'10 Unwrapped: The Chen Twins [April Fool's!]

[This article was an April Fool's Day farce for those of you who missed it.] The Eagles Have Landed! There is dancing in the streets at Arrillaga this afternoon with the stunning news of the verbal commitment of two of the best prospects in the history of basketball. Highly-skilled 7'8" identical twins Chen-Lo & Xien Chen appear headed to the Farm in 2010 and ready to bring home a title!

We are pleased to report a landmark event in the proud history of Stanford Athletics. Settling all rampant speculation as to whether fourth-year head coach Trent Johnson will be getting a much-debated contract extension, Scout.com Pan-Asian Recruiting Analyst Nan-Yang Wu is now reporting, in close coordination with TheBootleg.com, the verbal commitment to Stanford University of two literally towering two-sport student-athletes, 7'8" Chinese twin brothers Chen-Lo Chen & Xien Chen. A full report will be soon forthcoming when Nan-Yang has had adequate time to finish his story and post the transcripts of his lengthy telephone interview which was conducted very late last night, Beijing Time (Chinese Standard Time).

The Chen Twins, who just turned 16 two weeks ago, were born in Guangdong, China where they soon became a regional phenomenon in youth developmental leagues, later making a dramatic impact as dominating first-year starters with the prestigious Weilun Sports School. After just one year at Weilun, they were reassigned by the provincial authorities and are now the unquestioned stars of the elite Guangdong Sports Technology Institute, which is known for producing many of China's Olympic basketball players. Under head coach Cheung Wei-leung, the GSTI, with the Chen Twins dominating inside presence, has compiled a stunning 97-0 record in inter-provincial play since 2006. Only three weeks ago, GSTI defeated Beijing's highly-regarded Shichahai Sports School of in the district finals, two nights after a 111-65 semi-final win over traditional power Jiangsu. News of the Chen's intention to play college sports in the U.S., came as a considerable blow to the hometown fans in China, ardent supporters of the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, who see the brothers as the future key to a "Chen Dynasty".

Basketball and volleyball players of considerable skill and even more staggering potential, this is surely the recruiting story of the year in the Pac-10 and possibly the nation. "The Chen brothers' commitment, while obviously only verbal and non-binding at this time, has to be thought of as the 'Signing of the Century' in the conference", said former UCLA head coach and current ABC & ESPN television commentator Steve Lavin, reached this morning at his home in West Tarzana, CA, "The most formidable challenge will be to convince them to forsake their backcourt orientation. Believe it or not, these kids grew up playing as a guard tandem and while obviously not as nearly as quick off the dribble as a Darren Collison or an OJ Mayo due to their obvious size and ridiculous length, each appears to possess ball-handling skills equivalent to those of an average Pac-10 point guard. I definitely think you will see Trent use them to bring the ball up against full-court pressure." Adds Scout.com's Wu, "With this signing, Stanford has put itself back squarely in contention for future Pac-10 prominence that many feared could decline with the eventual departure of the Lopez Twins. UCLA, Arizona and Oregon have all been landing outstanding four- and five-star recruiting classes and Stanford was certainly behind the eight-ball until this stroke of good luck. The 'Twins' thing seems to working not just for Coors Light®, but for the Stanford Cardinal as well!"

Trent Johnson, the "Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball", is obviously unable to comment publicly on the Twins' recruitment until after National Letter of Intent Signing Day (Early Period), which is November 16, 2009. Coach Johnson is known to be a real stickler for observing rules and regulations, especially since he currently serves on the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Special Committee on Recruiting and Access, a select group of prominent Division I-A coaches who suggest ways to provide a more equitable and informational recruiting process for the potential student-athlete and to enhance the educational opportunities for student-athletes while in college.

It really shouldn't be too surprising that Stanford University, with its international reputation for both academics and athletics, along with its attractive West Coast location and large ethnic Chinese population, would eventually land players from mainland China. Approximately 300 million Chinese are playing hoops today, or roughly the equivalent of the entire U.S. population! During an unofficial campus visit in mid-January, the Chen brothers (who express interest in majoring in electrical engineering) and their parents reportedly developed a high comfort level with the Chinese cultural representation on the Stanford campus after interacting with several student organizations including the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Stanford (ACSSS), the Stanford Chinese Institute of Engineers (SCIE), and the Chinese Christian Fellowship at Stanford (CCFS).

