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Chron: Yao can count on a rough welcome

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Old School, Aug 22, 2002.

  1. Old School

    Old School Member

    Nov 7, 1999
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    Yao can count on a rough welcome
    U.S. centers eager to test No. 1 pick

    Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

    OAKLAND, Calif. -- Rudy Tomjanovich could have skipped tonight's exhibition between China and the United States, Yao Ming's first appearance in the country since he became Rockets bound. But Tomjanovich could not resist a chance to check out Yao against NBA competition.

    The United States' centers knew they had greater games to win and tests to face. But they found themselves eager to learn their own truths about the first player taken in the NBA draft and offer their sort of welcome to the league.

    The game was billed as Yao's show. But there was one participant in tonight's otherwise meaningless exercise who could not get worked up about the matchup.

    "It's not a strong feeling about it," Yao said after a workout Thursday at the Golden State Warriors' training facility. "If I have any feeling, it will be after the game.

    "It will be a great opportunity for me. The more the better, because in the future, that's the way I'm going to play."

    But that was about it. After facing physical play in Vancouver last week, Yao did not show any particular concern about taking on powerful veterans closer to his own size or excitement about a chance to face opponents who will try to defend him, rather than simply break him.

    Asked if NBA players will seek to test him, he simply said: "That's their business."

    But no matter how he chose to downplay tonight's meeting with the U.S. strongmen lying in wait, they stepped out of the usual NBA-practiced indifference to admit they are eager to test him.

    "We're going to beat him up pretty bad," Pistons center/forward Ben Wallace said. "Welcome to the league; welcome to our country. This is our playground. This is how we play. We're definitely going to be up for the challenge.

    "It's going to be a good challenge for him, and I'm pretty sure everybody in the league is going to step up and make him work for everything he gets. Nothing comes free in this league."

    For players on an American team to look forward to facing any particular opponent, rather than the other way around, is a marked change of form. But the 7-5 Yao is nothing if not unique.

    "NBA players have a lot of pride," U.S. coach George Karl said. "There is no question that in our first game, players are going to come out with a little extra juice and energy."

    But Yao's combination of size and mystery, along with his place in the draft, make him a compelling figure even for NBA vets.

    "I'm interested because (the media) are so interested," Antonio Davis said. "Obviously, there's something about him. From what I heard, he's got good hands and can shoot the ball well, and he's big. We'll just go out and keep him away from the basket and limit his touches.

    "I would want to show I'm a worthy No. 1 pick (if I were him). Every time I was on the court for me would be a big thing. There would be no such thing as an exhibition."

    For now, Yao has to make honing his skills for the World Championships his first priority. He said it could take two or three seasons to adjust to the NBA.

    "Every center, they are very good," he said. "They are very powerful."

    Asked about playing the most powerful of centers, Yao said he would face Shaquille O'Neal soon enough.

    But Tomjanovich did not want to wait. The U.S. collection of Wallace, Davis, Jermaine O'Neal and Elton Brand will not quite offer a meeting with a first- or second-team NBA center. But it will provide another glimpse of Yao.

    In Vancouver, he made all six of his field goal attempts against a team determined to surround and punish him. Said burly Canadian center Richard Anderson: "Every time he got the ball, I hit him."

    The U.S. centers likely will not have to resort to that, offering Tomjanovich a chance to see Yao in competition somewhat closer to what he will face next season.

    "It's just a chance to get to watch certain situations," Tomjanovich said. "I could very well had not been here. But just getting a feel for where he likes to catch the ball, certain things he likes to do, devising a plan -- to me that's what's exciting about basketball. I have principles every year. But I change plays to fit the personnel I have. Just being there live at a game gives me a feel for some of the things he can do."

    Tomjanovich finds that so exciting that he has been jotting down plays involving Yao since returning from Vancouver.

    "There's several sets I showed to the coaches yesterday," Tomjanovich said. "I love that. To me, basketball is a sport that has the most freedom and the biggest chance of chaos. But when they get it together and it works, there is nothing like it. It's like jazz musicians coming together and making something beautiful.

    "I'm not going to put too much into it. They call the game different. The Chinese team is not my team. Yao Ming being with the Houston Rockets (will be) with a different caliber of player. I'm just here to gather information and enjoy visualizing this guy being on our team."
  2. Old School

    Old School Member

    Nov 7, 1999
    Likes Received:
    From SF Chron:

    Scott Ostler

    I RAN into the NBA's great anti-Shaq hope Wednesday, and it's way early to make a definitive judgment on Yao Ming, but based on early information:

    Eat your hearts out, Warriors' fans.

