Even talking on the phone, Max Zhang’s big smile comes across loud and clear.
“I feel really good,” the Bears’ sophomore center said.
As he should. Zhang, who played sparingly in 15 games as a redshirt freshman last season, delivered a spectacular performance recently at the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia. Representing his homeland of China, the 7-foot-2 1/4 center averaged 18.0 points, 17.3 rebounds and 5.7 blocked shots, leading the tournament in the latter two categories.
He had double-doubles (points and rebounds) in all six games, and twice logged triple-doubles by adding 10 blocked shots.
“I didn’t know I would do this well,” Max acknowledged. “I know there are teams from all over the world from different levels. Some of them are really good, some of them are probably not that good. I knew if I played hard, I could get some numbers.”
The most important numbers for Max were minutes played, and he got plenty of them. The opportunity allowed him to flourish, and he returned home with vastly improved self-esteem.
“It’s been a long time since I competed that many minutes in big games. I gained a lot of confidence from that,” he said. “The last two years, I’m kind of losing confidence in myself.”
Zhang received congratulations from his teammates and coaches upon returning to Berkeley last weekend, and got a phone call Sunday from Cal senior point guard Jerome Randle, who is home in Chicago.
“I called him and told him he did a great job there, and I told him I believe in him,” Randle said. “I love Max. He has a lot of heart. If Max can come in and impact us like he did down there, I think that’s great for our team. He can make a difference on defense.
“He has a lot of potential. I think he will someday be a great player. You never know, this might be that year.”
Zhang isn’t sure how much his role this season will be impacted by his performance in Belgrade, but said the Cal coaches have requested games tapes so they can check out how the Chinese team utilized him so effectively.
“I will keep practicing hard and if I have a chance on the court, I will do my best,” Zhang said. “From this experience, I really think I got a lot of confidence. Right now, I’m really excited for the coming preparation for the season and the season.”
Max said the two weeks he spent in Belgrade weren’t all business. He got the chance to have coffee one day with teammate and Serbian native Nikola Knezevic, and was favorably impressed after touring the city.
“The weather is wonderful, the people are pretty nice, and there’s lots of pretty girls.”