Reporting From ... adidas Nations basketball camp in Beijing

Amid a gym of squeaking sneakers and the incessant tat-tat-tat of dribblers, a sharp command: "Hold up."

The Chinese players on Court 1 halt, hardly knowing why. Eric Musselman, former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings coach, signals for the ball and walks towards the baseline.

"Get it out of the net," he snaps. To these kids, none older than 18, his words are foreign, baffling. But even without a translator, the intensity of the American's instruction—suggestive of aggressiveness, focus, energy; all those insisted-upon differences between the NBA and the rest of the world's basketball leagues— forces its way through.

"Get both feet out," he instructs a player inbounding a ball. "Clear the backboard, then go. Got it? Details. Little details."

Five seconds later, the the fast break drill is stopped again. It's a familiar directive: "Hold up." This time there is something akin to disgust in Musselman's voice—yet it's measured, practiced and coming from a coach who's used this tone a thousand times before.

"Listen: run hard. Don't jog. Run! RUN!"

"Scrawny" is the first word that comes to mind to describe this scene of kids; of 40-some Chinese basketball players—the best among the 15 to 18 age group, according to the press release—gathered under the at Beijing's Sport University. They are part of 47 total youngsters representing five Asian-Pacific countries participating in an adidas-sponsored camp, competing for roster spots on a team that will be flown to Dallas in August for a bigger, more marquee event.

This isn't the Nike Elite Skills Academy, but then again, it doesn't try to be. It's part of the adidas Nations grassroots basketball program, currently in its third year, which sends former and current NBA personnel to places in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America to tutor the region's best young players.

Here, at the Asia-Pacific camp in Beijing, it's all about potential. "I see a lot of height here, I see the ability to get bigger, and I see the ability to get better," says Eddie Johnson, former NBA sharpshooter, most notably of the Phoenix Suns. "All of them have that potential (to play overseas) because they all have time. I've seen guys that couldn't play well at 15 and were in the NBA at 19."

Johnson, along with former NBA head coaches Musselman, Paul Silas and Marc Iavaroni, each coach a team. Over the course of the five-day camp, their players will receive an NBA-level schooling. Although most of the Chinese players are affiliated with development teams in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), they are anything but seasoned. In the first couple days they seem shy, tentative and "afraid to fail," as coach Darren Matsubara, a legend in American AAU ranks, puts it. In other words, just kids.

"Just because they make money doesn't mean they're pro," Johnson says.

And so, like any rising American prep star, they're put through the grinder. They're forced to run. They're lectured on the most basic of concepts ("I played on lots of bad teams and one championship team," Iavaroni says. "The championship team played great defense. The bad teams played bad defense.") and yelled at in a foreign language (Musselman: "If you're going to dribble once, dribble at your defender!").

"At the end of the five days, the cream will rise to the top," Matsubara says.

Perhaps like it did in 2002. It was at an adidas summer camp that Yi Jianlian, at the age of 15 (or 18, depending on whether you believe Yi, or some of his former teammates on the CBA's Guangdong team), wowed coaches and scouts with his post agility and outside shooting. Eventually he drew comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and was drafted sixth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007. (He was traded this season to the New Jersey Nets.) In a particularly cruel twist for the camp's organizers, Yi ended up signing with Nike, but shhh. It's not polite to mention this in front of the hosts, who have decked the Sport University gymnasium this year with company banners and dressed everyone in adidas merchandise.

It's too early to say whether any of this year's players will play overseas, but this event has, once again, underscored the importance of the Chinese market to adidas. Last summer the German company opened its Asian flagship store in one of Beijing's most chic, Western areas, smack-dab in front of a an enormous big-screen and flowing water fountains. This summer it's more of the same, a never-ending struggle to nudge Nike aside in the world's largest market.

From a marketing standpoint, the thinking with these camps is to strike early: recognize talent, establish relationships and outmaneuver the competition when signing day arrives. Who knows if it'll pay off, but you can't fault adidas's effort. In addition to the coaches, adidas flew in the Nets' Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, both making their first trip to China. Former attendees in the camp's 10-year history have included Dwight Howard and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Between warming up with half-court shots and goofing around, Harris said the players he saw had "potential," and the seven-foot Lopez joked (we think he was joking, anyway), "The size on some of (the campers) make me kind of feel small." Still, neither was quite ready to identify any NBA-caliber players in this year's crop. Instead, the two players spoke about the physical nature of the NBA, how it's "not for everyone," in Harris's words. Lopez added, "A big thing for me coming into the NBA was realizing who you're playing against, guys like Shaq, Kobe, LeBron—I mean, the best in the world."

Then again, this camp's success won't necessarily be judged by how many NBA prospects it produces. It is, for a generation of China's most talented young players, a chance to learn at the feet of the establishment, a basketball league they are much more familiar with than their own, with stars whose jerseys far outsell those of Yao Ming (who ranks 10th in Chinese jersey sales).

They are, in short, ready to run.