Yao to face America's best in exhibition

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the U.S. national team plays China in an exhibition game Thursday night, Yao Ming will get a rude welcome to the United States courtesy of the NBA's leading rebounder.

''We're going to beat him up,'' Ben Wallace said. ''We're going to beat him up pretty bad.''

The American players are anxious to get their first up-close look at the 7-foot-5 center from China who was chosen first overall by the Houston Rockets in the NBA draft last June.

To say that Yao resembles a 7-foot-5 target would only be putting it mildly.

Everyone on the U.S. team has heard a sketchy scouting report or two, with the common denominator being that Yao is not that strong in his upper body. All of the U.S. team's big men -- Wallace, Antonio Davis, Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand and Raef LaFrentz -- are eager to judge for themselves the sturdiness of the Chinese mystery man.

In Wallace's case, he plans to be as physical as possible. Maybe even borderline dirty. It'll be his way of saying: ''Welcome to the league, welcome to our country. This is our playground. This is how we play. We're definitely going to be up for the challenge.'' Wallace said.

Yao traveled to Oakland with his team Wednesday morning and practiced for more than an hour in the early evening.

''That's their business,'' he said of the U.S. team's vows to test his strength and toughness.

The U.S. team went through its sixth day of practice Wednesday, with the pace picking up to the point where several players hit the deck hard either from taking charges or battling under the boards. While other teams competing in next week's World Championships have already played several exhibitions, this will be the first for the Americans.

The U.S. big men play a physical brand of ball that will seem foreign to many of the Chinese. For Yao, it will be his first competition against a team of American players since China lost to the United States by 47 points at the 2000 Olympics.

Yao was plagued by foul trouble in that game, getting whistled for his fifth and final personal just 1:10 into the second half.

At the time, Yao was a 19-year-old getting his first taste of the toughest competition international basketball has to offer. Now, two years later, he is the object of everyone's curiosity as he is about to embark on his NBA career.

''We know around the league what the hype is all about. The hype, you know, they're trying to sell tickets,'' Wallace said. ''It's going to be a good challenge for him, and I'm pretty sure everybody in the league is going to step up and make him work for everything he gets. Nothing comes free in this league.''

Thursday night's game against China, to be played at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, will not be televised nationally. American viewers will not get their first lengthy look at Yao until the United States plays China on Aug. 31 in the opening round of the World Championships in Indianapolis.

The U.S. team's exhibition game against Germany in Portland on Sunday night also will not be televised nationally.

Nuggets promote assistant to head coach

DENVER -- Jeff Bzdelik, a scout for the Denver Nuggets last season, was introduced Wednesday as the team's new head coach.

Bzdelik, 49, who has 12 seasons as an NBA assistant in his 25 years of coaching, promised to field a high energy, defensive-oriented squad that will be ''the best-conditioned team in this league.''

Cavs keep Davis, match $34 million offer

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers have matched the six-year, $34 million offer Ricky Davis received last week from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Cavs had 15 days to think about whether they wanted to re-sign the 6-foot-7 guard after Minnesota made its offer last Friday. But after receiving the official contract Tuesday afternoon, Cavs general manager Jim Paxson quickly matched it.

''We felt it was important to send the right message to Ricky that we want to keep him,'' Paxson said Wednesday.

Davis' agent, Dan Fegan, had said his client would rather play with the Timberwolves and that the Cavaliers would be making a mistake by locking Davis into a long-term contract.

Paxson said he hadn't talked to Davis since matching the offer.

''They got an offer sheet. We chose to match it. We're moving forward,'' Paxson said. ''If there are any issues, we'll overcome those and Ricky will be here and playing.''

With the 22-year-old Davis joining rookie guard DaJuan Wagner and forward Darius Miles -- who was acquired in the Andre Miller trade -- the Cavs should be bring considerable energy and fans to relatively quiet Gund Arena. The club also is counting on the trio to get Cleveland back to the NBA playoffs for the first time since 1993.

''Keeping Ricky, we'll have a young group of versatile players that we can put in a number of different roles,'' Paxson said.

Davis, a restricted free agent, became a fan favorite during his first season with the Cavs, who acquired the high-flying, headband-wearing guard in a three-way trade last October with Miami and Toronto.

Davis averaged a career-high 11.7 points per game and was the only Cavalier to play in all 82 games. He spent much of the season coming off the bench but began to emerge late in the year, after coach John Lucas put him in the starting lineup.

He averaged 19.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists in eight games as a starter. His play was superb in some of those games, with ferocious dunks and fearless drives to the baskets. He closed the season by scoring 20 or more points in seven of Cleveland's final 13 games.

Davis saved his best performance for a March 26 matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, scoring 35 points on 15-of-24 shooting in 42 minutes.

Davis was drafted in the first round (No. 21 overall) in 1998 by Charlotte after playing only his freshman year at Iowa. He spent two seasons with the Hornets before being traded to the Heat before the 2000-01 season.

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