Yao Ming returns to inspire China

HOMETOWN HERO: With the Chinese center playing post, China’s Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas said he hoped they could take their game to another level


Sat, Jul 19, 2008 - Page 19

Chinese center Yao Ming’s return from injury has inspired the national team just weeks ahead of the Beijing Olympics and rekindled hopes of a medal at the Games.

Yao contributed 11 points and four rebounds in 12 minutes of play on Thursday when China thrashed Serbia 96-72, in a performance that saw his team feed on his towering presence with five players scoring in double figures.

“I was very happy to see them playing like this,” Yao was quoted as saying in the Titan Sports Weekly.

“If during the Olympic Games they play like this when I’m not on the court, then playing 12 minutes a game will be fine,” he said.

Thursday’s warm-up was Yao’s first since breaking a foot in a game with the NBA Houston Rockets in February. The multi-millionaire star only began practicing with the national side earlier month.

The 2.26m Yao’s presence in the lane helped his teammates make nine of 21 three-point attempts, while China also shot 63 percent from inside the arc.

“Yao Ming can motivate the whole team. Even if he is not on the court, he brings a lot of confidence to the team,” an upbeat Hu Jiashi, the vice head of the Chinese Basketball Association, told journalists.

Former Dallas Mavericks center Wang Zhizhi led the hosts with 18 points, while power forward Yi Jianlian, recently traded to the New Jersey Nets, chipped in with 14 points. Zhu Fangyu added 15.

Yao’s former teammate with the Shanghai Sharks, point guard Liu Wei, scored nine points before leaving with an injury after crashing to the floor on a drive to the hoop.

“We started very hard, but in many areas we stopped playing hard when we were ahead,” China’s Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas said.

“At halftime I told the players to stop playing for individual statistics and start playing like a team. We played better in the second half and we finished good,” he said.

Kazlauskas said his team still needed to step up to another level, and the players had to work better with Yao on timing and rebounding.

Next up for China will be a game today against African champions Angola, who have also been placed in Group B with the Chinese side in the Olympic Games basketball tournament.

“I am not afraid of Yao Ming. The guy I’m afraid of is number 11 [Yi],” Angolan assistant coach Artur Barros told journalists. “He is very fast, he can shoot — this kind of player is very hard to defend. Yao Ming? He is great, but he will get tired if we run.”

One of the most recognizable faces of the Beijing Games and arguably the most successful Chinese athlete ever, Yao is being looked to by more than a billion Chinese to lead the nation to Olympic glory.

Besides facing Angola in Group B at the Aug. 8 to Aug. 24 Olympics, China is also grouped with the powerhouse US team and reigning world champions Spain.