Guo Shiqiang, a teammate of NBA all-star center Yao Ming just four years ago during the Athens Olympics, was appointed head coach of the national team by the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) yesterday, making him the youngest national hoops coach in the nation's history.
The former 1.92m guard beat a number of much more experienced candidates to take over the post vacated by Lithuania's Jonas Kazlauskas after the Beijing Games, where the team finished eighth and Guo was an assistant.
After playing for the national team for just six years between 1999 and 2005, he shrugged off concerns over his entitlement to the post when other players boast more national team experience.
"I will not think of it too much," said the 34-year-old. "The most important thing is you do the best as a coach and inspire your players.
"Every time I ask them to do something, I will first do it myself."
It took less than a year after retirement for Guo to showcase his coaching ability by spearheading the Liaoning women's team to win the WCBA (China women's top flight league) title.
He took another step forward a year later when he led the Liaoning men's team to fourth in the 2006-07 CBA season.
But his coaching highlight came last year when named CBA's Coach of the Year after Liaoning qualified for the 2007-08 CBA playoff finals, only to lose to Guangdong.
Unfortunately though Guo failed to deliver this season and even suffered the humiliation of calls for his sacking by fans after Liaoning finished a disappointing 12th in the regular season.
According to an internet poll on Sina.com yesterday, 54 percent of people are opposed to the CBA's decision while only 33 supported his appointment.
Guo will debut as coach during the Asian Championships on home soil in Tianjin in September.
He will immediately face pressure to win the title despite the likely absence of Yao and Yi Jianlian, of New Jersey Nets.
But star center Yao speaks highly of his former teammate.
"I know there are some people criticizing him or even attacking him," said Yao. "To me, he is a man of honesty. As a player, he was hard working. As an assistant coach for the Beijing Games, he was eager to learn new things. He's aggressive and I believe he will prove himself in the new post."
In order to release some pressure on the young coach, as well as further hone players' skills, Brian Goorjian, one of the most successful coaches in Australia's basketball history, has been invited to act as technical advisor for China.
(China Daily May 6, 2009)