Though China's injured Houston Rocket centre Yao Ming did not take part in the national team's open-door training yesterday in Beijing, he did signal a strong message to people on the track field that he was ever closer to becoming fully fit.
"The injury is healing very well. I can hardly feel the pain any more," said Yao after completing a couple of rounds of training under the guidance of Anthony Falsone, former Rocket's strength and conditioning coach and now Yao's personal trainer.
"I am focused on resuming my physical strength and looking forward to training with the whole team as soon as possible."
In the latest six warm-ups in Italy, China, minus Yao, managed to clinch only two wins, beating Venezuela 78-73 and Japan 80-75.
Former NBA player Wang Zhizhi dominated the series. Wang averaged 23 points and 9.8 rebounds and was the top scorer for China in five games. He netted 44 points in the game with Japan, breaking the highest scoring record by Yao, who scored 39 points in a match against New Zealand at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Fans may soon get to see the long-awaited Yao-Wang combination.
"I know fans are expecting Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi to play together and people are saying Yao and Wang will be the best combination.
"But I believe that only by competing together on the court, can we prove whether it is the best or not," Yao said.
Yao's comeback in August has also been confirmed by team leader Gong Luming.
"Yao is still recovering from the injury but it is going very well. He can complete the run and small jump,
"I believe after the team's training session in Europe in July, Yao will train with the team.
"If there is no other accident, Yao will play in the Stankovic Cup from August 11 - 15."
The Stankovic Continental Champions Cup, to be held in Jiangsu province is also the last competition for the national team before the World Championships in Japan.
The national team will fly to France for a four-country challenge tomorrow before they take on the Spanish national team twice on July 26 and 27.
From July 29, they will stay in Spain to compete in another four-country challenge.
The team will come back on August 1 and have their warm-ups in Guangzhou, where they will play the US team on August 7 and Brazil on August 8.
After returning to Beijing from Italy, the coaching team adjusted the lineup for the Chinese team by excluding centres Tang Zhengdong and Hu Ke, calling up instead point guards Xie Libin, best rookie of the 2005-06 CBA season, and Chen Jianghua from the reserve team of the Guangdong team, who won their third consecutive CBA title early this year.
The 20-year-old Chen hopes to be the future first-choice guard and pass balls for Yao at the 2008 Beijing Olympics thanks to impressive team performances at his age.
Standing at 1.87m and weighing 75 kg, Chen averaged 17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and two assists for the U-18 China team at the 2005 USA Youth Development Festival. In June 2006, he contributed a team-high 32 points for China's youth team in a friendly with the Sydney Kings from Australia.
"As a Chinese and a point guard, of course I hope I can play at the 2008 Olympics and pass balls to Yao Ming," said Chen, the fifth player from Guangdong to join the national team after Zhu Fangyu, Du Feng, Yi Jianlian and Wang Shipeng.
But Chen knows he still has a long way to go.
"It is the first time I will play in the national team. Compared to experienced players, I still lag far behind both in physical prowess and skill.
"I also need a lot of time to get used to the tactics."
Source: China Daily