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Yao Defends Coach Against Media Assault
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NBA All-star Yao Ming has rushed to the defense of beleaguered national coach Jonas Kazlauskas by declaring the Lithuanian worthy of leading the team to the Beijing Olympics.



China's besieged national basketball coach Jonas Kazlauskas pulls his hair during a fixture last year. The Lithuanian has been widely panned by Chinese media, prompting Houston Rockets star Yao Ming's appeal to lay off him.


The towering center has turned the tables on media who have attacked the mentor, accusing them of fickle reportage and showing too little faith.


"He is a good coach," said the Houston Rockets star after leading the team to the first of two comfortable wins against the visiting Melbourne Tigers on Monday night.


"I have heard a lot of people speaking against him, but I am sure he is a great man, he unites the team, of course he should stay and lead us at the Beijing Olympics.


"Some media are like grass atop a wall swaying in the wind, when you won some games, they cheered for you, but when you lost, they went to the other side."


The renowned Lithuanian head coach has been panned for reportedly running out of ideas and placing all his chips on the return of Yao for next year's Olympics.


The national team ended its European tour with five-consecutive losses earlier last week, setting off a barrage of broadsides from Chinese newspapers after yet another disappointing summer for hoops fans.


"How many summers can we waste?" pleaded a harsh headline in China's leading sports newspaper Titan Sports.


"Kazlauskas' prestige in the team has hit a new low.


"He has lost control of the team and his desire for victory diminished this summer."


China extended its losing streak to European teams to 18 after the Athens Olympics on the latest tour.


Without Yao, who took the summer off to recover from injury and to enjoy his wedding and honeymoon, the team won just four from 17 games in three major campaigns -- NBA Summer League, the Stankovic Cup and the European Tour.


"He is taking a gamble," said an editorial in the Beijing Evening News.


"Jonas has raised all his hopes on Yao Ming, this is absolutely dangerous.


"What if Yao was injured at the Beijing Olympics or he had too many early fouls?"


Even with two NBA prospects Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue plus former Dallas Maverick Wang Zhizhi, China only managed to score an average of 69 points to lose by a mean of 23 in the five-game European trip. The most embarrassing setback came on August 22 when China, ranked 11th on the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Teams Standings, suffered a heavy defeat to world No 55 Poland.


"Our chance to beat a European team is zero," the Basketball Pioneers said.


"We cannot move even one step if we cannot overcome those European rivals."


Neither were the players spared from the newspaper's spray.


"They know we will make Olympic roster as long as they stay healthy, so they won't play with hearts in the games this summer," the paper said.


Some players have expressed their frustration at the losing streak.


"To be honest, I cannot take it for granted that we will make some instant changes after Yao comes back to the team," Wang, the team's top scorer at the NBA Summers Games in July, said.


"Nobody knows how the team will be with Yao. All we can do is stay calm and learn from the games this summer.


"Problems are everywhere. We struggled everywhere on the court -- from paint area to the backcourt. I cannot stay optimistic to the team's future.


"I think we are miles behind European teams overall -- we have improved a lot, but I don't see there is any chance that we are able to catch up in a very short time."


Yao said last year that his goal at the Beijing Games was to make the top six, meaning China would have to beat at least two European rivals in the 12-team Olympic draw.


Despite the losses, Kazlauskas believes the summer was not entirely hopeless after discovering a re-energized Yi, who finished as the team's leading scorer in the Stankovic Cup and the European Tour by averaging 27 points and 8.9 rebounds.


"I think what delights me most in Europe is Yi," said the coach of his 20-year-old star. "He is a harvest for the team. The boy made tremendous improvement as he played great games against top teams in the world.


"I am very happy to see his confidence and technique have moved to a higher level. I'd say he is a role model for the rest of the team.


"Apart from Yi, we have made some progress in defense this summer but it is not enough. I don't want to use Yao as an excuse but I am sure we would be able to compete against European teams if Yao was in the team."


(China Daily September 6, 2007)

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