    The player the Warriors could have drafted -- had the front office only shown basic telekinetic control over Ping-Pong balls -- is in the Bay Area.

    Yao's Chinese national team will be soundly thrashed by the U.S. team tonight in an exhibition game in Oakland, but young Mr. Yao is likely to show enough to make you run home and chump-slap your Mike Dunleavy bobblehead doll.

    For starters, Yao is actual size. As in: "Sweet Buddah, that fellow is large!"

    He is a true 7-foot-5, and about 296 pounds, lean but without that Shawn Bradley will-work-for-food look. And when Yao walks and runs, it appears as if all of his various body parts are receiving instructions from the same control panel.

    Yao won't be the biggest guy ever to play in the NBA, but he has the potential to develop into the first 7-5-and-up man who can actually play basketball.

    The road will be rocky. One rumor is that Shaq has a big Yao doll in his driveway and he runs over it several times a day in his SUV, for practice.

    The media wasn't allowed to watch the Chinese actually work out Wednesday, since the team's chalkboard sessions often include diagrams of sensitive nuclear secrets. The fans tonight might be asked to wear blindfolds.

    The Chinese are so laughingly secretive, you'd think they were an NBA team or something.

    But we media folk were allowed to talk to the big guy after practice, and we heard stories about him.

    Like how last week, against the Canadian national team, Yao had a perfect shooting night, with 17 points on 6-for-6 from the floor, 5-for-5 from the line, plus five rebounds and five blocks. And the Canadian big men pounded on Yao as if he had bad-mouthed Celine Dion.

    Yao's future NBA coach, Rudy Tomjanovich of the Houston Rockets, has been very impressed with his rookie-to-be. Rudy T went to China to "recruit" Yao and is following him around now from city to city like a very polite stalker. It's not like Rudy hangs with Yao, but he's there to give the occasional wave from across the lobby, the "we're-still-with-you-big-guy" thumbs-up.

    Yao knows he has a lot to learn. He said Wednesday he's probably "two or three years" away from really adapting to the NBA.

    It might be even longer than that before the 21-year-old Yao, with a wispy hint of a mustache, is able to grow NBA-quality facial hair.

    And personal electronics? Forget it. When the Chinese team walked into the Warriors' practice gym in Oakland, not one player had a cell phone or stereo headphones. It was so retro! Where's Bob Cousy?

    And the Chinese team, world-power-wise, is still a work in progress. "The Chinese team is one of the best in Asia," one official in the party said, and everyone gulped and smiled politely.

    The huge question is, will Yao rise to the level of his NBA competition?

    He's already strong enough to play inside, and he has a smooth mid-range jumper. But there's probably no gamble in the NBA like drafting a huge man, especially a foreign player. A few, like Vlade Divac (7-1) and Arvydas Sabonis (7-3) turned out to be effective, if not dominating, centers.

    But Yao is less internationally tested, more of an X factor.

    I'm told that the fans in Houston are almost unanimously of the mind that Yao as the No. 1 pick was a gamble they desperately wanted their team to take.

    Had Yao been drafted by the Warriors, there would be a sizable faction of fans crying "Mistake!" And there would be reports of Yao going out on the town with Raiders.

    So maybe it's just as well the Warriors wound up with Dunleavy. But Yao does seem like a solid, well-grounded (figuratively) fellow. He is said to be a bright guy with a good sense of humor. He is learning English quickly, although in group interviews he prefers working with an interpreter.

    Yao said Wednesday, yes, he is eager to prove he belongs and can compete in the NBA. He is a big fan of former Rockets superstar Hakeem Olajuwon. If opponents want to double Yao and pound on him, as the Canadians did, "The more the better."

    And he threw a little English at us. His favorite American food? "Steak." What he hopes to buy when the NBA cash starts rolling in? "Car."

    And when the interview was over: "Thank you."

    I told you he has a lot to learn.

    USA vs. China
    -- WHAT: Exhibition game between the American and Chinese teams that will compete in the 2002 FIBA World Basketball Championships, beginning Aug. 29 in Indianapolis

    -- WHEN: 7 p.m. today

    -- WHERE: Arena in Oakland

    -- WHO: American team consists of 12 NBA players and alternate Nick Collison of Kansas; the Chinese roster includes Yao Ming, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft

    -- TV: None

    -- RADIO: KNBR (680 AM)

    -- TICKETS: Still available, including some for as low as $15. Call (888) 479-4667 or visit www.tickets.com.

