Yao-less team still the giants

(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-28 13:39

When NBA superstar Yao Ming chose to stay in the United States in a hope of leading the Houston Rockets to the playoffs, China chose to rely on former NBA player Wang Zhizhi and future NBA rookie Yi Jianlian to regain the Asian Games title.

China lost to the hosts South Korea 102-100 after a thrilling overtime at the 2002 Games in Busan.

It was giant centre Yao Ming's last game before he joined the Rockets.

"Without Yao, we have to speed up on the court. Wang and Yi have speed and jumping ability. The team has become faster than before," said China's Lithuanian head coach Jonas Kazlauskas.

Officials from the sport's governing body have also voiced confidence in China's power despite Yao's absence.

"We must win the gold medal at Doha," said Hu Jiashi, vice president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

"Of course the Chinese team will be affected a little by Yao's absence, but on the other hand, some young talent will have the opportunity to show off," Hu said.

Wang, the first-ever Chinese to sign with a NBA team, will play a big man's role while 19-year-old Yi is set to give a big hand.

Wang, 2.14 meters, who played for Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat, returned to China to join the Chinese league club Bayi this year. He came back to accept his national duty after a four-year exile.

The 29-year-old played with Yao at the World Championships in Japan in August, where they bowed to European champions Greece in a last-16 match.

"I have trained and competed with Yi this summer. I think we played very good teamwork on the court," Wang said.

Yi, who averaged 25.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game for defending champions the Guangdong Hongyuan in this season's CBA league, is expected to make his name better known internationally in his debut at the Asian sports gala after his decision to join 2007 NBA draft earlier this month.

"Now I am not thinking too much about going to the NBA. I am focusing on the Asian Games," said the 2.11-meter centre/forward. "Four years ago, the Chinese team failed to win the gold medal at Busan. This time we will try our best to secure the title."

Kazlauskas also has pinned great hope on Yi.

"The better he plays and the more contributions he makes to help China win at Doha, the better chance he will have in next year's NBA draft," Jonas said.

But Kazlauskaus admits he is under pressure.

"The Asian Games are not going to be easy," he said.

"We have a lot of preparation to do. You cannot say that we will win easily. Last time South Korea won. We still have a lot of young players."

CBA leading scorer Tang Zhengdong, Li Nan, Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng are among other key players bound for Doha.

Tang is averaging 31 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in the CBA league and is expected to play a strong role off the bench for Wang or Yi.

Because of his stability and experience, veteran shooter Li is likely to replace Zhu in the starting line-up after coming back from a lingering injury.

The team has showed improvement and dominance in the centre during the three pre-game warm-ups.

China beat an Australian team 80-58 in Zhuhai last Monday.

Wang and Yi Jianlian each contributed 15 points for China, while Li added 12. They also upset visiting NBDL's Thunderbird 82-55 in the opening match in Beilun on November 16th, and beat the same team 86-78 in Macao two days later.

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