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With or without Yao?

China may miss its superstar Yao Ming at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. But the main goal for the Chinese National Team is to prepare the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

When Yao Ming fell to the floor in the first quarter of a Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz game on April 10th, China feared the worst. And the worst happened. Yao Ming broke his left foot and missed the last four games of an NBA season which was plagued by injuries after having already missed 21 games with an infected big left toe. The season was already lost for the Houston Rockets, but it was enough worse news for the Chinese Federation as Yao was doubtful for the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. By mid-June, he was allowed to stop wearing his protective boot and start running. His rehabilitation was faster than expected, but he was 50-50 for the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.

Yao's injury is a big issue for China, because he is by far the best player on the National Team. In the last two major international competitions, the 2002 World Championship and the 2004 Olympic Games, he averaged more than 20 points and more than 9 rebounds per game. He is a dominant force and is nearly unstoppable on the international level. Even when he doesn't score, he attracts the opposite defence and creates some space for his open team-mates.

In an attempt to replace Yao should he not be able to play at 100 percent, the Chinese Federation called back to the National Team Wang Zhizhi. The 2.14 meter-tall center was the first Chinese to play in the NBA when he joined the Dallas Mavericks in 2001. He never made the impact that Yao did but played five seasons with the Mavericks, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat. But in 2002, Wang Zhizhi refused to join the Chinese National Team and was banned by the Federation. This season, he failed to gain a spot on an NBA team. Eventually, he apologized to the Chinese Federation and was allowed to come back to his native country. During the preparation for the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, he showed he could still be the leader of the team in Yao's absence.

While Yao is doubtful, Li Nan will definitely miss the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. The 30-year-old small forward was the best backcourt Chinese player at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, averaging 11.4 points per game. The absence of these experienced players will prove an opportunity for National Team's head coach Jonas Kazlauskas to prepare what remains the main goal of Chinese basketball: winning the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Triumphing at home in four years will be a big challenge for the Chinese National Team, and the players must be ready for the pressure.
The next generation, the one that will play in 2008, is very promising. Jonas Kazlauskas took advantage of the National Team training camp to test some of the country's top youngsters and a few will make the team for the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. The most talented of the bunch are Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue. Yi has already played at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, teaming with Yao Ming in the Chinese front court. Despite being only 18, he is already the superstar of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), being named MVP this season after capturing his third consecutive CBA title with the Guangdong Southern Tigers. This 2.12 meter tall athlete is able to play both center and power forward and has without any doubt an NBA future. Sun Yue is a 2.06 meter-tall point guard who has attracted comparisons with Magic Johnson thanks to his size and excellent passing skills. He revealed himself this season, playing with the Beijing Aoshen Olympian in the American Basketball Association (ABA) in the United States. These two players may start for the National Team at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, giving them excellent experience with the Olympics in mind.

After dominating Asia for more than 30 years, China wants international recognition. They won the gold medal in 14 of the last 16 Asian Championships, claiming only the silver medal in 1997 and the bronze in 1986. China has never finished better than eighth in either the Olympic Games or the World Championship.

If Yao is healthy and able to play at 100 percent, China will present one of their most competitive teams ever. But the qualification for the Round of 16 will be a difficult task as China are drawn into the tough group D with the United States, Italy, Slovenia, Puerto Rico and Senegal. Two of these nations will go home early.

 Season   Competition   Placement 
2005 FIBA Asia Championship for Men 1st place 
2008 FIBA Diamond Ball Tournament for Men 3rd place 
2008 Borislav Stankovic Cup 2nd place 
2009 FIBA Asia Championship for Men 2nd place 
2009 Borislav Stankovic Cup 3rd place 
2011 FIBA Asia Championship 1st place 
2011 Borislav Stankovic Cup 3rd place 
2013 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Men 1st place 
2014 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Men 1st place 
 Season   Competition   Last Achieved Round 
2002 World Championship for Men Classification Round (9-12)
2003 World Championship for Junior Men Semi-Finals
2004 Olympic Games: Tournament for Men Semi-Finals
2004 FIBA Diamond Ball Tournament for Men Finals
2005 FIBA U21 World Championship for Men Quarter-Finals
2006 FIBA World Championship Eight-Finals
2006 Stankovic Continental Champions Cup Finals
2007 FIBA U19 World Championship for Men Classification (9-12)
2007 FIBA Asia Championship for Men Classification
2008 Olympic Games: Tournament Men Quarter-Finals
2010 FIBA World Championship Eight-Finals
2010 FIBA U17 World Championship for Men Finals
2011 FIBA U19 World Championship Classification (13-16) - Game hours: 17:30 & 20:00 (GMT +3)
2011 London Invitational Tournament Final Round
2011 Borislav Stankovic Cup Finals
2012 Olympic Men Preliminary Round
2012 FIBA U17 World Championship for Men Classification Round for 5th to 8th Place
2013 FIBA U19 Championship for Men Classification (5-8)
2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Men Classification (5-8)
2014 FIBA U17 World Championship for Men Classification 7-8
2014 FIBA Asia Cup 3rd Place Game
2015 FIBA U19 World Championship Group Phase