Yao Ming has called on Chinese sports authorities to let his national team-mates play overseas to get the experience they need to make China a force in international basketball.
"We cannot make enough progress by the national league alone: it's like trying to build a cart without knowing how," said Yao after their second round 95-64 rout by Greece.
"Chinese players have to go overseas to play. I mean, they should go there alone and fight for their positions on the teams. This is the only way to lift the overall level of Chinese basketball."
The last-16 finish met the Chinese Basketball Association's (CBA) target, but it was short of what Yao was personally aiming for: a quarter-final place.
"I am sorry for the disappointing result," the Houston Rockets centre said. "Now everybody knows we need to make more changes. We've got a lot of work to do to prepare for the Beijing Olympics."
After a 0-3 start featuring losses to Italy, the United States and Puerto Rico, the team enjoyed two victories over Senegal and, dramatically, Slovenia to enter the knockout stage. However, their lacklustre defence and lack of experience was brutally exposed by European champions Greece. China, the youngest team in the tournament, committed a massive 23 turnovers, a sharp contrast to Greece's two.
"We should have had better a chance in the game, but we were so tense, and the Greeks bossed the game." Yao said. "It's not about ability and power. It's all about bravery and confidence."
The 2.23m star centre had a tournament-high 25.3 points per game, and ranked fourth on rebounds (9) and second on blocks (2.3).
The statistics only tell half the story: it was as much Yao's on- court leadership as his numbers that made him one of the stars of the tournament so far.
Despite falling short of the team's showing at Athens 2004 when China reached the quarter-finals, Yao was able to take some positives out the Japan trip.
Team-mates and coach echoed his point of view.
"We learned a lot," he said. "We exposed some problems and now it's up to us to solve them."
"The team needs experience, we need more games like the game against Greece," said head coach Jonas Kazlauskas. "It would be good for the team to go to Europe and play against a European-style defence."
"For sure we will become more mature, especially if we play against pressure defences like Greece," said Zhu Fangyu, who finished with 12 points against Greece.
"In the future if we can play more games like this, it will help us gain more experience."
Following the 8th place finish in Athens two years ago, the top target for the team is a medal on home turf at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"It's not like we have nothing, we have a lot of young, talented players," he said. "This (result) is really important for the Olympic Games."
The players returned to Beijing yesterday evening and will go back to their local teams for the CBA Super League that tips off on October 8.
CBA vice-director Hu Jiashi also confirmed Kaslauskas will stay as head coach through 2008.
Source: China Daily