August 2, 2006

Yao putting best foot forward for world champs

BEIJING (Reuters) - China center Yao Ming says he is on
track to play in this month's world championships as the
national team returned home from its disappointing European
warm-up tour, Chinese newspapers reported on Wednesday.

"Now I am 80 percent OK," the China Daily quoted Yao as
saying. "The recovery has been quite good and better than
expected... I feel like I am getting closer to my best shape."

The 7ft-5in NBA All Star broke his left foot playing for
the Houston Rockets on April 11, casting doubt on his
participation in basketball's international showpiece starting
in Japan on August 19.

Yao said his priority was to train with the national squad
which on Monday completed its European tour with a 66-74 loss
to Angola -- their sixth defeat in seven games in a four-team
tournament including Spain and France.

"We play in different leagues and have different styles in
the games, but we have to get used to each other in a very
short time. It won't be easy," Yao said.

With former NBA player Wang Zhizhi not certain to play in
the worlds after straining a ligament in China's 76-57 loss to
France last week, Team China's preparations are in disarray.

The two 7-footers were expected to be the lynchpins of
China's assault but face limited game-time in the lead-up.

The Chinese Basketball Association has indicated Yao will
skip the warm-up matches against the U.S. and Brazil in
Guangzhou starting August 7, but named him for the Stankovic
Cup on August 11 in eastern Jiangsu province, the paper said.

The six-nation tournament with Greece, France, Germany,
Brazil and Australia would be Yao's last hit-out before the

Despite China's poor showing in Europe, which included a
47-point drubbing by Spain, Yao expressed confidence that the
team could be ready for the worlds.

"We need to play with more confidence when competing
against strong rivals," he said. "As long as we can be mentally
tough at the worlds, I believe we will be able to make the