Well-known internationally, but heretofore relatively low-profile in American basketball circles due to 1) concerns over college eligibility and 2) the fact that Chinese players are not tracked by the Scout.com or Rivals.com recruiting prospects databases, the Chens, who measure in bare feet an imposing 7'8 ¼" [2.343 meters], 248-pound (Xien) and 7'7 ¾" [2.33 meters], 256-pound (Chen-Lo) have occupied a prominent place (to say the least) on the Cardinal's recruiting radar since the day Johnson took over for longtime head coach Mike Montgomery in 2004. Their verbal commitment comes on the heels of a recent notice of clearance from the NCAA with regard to their eligibility to play basketball in the United States. The Twins, who also play volleyball at an internationally high level (both literally and figuratively) as members of the Chinese 18 & Under national team, have played on several competitive basketball club teams in China and while they themselves did not receive any monetary compensation, many of their teammates and opponents were paid for playing. In November of 2007, the Chen family hired an experienced NCAA compliance & eligibility consultant, Dr. Eberhard Kistler, who previously helped solve the eligibility issues that had led to the suspension of former USC center Kostas Charissis for the first 15 games of the 2001-02 season. Dr. Kistler was also successful in settling club team ineligibility issues for Marist College's all-conference player Tomasz Cielbak who was suspended mid-season for 11 games that same year.

With more than two years of additional growth remaining before enrollment on the Farm, the Chens will in all likelihood become the tallest-ever college players in America, already taller than UNC-Asheville's not-so-gentle giant, 7'7", 360-pound junior center Kenny George. Despite his slowness of foot, George's impressive wingspan of 101½ inches allowed him to shoot a nation's-best .696 from the floor in 2007-08. The Chens' wingspans are reportedly 105 ¾ inches (Xien) and 103 ¼ inches (Chen-Lo) respectively and each is considered to be a willing, if not polished shot-blocker. Says Scout.com's Wu, "While UNC-Ashville's George remains a definite work-in-progress, many international scouts feel the Chens are ready for Division I competition right now. There is no question that these kids can use a couple of years in the weight room under the guidance of Stanford Basketball's strength & conditioning coach Juan Pablo Reggiardo, who is excited about working with the Twins: "Physically, they are built more like Curtis Bortchardt than the Lopez brothers, but they are nowhere near as frail as say, (former 7'7" NBA player) Manute Bol."

Comparison have inevitably been made to Yao Ming, the currently injured 7'6" center who has played for the NBA's Houston Rockets since 2002 and whose NBA success has created an obsession with basketball in the planet's most populous nation. Let's state for the record that the Chens are nowhere near as strong or sturdy as Yao and probably never will be. But the potential is certainly there: case in point - the Chens had to be fitted in Hong Kong last September for custom Nike-made shoes in a 29 GGG, a full seven sizes bigger than Bob Lanier's famous size-22 bronzed shoes that sit in the National Basketball Hall of Fame (Current Phoenix Suns star Shaquille O'Neal is known to wear size 21 EEE or 22 G sneakers). If they continue to grow taller, and barring injury, the Chens will eventually become the tallest players in both collegiate and NBA history. The tallest NBA player on record was actually not Bol, but 7'7" (2.31 meter) Gheorghe Muresan, whose remarkable height was the tragic result of a severe pituitary disorder. Fear not, Cardinalmaniacs™, the Chen Twins aka "The Great Wall of Cardinal™" appear to be "naturally tall", quite unlike their fellow countryman Sun Ming Ming, a 7'9" Chinese who suffered from a benign brain tumor impacting his pituitary gland that created an over-production of growth hormone, a potentially deadly condition known as "acromegaly" and often referred to as "gigantism". (Fortunately, Sun had the tumor successfully removed). Showing confidence in the twins' health prospects following an on-campus physical that included a full screening by the Department of Endocrinology at the Stanford School of Medicine. Joked Stanford's Visiting Professor of Paracrinology Dr. Rainer Mangold following a four-hour examination and battery of tests, "I am not sure what to call the Chens' condition, except maybe "Acute Final Four Syndrome."

Also complicating the Twins' recruitment has been "timing". There has been considerable concern among top Chinese sports officials that the Chens, playing in the Pac-10 against stronger upperclassmen, could be injured and be rendered unavailable for the 2012 Summer Games in London (the XXX Olympiad), which would be considered a virtual national disaster for the People's Republic of China. It must be understood that there is tremendous pressure for top Chinese players to subordinate their personal ambitions to the national interest of the country. It was ultimately determined by a local committee that the brothers would risk no higher likelihood of injury playing in the U.S. that they would in their own home country where playing surfaces and equipment are not always up to international standards. The Chen family also agreed to a stipulation from the provincial government that the brothers would not play pick-up games or participate in snow- or water-skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, indoor ski-racing, or motorcycle-riding during their time in the U.S. The Guangdong government has taken out an eight-figure (USD) insurance policy with the China Life Insurance Co., the largest insurance company in the country.

Born in Guangdong, interestingly on March 19, 1992, the very same day Adam Keefe and the then-12th-seeded Cardinal fell to #5 seed Alabama 80-75 in the Southeast Regional of the 1992 NCAA tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio, neither brother is considered to be developmentally superior to the other, although it is safe to say that they are far more advanced offensively than defensively at this point. Stanford Basketball's Reggiardo also urges a reasonable measure of patience from the Stanford Fan Base: "There will be a considerable learning curve and a real strength issue during the first year or two. The Chen's previous training has focused primarily on flexibility, speed and agility and both are sorely lacking in upper body strength. We expect them to make tremendous strides between their first and second year in the program. The may not be yoked yet, but they run like gazelles. I got serious goose-bumps watching them in drills!"

