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Feature: Time for Yi to shine as North American tour tips off

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 12:11 AM


VANCOUVER, Aug. 9, 2010 (Xinhua News Agency) -- China will field a "young" squad when the national basketball team starts its North American tour Tuesday against Canada, its first serious international test before the World Basketball Championships later this month, according to new coach Robert Donewald Jr.

Speaking Monday in Richmond, British Columbia, where the team was practicing in the facility that hosted the speed skating for the Vancouver Winter Olympics earlier this year, Donewald, the Shanghai Sharks coach who took over the national team duties in April, said it was "period of transition" for Chinese basketball.

"We're without (the injured) Yao Ming and some of the older guys. Familiar faces of Chinese basketball are getting over the hill a little bit and we're introducing some new blood. We're excited to be here. We need some good competition. We got to get some experience under our belt and this is a fun way and great way to start off."

Following an intense period of practice over the past three and a half months where a lot of work was done on skill development, conditioning and getting stronger, Michigan native Donewald said the team had good chemistry but a lot of his players where young guys "who aren't pros" and needed to learn "how to be pros".

"We have some young guys that have some skill and talent, but just a lack of experience of it all is going to cause some failures early. But my guys play hard, my guys compete and we've got good chemistry. So we'll be okay in the long run, but it's going to up and down early."

"I know Canada will press us tomorrow. We'll see some different things out of the Canadian team that we haven't seen in China, and then we move on to New York and it's America, Brazil and everybody kinds of gives you a different tune so that by the time we get to the World Championships we'll have seen a lot of different things and hopefully have enough experience to get some wins."

With veterans Wang Zhizhi and Sun Yue in his line-up to provide some experience, Donewald will undoubtedly rely a lot on talented forward Yi Jianlian. The 22-year-old Guangdong native was traded to Washington in June, making the Wizards his third NBA team in four years in the league.

"He is obviously one of our most talented players, or most talented player, but we need to make sure we are moving the basketball because the defense is going to key in on Yi Jianlian. We want to make sure everybody is accountable, and everybody is getting their touches, but certainly he's got to lead us if we are going to have some success."

Yi, looking tanned and relaxed after practice, said he was feeling good after a difficult season with the New Jersey Nets, the worse team in the NBA last year with a 12-70 record.

"I've had some time off after the season, some time to rest and let the body heal. I did some individual workouts, then went back to the gym. Some personal workout in the States, try to improve something," he said.

Yi said the team would use its hectic schedule over the next two weeks, where it will play games in Vancouver, New York and Serbia, as warm-ups for the World Championship. China is in Group C with host Turkey, Greece, Russia, Cote d'Ivoire and Puerto Rico which it meets in an exhibition in New York next Sunday.

"We'll use these games to kind of fix up little stuff for the team on defense, offence and try to get better," said Yi, admitting the team was missing Yao who is out with a foot injury.

"For a team, players are always changing due to injury or retiring, getting older. That's the chance for the new guys to join the team and help the team. For sure with Yao not here we lose a big guy inside, but we still got to keep playing. We need some other guys to try and step up."

Donewald said there was "no chance at all" of Yao rejoining the national team in time for the World Championship starting August 28. He said he was "recovering nicely" from his foot injury and getting his workouts in, but the Houston Rockets star was not cleared for contact on a day-to-day basis yet.

"But without him we got to compete and we got to play and it's going to be a good experience for these guys going through it because they got to step up, they just can't hide and let Yao get it done for them," he said.

"It's also going to be very good for Yi Jianlian because now instead of Yao being the face of the team, Yi Jianlian is the face of this team this summer and it's going to be a good experience."

(Source: iStockAnalyst )

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