    E-mail Scott Ostler at sostler@sfchronicle.com.
  3. Old School

    Old School Member

    Nov 7, 1999
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  4. Soybean Fanatic

    Jan 3, 2002
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    Good to hear that Yao already knows the words "steak" and "thank you".
    Let's all hope he will learn more words soon, because the thought of Yao roaming through Houston uttering the words "steak" and "thank you" all the time evokes pictures of Shaq, Shawn Kemp and Tractor Traylor in my mind...
  5. Old School

    Old School Member

    Nov 7, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Here's more:

    Yao Ming must prove himself on U.S. court

    Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

    OAKLAND - We're going to find out a lot about Yao Ming on Thursday night. Yes, the Team USA-China exhibition game is that - only an exhibition - but how Yao approaches the game and what he's able to accomplish against a roster of legitimate NBA players should go a long way toward gauging what kind of player Yao could become.

    Nobody is expecting Yao to lead his undermanned team to an upset victory over the group of second-tier NBA players, but there is still so much to watch for in this, the biggest game of Yao's career to date. Can Yao, 7-foot-5, post up effectively against a U.S. team that boasts no true center? Can he intimidate on the defensive interior, something you'd have to at least expect from a player his size? And how does he view the game, as a meaningful steppingstone or a non-important exhibition?

    Yao, selected with the first pick in June's NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, is a basketball unknown who hasn't faced any real competition. You'd like to think that any unproven player, particularly one this unproven, given the opportunity to face some of the best players, will take that kind of challenge with gusto. True, we're talking exhibition, but it shouldn't be an exhibition for Yao.

    This is his NCAA Tournament, his McDonald's All-America game. Yao will play Thursday night before a near-sellout crowd in Oakland, many of whom will be Chinese-Americans getting their first glimpse of him. He couldn't ask for more motivation.

    A Yao Ming who ho-hums his way through 40 minutes on Thursday night could be the foreshadowing of a nondescript NBA career. A Yao Ming who is ready to play, up for the game and embraces his U.S. debut against NBA players very well could mean he's likely to separate himself from other taller, less-than-ordinary players such as Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol and Dwayne Schintzius.

    When Yao was asked Wednesday how he feels about Thursday night's game, he said that he didn't "really have a strong feeling about it."

    That's not a good sign.

    In many ways it's less important that Yao plays well than that he plays hard. If Yao isn't motivated for Thursday night's game, how will he prepare and focus for that game at Memphis in mid-January as a member or the Rockets?

    Will he be aggressive or passive? Is he competitive, like Miami's Alonzo Mourning, or more sleepy, like Charlotte's Elden Campbell? Is this game important enough for Yao that he comes out and wants to put his signature on it? We're asking for a little inner fire here, a little noticeable hunger, that's all. It's a foregone conclusion that the Team USA will hammer China on Thursday night and when the world championships roll around in Indianapolis next week. The issue is whether Yao displays a toughness despite the rout.

    "(If I were in his shoes) I would want to show everyone that I'm worthy of being the No. 1 pick," Team USA forward Antonio Davis said. "Everything would be all out. It would be no such thing as an exhibition."

    Back in Sydney, during the 2000 Olympics, Yao was a nonfactor in Team USA's 119-72 blowout victory over China. Yao, who got into early foul trouble and eventually fouled out, had only five points and two rebounds in 16 minutes. That day, he went up against Mourning. Thursday night, he'll likely find himself head-to-head with either Davis, Jermaine O'Neal or Ben Wallace, three solid and strong NBA players but none a true center in the NBA.

    It would be easy for some players to rationalize Thursday night's exhibition as a game to get loose, get a run in and work up a sweat. Yao shouldn't be one of those players. This is Yao's game on Thursday night.

    They say the rest of the world's players are catching up to U.S. players. Maybe so, but you still can't fully prove yourself until you prove yourself on a court somewhere in America.

    What you do in a game 6,000 miles from the States is mostly irrelevant if your goal is to establish yourself as one of the best in the world. You've got to do it on a respected proving ground, and Thursday night's game against NBA competition at the Oakland Arena qualifies as such.

    Especially for Yao Ming.
  6. aznlincolnpark

    Jul 24, 2002
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    great articles:)
  7. calbear

    calbear Contributing Member

    Oct 8, 2001
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    I saw Rudy at Oakland airport yesterday =)
    I almost ran him over with my car as I was staring!
  8. gucci888

    gucci888 Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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    I think the two games vs. the USA will help Ming out a lot. He doesn't seem like a guy who gets discouraged easily, so I say "what doesn't kill him only makes him stronger." Jeez, but Ben Wallace, the dude's a monster, so is Antonio Davis, what a way to welcome him in. The refs better call a good game, because it's going to be a physical one.
  9. noemi

    noemi Member

    May 14, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Does anyone know if the game (China VS USA) wil be televised ? Thanks.

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