As was the case with the Lopez Twins, there is a sensible explanation for why the Chen Twins were able to remain low under the national recruiting radar. There is a family connection. The Chens' paternal uncle, Mr. Stephen Tsukung Chen, was a member of the Stanford Class of 1984 and has provided the Twins with an assorted array of Cardinal gear since the boys were toddlers. An electrical engineering major himself, Chen spent a number of years with South Bay high-speed memory patent company Rambus, where he was notably responsible for licensing RDRAM memory to Sony for use in the PlayStation 2, which made him a celebrated hero in the eyes of his nephews and their friends. The Twins have been following Stanford Basketball closely ever since the Final Four run of 1998 and they often argue over who gets to be "Stanford" when playing their admittedly pirated version of NCAA Basketball 2001 ("We need a newer copy, but we like the old!"). Their interest in Stanford as a collegiate destination was elevated even further after a warm and memorable encounter with current U.S. Secretary of State and former Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice at a 2007 New Year's Brunch Buffet held at the American Club in Beijing, hosted by the aptly-named Stanford Club of Beijing. The Twins' attendance was apparently arranged by the twins' paternal grandfather, Chen Mingming, a native of Shandong Province who is of Han nationality. The elder Chen was born in 1950 and graduated from Beijing Foreign Languages Institute and holds an LL.B from the National University of Singapore. He is a former Deputy Director of North American and Oceanic Affairs with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and currently serves as the PRC's Ambassador to New Zealand and the Cook Islands. (http://www.chinavitae.com/biography/Chen_Mingming) The Chen family, who has been outspoken about the primacy of educational opportunity in determining the young men's future, reportedly came away highly impressed after a lengthy discussion with Dr. Rice regarding the successful balance of athletics and academics by twins at Stanford, including the Collins Twins and the Lopez Twins.

There appear to be some interesting back stories to the Chens' low-profile, but intense recruitment, which included interest from Georgetown, Duke, UConn, Washington, Ohio State, Xavier, Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida. We have learned that newly-appointed WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, a highly-regarded former Stanford Basketball marketing director, was nearly successful in brokering an arrangement to send the Twins to University of San Francisco in a skillfully-designed package deal to lure Mike Montgomery or Steve Lavin to the WCC and simultaneously secure a long-term contract with FSN for the conference. FSN parent News Corp's Rupert Murdock is said to have become very interested in penetrating the Chinese sports television market after reading the best-selling global business book, The World is Flat. As some of our readers may recall, in December of 2007, Lavin was rumored to be considering returning to his hometown of San Francisco and coaching at USF starting with the 2008-2009 season. There was actually considerable interest in USF prior to the receipt of the Twins' scores on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The Chens's maternal great-grandfather, Willie "Woo Woo" Wong was born and raised in San Francisco's Chinatown and became a well-known basketball player at Lowell High and later starred for the University of San Francisco under legendary Cal coach and renowned big-man specialist Pete Newell. Wong, who only stood 5'5" was one of the first notable Chinese-American basketball players in this country. The Twins have visited San Francisco on two occasions and during their most recent visit in 2007 enjoyed Dim Sum (Siu Mai - pork dumplings and Woo Gok - deep-fried, pork-filled taro dumplings) at the Ton Kiang restaurant on Geary Street with KNBR sports radio personality and passionate USF alum Ralph Barbieri, who has a preexisting, well-established relationship with the family dating back to the mid-1990s. In a telephone (VOIP) interview with Scout.com late last night, Xien, who converses in English slightly more comfortably than his younger sibling (by twelve minutes) Chen-Lo, showed a sense of American humor by calling the meal "The Best Damn Dim Sum Period" (a pop cultural reference to an FSN sport talk show) and then signing off cheerfully with Barbieri's trademark "Angels Fly Because They Take Themselves Lightly", which Xien said he and Chen-Lo learned while listening to KNBR on the internet at their family home in Guangdong.

Impact on Stanford's Recruiting:  While the Chen Twins should be a disruptive force for the rest of the country, but shouldn't upset the Cardinal's current apple cart at all. With 6'10" '08 committed recruit Miles Plumlee and '09 California prospects 6'9" Brendan Lane and 6'7' Anthony Stover more likely to project as more traditional 4s, Stanford has been rather desperately searching for a long-term solution at the "5" and they appear to have that locked down for years to come. A source within the Stanford Basketball office, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that the staff recently concluded that five-star 2010 center Jeremy Tyler of San Diego is projected as more of a "3" at the NBA level, even if he grows to 6'11" and is not likely to be discouraged by the landing of the Chen brothers.

Mark your calendars for November of 2010 when a new weekly gathering of hardcore Stanford Basketball fans will congregate. What will this new group be called? Why naturally, the "Council of Chens™"

Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting development for Cardinal men's hoops and the overwhelemed reaction from Men's Volleyball coach John Kosty!

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