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DTL
05-06-2002, 03:05 PM
Diary from a day of Yao watching
By Sean Deveney - The Sporting News


CHICAGO -- I am standing in the rafters of Loyola's Alumni Gym on Sheridan Road way up north here. There are about 70 NBA personnel evaluators on hand -- Jerry West, Pat Riley, Don Chaney, Scott Layden, Kiki Vandeweghe, Jerry Krause, Bill Cartwright, Wes Unseld, and many, many more.

About another 200 media, janitors and what appear to be members of the Loyola track team are lurking on the running track above the basketball court. The gym has not seen this much excitement since the days of George Ireland and the 1963 NCAA champs. (That's right, Loyola won one.)

We're all here for one reason: To justify our cushy jobs. Oh, and to watch an NBA-produced workout for Yao Ming, the 7-5 Chinese center who could be the top pick in the June draft.

I, obviously, am not an NBA scout, though I play one from time to time on the Internet. Rather than sit here and spout my opinions on Yao, I have decided to take notes on everything that went on inside the gym, and let you, the reader, make your own decisions. The notes were as detailed as I could get, though I spilled coffee all over Page 4. Sorry about that. Here goes:

2:55. Let's start with the cast of characters. There are four players, and two are potential draftees. Of course, there's the star of the show, Yao. He's paired with another big man, 7-2 Oregon center Chris Christoffersen, who has apparently changed significantly since he played Rubber Duck in 'Convoy.' He could be a second-rounder.

There's also 5-10 Marquette point guard Cordell Henry, a graduate of Whitney Young High in Chicago who appears just happy to be here. Then there's former Princeton star and current Northwestern assistant Mitch Henderson, who looks oddly similar to every Mitch I have ever known.

The four are loosening up, doing some wind sprints and stretching their calves and thighs. Yao is big, very big. He is doing a stretch where he swings his leg back and forth like a pendulum, and I think somewhere, this movement is messing with the tides.

2:56. We're one minute into this thing. If I were an NBA scout, I would already have written in my notebook: "He's big."

3:05. I think Jerry Krause is making himself a sandwich.

3:12. Uh-oh, here comes P.J. Carlesimo, and he's wearing his spectacles. He looks very professorial. The NBA anointed Carlesimo as pope of this congregation, the guy who will run the workout. I am desperately resisting the urge to make choking jokes. But, man, if Yao grabs P.J. by the throat at any point, I will split my side in laughter. Better yet, if Mitch does it, I will keel over.

3:13. The basketballs are out. Cordell is feeding Chris passes for 14-foot shots near the right baseline. I don't think shooting is Chris' strong suit. He seems better suited for pass-rushing. Yao follows Chris and makes four of his first five shots. This is what we've always heard about Yao: The kid can shoot.

Just watching a handful of shots, that becomes obvious. Very smooth, good release and shoots it high up so it's tough to block. I suppose when you are 7-5, every shot is going to be high up. Yao and Chris go around the perimeter, shooting. Yao makes 17-of-25, which, I think, would be a pretty good percentage by NBA standards.

3:15. In 10 playoff games in the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao averaged 38.9 points and 20.2 rebounds. I just noticed that on the Yao stat sheets, and I am pretty sure it's not a misprint.

3:17. The shooting drill gets a little more intricate. Now the player has to take the ball, and, with P.J. standing in front of him, go to the right to shoot a 14-footer. Then he does the same thing, only to the left. Then, he does it again straight-up. So that's three shots from each of the five spots along the perimeter, with P.J. defending.

Yao misses two of his first three near the baseline but improves as they move along, shooting 9-for-15 from the five spots. I think most coaches would try to exploit a Yao vs. P.J. matchup, and apparently, they'd be right.

3:20. Did I mention Yao is big?

3:21. Now they've got to run the floor. The drill is to grab a rebound, send an outlet to Mitch or Cordell, run with them, and finish with a layup. Yao looks a bit awkward when he runs, but I think it's a matter of his upper body being less developed than his lower body. His legs look very strong, but he needs to work on his arms and chest.

3:23. Same drill, except the player has to pull up for a 15-foot jumper. Chris' first shot: airball. Chris' next shot: airball. Chris does not seem very happy with himself. Chris' third shot: It hit the rim! The rim! Yao makes four of six shots in this drill. Again, he can shoot.

