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Original Issue

How To...Teach a 7'6" Center If You're a Mere 7-foot Coach You can be sure that PATRICK EWING has YAO MING's ear

Jeff Van Gundy wants to make one thing clear: He did not add
Patrick Ewing to his coaching staff simply to school Yao Ming. In
fact, Van Gundy, the new Rockets coach, would not even allow
Ewing and Yao to be photographed together. But because Ewing
scored 24,815 points and grabbed 11,607 rebounds in a 17-year
career, and because the hopes of the franchise hinge on the play
of the 7'6" Yao, it's safe to assume that the former Knicks great
will be laying--and has already laid--pivot(al) lessons on the
second-year center.

While pointing out that "I'm not just Yao's coach"--honest, guys,
we get it--Ewing acknowledges that he does have things to show
Yao. Here, in Ewing's own words, are a few of them.

"Right now Yao is a good player, but he has the size, shooting
ability, passing ability and athletic skills to be up there with
Shaq. He needs a variety of shots. I had a turnaround jumper, a
fade to the baseline, a jump hook and a faceup jumper. He doesn't
need to shoot as far out as I did [Ewing may have been the
best-shooting 7-footer ever from 20 feet in], but he's got to
have all of those shots.

"The main thing he needs is to get closer to the basket. When I
played, you could just bull your way in and the defense would
bull you back. The rules have changed, so it takes finesse along
with power. One of the ways to do that is to take a real deep
position, deeper than you really want to be. Then, when the
defense pushes you out, you'll be where you want to be.

"Defensively, Yao has to play bigger. He has to use his size to
clog the lane better than he did last year. Put your hands up,
hold your position, stay balanced."

Ewing's most important instruction, though, will be unspoken.
"Patrick is hardworking; he has passion, he loves practices--he
loves everything about the NBA," says Tom Thibodeau, Van Gundy's
top assistant. "Yao, and everybody else, will take a lesson from
it." Indeed, Van Gundy believes that Yao's scoring dipped last
March and April not because the Rockets' guards failed to get him
the ball (the popular opinion) but because Yao didn't forcefully
establish position and demand it.

The new coach is sure of one thing. "We won't be talking in
Chinese," says Ewing, "because I don't speak a word of
it." --J.M.