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September 15, 2000
US seeks to run around Great Wall of ChinaAlan Crosby
Seattle Supersonics guard Gary Payton has never been to China but he is about to come face to face with its Great Wall.
The U.S. men's basketball team opens its title defence in a game with China on Sunday and will come up against one of the tallest front courts in basketball history.
Leading the way is 213 cm (7 ft) tall Wang Zhizhi, a second round draft choice of the Dallas Mavericks. Menk Bater is another 213 cm forward to start in the Chinese line-up. Both will be dwarfed by 224 cm (7 ft four ins) centre Yao Ming.
"They're definitely imposing with their height, but I think we have the speed and quickness to stretch them out over the court," Payton, a 1996 Olympic gold medallist and team co-captain, said.
In choosing the Olympic team, U.S. head coach Rudy Tomjanovich and USA Basketball officials opted for players with versatility and defensive skills instead of size to pressure other teams into mistakes to create offensive opportunities.
While every NBA team has at least one player above seven feet tall, the NBA-laden Olympic squad has no player above 211 cm (6 ft 11 ins).
"Defence will be our biggest strength. This team is as strong defensively as any I have seen. That's going to create a lot of problems for others be it China or whomever," Tomjanovich said.
So far the U.S. team has allowed only 64.6 points per game on average over five warm-up games.
The vaunted U.S. squads in the past have not even come close to matching that record with the Michael Jordan-led 1992 Olympic team allowing 73.5 points per game on average and the 1996 team 70.3 points.
NBA scouts gush over Wang's ability to shoot and run the floor while the taller Yao may have even more potential with a three-point shooting touch added into his game.
But both still lack the muscle to keep pace with their NBA counterparts and the U.S. team will look to exploit that advantage.
"If we play our game and let defence create turnovers and allow us to run, their size won't be a factor since they will never really have time to set up their halfcourt defence," said 208 cm (6 ft 10 ins) Miami Heat centre Alonzo Mourning.
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