese player who was very good.” Tsai explained. “In the end, we were lucky, and we chose Han Xu.“

As for the Nets, they will be playing in Shenzhen and Shanghai this preseason.