- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) - China national women’s basketball coach Sun Fengwu was proud of his young team’s effort during its two-week trip to the United States.

Still he knows that they have a long way to go to get ready for next year’s Olympics in London.

“It has been a great experience and also a good opportunity for the young players to compete with the WNBA players,” Sun said Monday through a translator after his team played in a three-way scrimmage with New York and Connecticut. “They have played five games and gotten better and better. I think they have seen some improvements.”

There was a lot of pressure on China to perform well at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In front of their home crowd, the Chinese team came in fourth, losing to Russia in the bronze medal game. They followed that up with a disappointing 13th-place finish at the World Championship last fall.

“We were in a transition period the last few years,” said Sun, who took over as coach after the Olympics. “At the World Championship, injuries and the younger players not being ready caught up to us. We’re getting better and I think next year we’ll be more able to improve.”

The Chinese team lost by 38 points to Connecticut in their first exhibition game before falling to New York by 14 on Friday night. In the scrimmages Monday, China held its own in the series of one-quarter games.

They even topped the Liberty by a point in their final quarter.

“They’ve definitely improved over the two weeks,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. “Their younger players gained confidence. It takes a while to get used to playing the more physical international game.”

Only one player on the two-week American tour played in the World Championship. Chinese stars Miao Lijie and Chen Nan didn’t make the trip to the U.S. for this exhibition series.

The coaching staff hopes to have them again at the Olympics next year if the team does qualify.

To get to London, China will need to win the Asian championships at the end of August where South Korea and Japan will be the stiffest competition.

“The Olympics always will be pressure for China, even more than the World Championship,” Sun said.

Japan played an exhibition game against Phoenix last Tuesday and lost by 44 points.

China assistant coach William Tomlinson, who spent years coaching in the Australian league said that the Chinese are putting a lot of effort to try and expand their Olympic success to team sports.

“They are spending a lot of money on the ‘ball’ sports _ soccer, volleyball, basketball,” Tomlinson said.

After Monday’s scrimmage the Chinese players were going to the mall to shop before heading home Tuesday.

“It’s not my first time here but it was a lot of fun,” said Chinese forward Ding Yuan through a translator. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are improving.”

The team will play Cuba’s national squad in a few exhibition games.

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Doug Feinberg can be reached at http://twitter.com/dougfeinberg

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