- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

CHICAGO Yao Ming arrived in a black stretch limousine, a crowd of people waiting to catch a glimpse. A collective "ooh" went up when he walked into the gym, ducking his head so he wouldn't bump into the concrete doorway.

Inside, 65 NBA scouts, coaches and team officials were waiting, including Miami coach Pat Riley, New Jersey Nets general manager Rod Thorn and Washington Wizards assistant GM Rod Higgins. Another 200 people were up in the balcony, hanging over the railing to get a better look at the 7-foot-5 center from China.

It was not exactly a typical pre-draft workout yesterday, but Yao is not a typical draft pick, either.

He is a once-in-a-generation player, a huge man with the skills of a smaller player, a giant with an air of mystery to him, a player who's been raved about since the 2000 Olympics but rarely seen outside of Asia.

"For a guy this size, he can shoot the ball. He has a wonderful feel for the game," said Jerry West, the Memphis Grizzlies new president of basketball operations. "This is not a kid without talent. He has talent."

Yao, who turns 22 in September, is widely viewed as the best player in China. Though the competition there isn't close to what he'll face in the NBA, he's seen as a franchise player who could be the top overall pick in the June 26 draft.

"Somebody with that kind of size and the basketball skills he has, are impressive," said former NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo, who ran the workout at Loyola University's Alumni Gym.

"The things that struck me [as [JUMP]weaknesses] are easier things than the things you have to teach."

Dressed in white shorts with red stripes and a white NBA jersey, his workout started with some light jogging and stretching drills. He wore a pair of blue-and-white Nikes with "Yao 13" on the sides.

Yao looked serious at first, but was soon joking with the three practice players: Oregon center Chris Christoffersen, Marquette guard Cordell Henry and Mitch Henderson, an assistant coach at Northwestern who played at Princeton.

Carlesimo put the players through almost an hour of shooting and running drills, doing just about everything except playing a game. They took 15-footers and jump hooks. There were full-court layups with and without a defender. There were pick-and-rolls and post-ups.

Yao dunked and blocked a few shots, swatting one of Christoffersen's layups into the corner of the gym. He moved well, and had a smooth, outside shot that looked more fitting of a shooting guard.

"The way he shot the ball from outside, that was something," Christoffersen said. "He's kind of like a Dirk Nowitzki, but maybe a little slower. He can definitely be that type of player."

Yao wasn't that quick the flight from China two days earlier might have had something to do with that, though and his defense was a little shaky. He got posted-up by the 7-foot-1 Christoffersen, and Henry made a couple of jumpers over him.

Still, most NBA personnel left impressed.

"I like his size. I like his skill level, his ability to pass and shoot and dribble the basketball," said Stu Jackson, NBA vice president. "I especially liked his footwork. He's been taught some things in the post area that are fundamentally sound."

Though he was accompanied by a translator, Yao didn't talk to the media after his workout. Instead an NBA spokeswoman passed around a written statement from him.

"It's been a dream of mine to play in the NBA ever since the first time I saw a game on TV many years ago," Yao said. "To almost touch that dream today fills me with a sense of joy that words simply cannot describe."

One thing Yao needs to do is improve his strength, particularly in his upper body. Listed at 236 pounds, his legs looked solid but his arms aren't very muscular.

He will take a physical today to be measured and weighed.

"That remains to be seen," West said when asked how good Yao can be. "I don't think it's a roll of the dice, because there will be a place for him in the NBA."

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