With Yao, there’s a lot to like


The Washington Post

The first thing you notice about Yao Ming is his size. The next thing you notice is that he’s young. And then you realize that Yao can really play. He is remarkably agile for a player his size and remarkably skilled for a player his age. He appears to be far more than a Chinese version of Manute Bol, the 7-foot-6 Sudanese center who spent three seasons as a Washington Bullet from 1985 to ‘88. At 225 pounds, Bol was a veritable stick, moved easily by other NBA centers in the lane; Yao checks in at a much more formidable 265 pounds, plus he moves well, has a good touch and excels at passing. He’s an aggressive shot blocker. And the range on his jumper is about 20 feet _ not three-point distance, but more than respectable for a player of his size. “He is 7-6 and he’ an athlete and he has skills, that makes him pretty good,” said Indiana Pacers President Donnie Walsh, who saw Yao at the Sydney Olympics but has not traveled to mainland China to scout him. Walsh says Yao will almost assuredly be the first player taken in the draft if he is cleared to play in the United States. “The guys who played against him on the Olympic team thought this guy is going to be something else. … I’ve heard enough from a lot of other people to believe he’s the real deal.” “If you didn’t know he was 7-6, you see him running the court, you would think he’s 6-8,” Milwaukee Bucks General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said. Basketball may be in Yao’s blood. His 6-10 father played for the Shanghai team and his 6-4 mother was the center and captain for the Chinese national women’s team. The government pulled both of them out of the regular school system to play basketball, but they let their son choose his own course. “It’s not like we always had this idea for him as he was growing up. We never put pressure on him,” Yao’s mother explained, during a break in a recent game. “As parents, we just wanted him to study hard. But he kept growing and growing and growing,” she said, chuckling. “It was like it was inevitable. And of course, the coaches wanted him.” Yao is not a flashy player. He dominates the game not with slam dunks but with his quiet, threatening presence under the basket. “Even if you get past your man, you’ve got to think, ‘Where’s Yao?'” says Levan Alston, a former Temple University forward who plays with the Beijing Ducks. “Otherwise, he’s going to be there, blocking your shot.”

Yao agrees that defense is his strength, but he says he needs to improve. He also realizes he needs to work on his offensive game, especially under the basket. Yao has strong legs and size-18 feet, but he lacks upper-body strength. “I’m not afraid,” he says. “I know I’m good enough here, but I won’t be over there, in the NBA. I know it will take time for me to learn. But my ability to adapt is very strong.”