August 8, 2006

China coach pines for bench-warming Yao

BEIJING (Reuters) - China coach Jonas Kazlauskas bemoaned
Yao Ming's absence from the national team after the U.S.
thrashed China by 46 points in a world championship warm-up
match in Guangzhou, a the China Daily newspaper reported on

"Yao is definitely what we need right now. We had some
really tough games in Europe and back home. Without Yao, the
team lost its confidence and leadership," Kazlauskas was quoted
as saying.

The 7ft-5in NBA All Star broke his left foot playing for
the Houston Rockets in April, an injury that has clouded Team
China's preparations for the world championships starting in
Japan on August 19.

Yao was a late withdrawal for the Guangzhou clash -- a game
in which China's lack of depth was badly exposed by a resurgent
U.S. eager to atone for poor displays in recent international

Minus Yao, China has performed abysmally in the lead-up to
the worlds, losing six of seven matches in a European warm-up
tour last month. An injury to former NBA player Wang Zhizhi,
another fellow 7-footer touted to spearhead China's Japan
campaign alongside Yao, has placed further pressure on

"Right now, this is the hardest time for the national
team... the constant injuries are pushing us to the limit," the
Latvian coach said.

"I need six or seven more games to adjust the team but
there are only three left in my schedule, so I hope Yao can
join the team and make a difference," Kaslauskas said.

After a long layoff, Yao joined national team training last
week. While expected to be fit for the worlds, he has few
remaining chances to gain match fitness.

Yao has been named in the national team for the Stankovic
Cup on August 11 in Jiangsu province. The six-nation tournament
with Greece, France, Germany, Brazil and Australia would be
Yao's last run-out before the worlds.