3:25. Again, same drill, except now the players must finish with an alley-oop. Yao's layups and dunks are effortless. He does not explode to the rim, he just skips. Cordell and Yao look like Stockton and Malone out there. I think Krause is getting a contract for Cordell ready. A guy next to me says, "Yao does not seem to be able to jump very high." Er, how high do you need to jump when you're 7-5? If he jumped higher, he'd be making the shot more difficult.

3:27. Chris missed a dunk. This is not Chris' finest hour. He seems to have a sense of humor about it. He's laughing. I think that's laughter, at least. Wes Unseld appears to be taking a nap.

3:28. Yao comes off for some water. As he walks off, P.J. gives him a pat on the rear end -- because, I think, that's as high as P.J. can reach.

3:30. Yao and Chris are alternately working in the post. Now the drill is to take an entry pass, make a move and try to get a shot. Yao definitely seems content to pop 8-10 footers more than laying down post moves. He has some moves, but they all seem to be designed for jump shots. Whoever drafts him will surely have a big man's coach on staff. Chris, meanwhile, has added two airballs to the ledger.

3:32. Chris is posting up on Yao. He puts a nice move on him and scores. He follows that with another nice move, but is left trying to shoot a short jumper directly over Yao. Um, airball.

3:34. Yao gets blocked! He's posting up on Chris, drives toward the basket, and Chris gets a paw on it. On the next one, Yao drives across the lane and scoops a shot around Chris. Nice looking drive. Knicks coach Don Chaney would later say he was surprised by Yao's ability to put the ball on the floor, and this is a good example of that ability.

3:40. Yao's getting tired. He's grabbing his shorts and, on defense, he is turning his hips instead of shuffling. But you've got to keep in mind, they started running wind sprints an hour ago and he got off a plane from China 48 hours ago, so it's little wonder he's worn out.

3:44. Yao's translator is wearing a pink dress shirt with a Polo logo. Admittedly, my first-hand experience with Communism is limited to having once found an edition of 'The Socialist Worker' on the subway. But I did not think it involved Ralph Lauren products. What would Karl Marx say?

3:45. 3-pointer time. I don't think Yao will be hoisting up many 3s in the league, but still, his form looks good. I also don't think Chris will be hoisting many 3s. His form is, uh, not-so-good. Chris' range appears to be limited to the dunk.

3:50. We've been at this over an hour, and I think the collective ADD in the gym is showing itself. About 75 percent of the people inside are on their cell phones. Yao is taking free throws, which he and Chris have been doing from time to time during breaks.

Yao wound up, by my count, 19-for-24 on free throws. In his first year in the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao shot 48.5 percent from the line. He has improved, shooting 79.9 percent last year and 74.9 this year.

3:55. Further evidence that Yao is wearing down -- he is going one-on-one with Chris for three series. First, he settles for a missed 15-foot jumper. Then, he tries to drive the baseline, gets caught under the basket and throws up a bad layup attempt, which hits the bottom of the backboard. Finally, he tries another 15-foot jumper and makes it. He's not exactly getting to the rim here.

4:05. A member of the league office's PR staff hands out a Yao Ming statement. In it, he talks about his dream of playing in the NBA and his gratitude toward the league for putting on the workout. Yao won't be speaking with the media after the workout, so in the statement, he says, "Journalism is a profession I respect a great deal. Just give me some time to warm up. I look forward to taking each and every one of you to dinner sometime in the future."

Whoa, rook. Rule No. 1 of NBA life, and life in general: Never offer free anything to journalists. If there's one thing us notebook-jockeys love it's free lunch. If there's one thing we love more than free lunch, it's free dinner.

4:09. The towels come out. Dry off kid, and get back to Shanghai. The verdict: Yao is definitely a unique player in that he can shoot, pass and put the ball on the floor. And, oh yes he is big. He does not appear to have a reliable inside game, but when you shoot like him at his height, do you really need an inside game?

Drbio
05-06-2002, 11:12 PM
Yao is worthy of a top draft spot.

MFFL
05-06-2002, 11:15 PM
He has too many Chinese government related problems. Ming'll drop to 3 or 4.

Drbio
05-06-2002, 11:32 PM
I meant a top 5 or so...not #1. OOPS.