China's Teenage Seven-footers Target NBA Heights
2006-05-28 12:11:09 Reuters
If there is another Yao Ming set to emerge from China in the next few years, he was likely to have been at the Beijing Sports University gymnasium this week getting tips from NBA coaches and players.
Among the 62 teenagers from China and other parts of Asia running drills at the Adidas superstars camp over the last four days were three who have already reached the seven-foot (2.13 meters) mark.
The most likely to reach the same 7ft 5in as Houston Rockets center Yao -- China's biggest sporting hero in every sense of the word -- was Zheng Zhun, who already looks down on his Shaanxi team mates from a height of more than seven feet at the age of 14.
"I'm impressed with how they look," NBA Hall of Famer KC Jones told Reuters. "I can see the talent is there.
"The seven-footer weighs about 100 pounds (45 kgs), I think. He's tall, skinny and as he's only 14 he's got a lot of growing left to do and once he stops growing he's going to fill out."
Orlando Magic forward Dwight Howard, a not inconsiderable 6ft 11in himself, went one-on-one with some of the Chinese youngsters and was equally impressed -- and not just by their height.
"I think there are a lot of talented guys here and I think there's a couple of guys here who can make it to the NBA," said Howard, the overall first-round pick in the 2004 NBA draft.
"It's not just height, it's about heart and from the smallest guy to the tallest guy, these guys all play very hard. One thing they all have in common is big hearts."
The best 10 players from the camp will get the chance to go to the United States and receive more coaching there.
"I've really enjoyed it, it's given me a lot of fun," said 17-year-old Beijinger Chang Lin, who at a modest 6ft 8in is a small forward.
"We have had a lot of good coaching which will make me a lot better player than before.
"Playing in the NBA is my dream, but it's really hard because there's lots of good players in that league."
Former Boston Celtics player and coach Jones, who turned 74 this week, said he thought the Chinese players needed to develop a real passion for the game if they wanted to succeed at the highest level.
Howard, at 20 a near contemporary of many of the participants, said, if anything, the Asians were more dedicated than their U.S. equivalents.
"These guys here work a little bit harder," he said. "They have such respect for the game, they never take a day off.
"In America, we get lazy and maybe play video games too much and forget about basketball and the future. These guys here, they want to make something of themselves."
Howard, who gave an appreciative audience a dazzling display of his skills, was keen to lend his support after benefiting from the project when he was growing up in Atlanta, Georgia.
"When I was in high school and I went to superstar camp and got to talk with the professionals, it definitely inspired me to become an NBA player," he said.