Fans should send China's Australian basketball coach Tom Maher thank-you notes after he led the women's team into the semifinals, Chinese hoops boss Li Yuanwei said yesterday.
"I want to write him a thank-you note. He's done a brilliant job," Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) chief Li said after China outclassed Belarus 77-62 yesterday. "We have trusted Maher 100 percent no matter how difficult our situation has been. Today he paid back my trust in perfect fashion."
Maher's side has been in sizzling form at the Games, wrapping up the preliminary stage with four wins and one loss. Li admitted Maher is the driving force.
"He showed us his depth in coaching," Li said. "He brings the team a lot of new stuff - new training methods, new tactics and the most important thing is a new attitude.
"The team has caught up to international powerhouses not only on the court but also in training. That's very important for us."
Maher, 55, is entering his fourth season as China's coach.
He was recruited by the CBA after the women's team finished ninth at the Athens Olympics in 2004, following a failure to qualify for the Sydney Games in 2000.
Maher earned his stripes coaching the Australian national women's team - another former underperformer - to a bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and a silver medal in Sydney.
Life for Maher in China has not always been so easy. Local media questioned his merits after China finished a humiliating 11th at the 2006 World Championships in Brazil.
He finally started to deflect some of the criticism when he guided China to victory in the "Good Luck Beijing" International Invitational four months ago.
Li acknowledged the hard work Maher has put in over the past four years.
"Some moments were so tough for him," Li said. "It is a lot of pressure to move to a foreign country, listen to a different language and deal with media that has lofty expectations of their athletes.
"I am very happy to see him overcome all these difficulties and honor his commitment to our players."
Maher's down-to-earth personality has also won the respect of his players.
"He changed everything," said Miao Lijie, who had a game-high 28 points against Belarus. "In addition to his great ideas about modern basketball, he makes us mentally stronger. He pushes us to believe in ourselves, I am very appreciative."
But it is not time to celebrate just yet, as China faces Maher's former team Australia tomorrow in the semifinals. The Boomers routed Czech Republic 79-46 in their last game.
"We are not afraid of them," Miao said. "As long as we play tough basketball like this, we can beat any team on the planet."
China was a women's basketball powerhouse in the 1990s, winning silver medals at the Barcelona Olympics and the World Championships in Australia two years later.
Source: China Daily