China's Yao Ming is likely to play his first competitive game since having surgery on his foot in March at this week's Stankovic Cup pre-Beijing Olympic basketball tournament, local media reported on Tuesday.
The 2.28m Houston Rockets center, whose NBA season was ended by a stress fracture, returned to China to join the national squad for training last month but played no part in two warm-up games against Australia in Jiangsu.
"Yao will definitely go to the Stankovic Cup in Hangzhou, and the chance of him playing is very high," Hu Jiashi, vice-chief of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), told Oriental Sports Daily.
Yao said last month it was 50-50 whether he would play in the four-nation tournament.
China will play Serbia on Thursday, Angola on Saturday and Russia on Sunday in the round-robin tournament.
Angola, one of China's opening-round group opponents at next month's Olympics, is considered to be the most important preparatory game for the host.
Despite having rescheduled the Angola game so it will take place at a time in the afternoon similar to the scheduled Olympic time for the two countries' clash, Hu would not confirm whether it would mark the beginning of Yao's comeback.
"We can only say it depends on the game situation," said Hu.
The 27-year-old Yao averaged 22 points and nearly 11 rebounds for the Rockets this season before being sidelined with the stress fracture.
China opens its Olympic campaign against the United States, which includes NBA all-stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, at the Wukesong basketball arena on Aug 10, two days after the opening ceremony.
(Agencies via China Daily July 16, 2008)