Chinese men´s basketball team 07-29-2004 13:53

The Chinese men's basketball team is gearing up for the Athens Olympic Games. With promising players training hard and top foreign head coaches in place, everyone is expecting them to do an outstanding job. But their poor performance in the just-concluded friendly matches, has cast doubt on their prospective performance in Athens. How far can they go? Now, We take a closer look at how things are going.

Coach Del Harris arrived at the Beijing International Airport on May 23. Facing a crazy crowd of Chinese press and basketball fans, the silver-haired man seemed optimistically cautious about his upcoming coaching career in China. He said although he had known something about the team via various sources months before his arrival, it will still take some time before he and his players are synchronized. He also acknowledged the Houston Rockets Star Yao Ming's place in the team as one of the core players. Harris was one of the 2 new head coaches of the Chinese men's basketball team named by the China Basketball Association on February 20.

The other is Jonas Kazlauskas from Lithuania, known as the "European basketball Caesar". The pioneering move is widely seen as a make-or-break effort for the team to achieve a breakthrough in the Athens Olympics this August.

Jonas has been assuming the duty since March 16. The squad spent the first month conditioning, and is now concentrating on individual skills. The two foreign coaches are leading a team that is seen as the best in years. The squad boasts not only NBA stars Yao Ming and Menk Bateer but also promising youths such as Tang Zhengdong and Yi Jianlian who are fervently scouted by many NBA teams. Jonas said the biggest headache for him now is large scale injuries in the wake of the fatiguing CBA season.

Despite injury, professional players plus experienced coaches seemed like a sound combination. But things turned out to develop in a reversed way. The team lost 2 out of the first 3 friendly matches to Australia's visiting Haier Star in May. However, the team lacked the presence of Yao Ming. Their offensive game wasn't tough enough, their unforced errors increased as they played late into their games, and the loose defense gave their rival too much space. China's unsatisfactory performance raised the eyebrow of Harris who flew to watch the games.

Harris showed up at the court one day before the two teams were about to have their 5th and last game. Telling his boys he was far from content with their previous performance, he warned that they wouldn't go very far in the Olympics if such problems remain unresolved. But he just stood by to watch the progress of training, not giving many instructions. According to him, he needed more time to get acquainted with each player's own style.

Harris witnessed his team win the match on May 26. While hopes are high, speculation also abounds over what the first 2 foreign coaches in China's basketball history can bring to China and whether they can coordinate well. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese team will surpass its best Olympic record--of 8th place, in Athens.

Recently, The Chinese men's basketball team has played all their games in a 4-nation friendly, gaining a surprising 6 consecutive wins over Canada, Brazil and Croatia. Despite these inspiring results, there are still tough problems to solve just 2 weeks ahead of the Olympics.

Inconsistency has been hampering the team's progress. In the recent friendly, China showed loose defense. Even though the other teams didn't field their best players, China let 20-point gaps be narrowed to a couple of points in just a few minutes. Coaches say players need more concentration on court.

Another problem is the over-concentrated focus on Yao Ming. The Houston Rockets star says he needs to communicate more with his teammates.

Yao Ming said, "Our opponents make us use up our energy to break our defense. Although I got nearly half of the total points, it's not good, because we have to play like a team."

Coach Del Harris has returned to the United States and won't come back until the start of the Games, sparking doubts about the team's training in the coming weeks. But players have expressed their confidence in improving before Athens. China will be grouped with Italy, Argentina, Spain, New Zealand and Serbia Montenegro.

China has dominated Asian basketball for over two decades, but they have struggled outside the continent. They finished a disappointing 10th at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and were 12th at the 2002 World Championships.

As the star center of the NBA's Houston Rockets, Chinese national team anchor Yao Ming already knows a bit about how they play basketball in the west.

And now he's getting some help sharing that knowledge to the rest of his Chinese Olympic teammates in the form of former Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks head coach, Del Harris, the first-ever westerner to head the Chinese national basketball team.

China once again cruised through Asian qualifying for Athens. But despite heavy expectations that their American coach will lead China to even greater things in Athens, Harris is not making any predictions.

Yao Ming echoes the cautiousness of his coach, saying the true impact of Del Harris's tenure on the Chinese bench may not be felt for several years. But he seems confident that China will do well at Athens.

Yao Ming said, "Our goal in Athens is to enter the quarter-final and at least produce out country's best ever result."

China is to take on Spain in the opening game on August the 15th.


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