A fitting time as any to post this, since Yao Ming has recently retired. The 7'5" Chinese phenom was just 17-years-old and 7'3" when he first landed in the United States. Yao didn't take long to impress scouts and team officials at these Nike camps. It would be another 4 years before the Houston Rockets selected Yao with the 1st pick of the 2002 NBA Draft.
Among the 500 college hopefuls on trial this weekend at the Nike/Amateur Athletic Union Super Basketball Showcase at Disney, one stands head and shoulders - and a full chest, in some cases - above the rest.
Barely one month into his first tour of the United States, teenage phenom Yao Ming of Shanghai, China, is drawing a crowd, college and pro scouts alike. At 7 feet 3 and 240 pounds, he can see over all of them into his possible future.
``Before we came here on this trip, he had never been contacted by any coaches,'' said Brock Wilson, Ming's interpreter. ``And after being here for a few days, six or seven coaches called his parents in Shanghai. We're getting used to it. Everybody's curious. We'll see what happens.''
Both of his parents played for the Chinese national team, where Ming now ranks third on the depth chart at center. He will resume his third year of pro basketball with the Shanghai Sharks in September. The upper body is slight, but the legs are powerful, resembling tree trunks. Ming is 17 years old.
He arrived June 15, joining San Diego-based AAU team High 5 America on what Wilson called ``a prospecting trip to see what was available.'' Ming practiced one week in San Diego and another at Stetson University before heading to Indianapolis for the Nike All-America Camp, his coming-out party of sorts.
``Everybody's coming to see him - all the reporters, all the photographers,'' parent Doug Hausmann said as he was filming High 5 America's opener Friday at Disney's Wide World of Sports Fieldhouse. ``Everybody wants to get a look at him.''
Ming drew a crowd for his first U.S. games, last week's Peach Jam in Augusta, Ga. High 5 America lost all five games. ``The issue is not him integrating,'' coach Rle Nichols said. ``It's us integrating. It's us learning how to play with a big man.''
At Disney, so far, so good for High 5 America, which took on the Peach Jam champion Houston Cougars in its first game of pool play. Ming had nine points in the first quarter alone.
Unofficially, he finished with 20 points (7-for-11 from the field), 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in High 5 America's 75-63 victory. Ming hit all six attempts from the free-throw line, where he possesses an unusually soft touch for a player his size, before exiting with a two-hand slam off an inbounds pass.
``Everybody played well today, so I am very happy,'' Ming said through his interpreter. ``The longer we get to play together, the better it's going to be.''
NCAA rules prohibit coaches from commenting on unsigned prospects, but one assistant came away impressed:
``He demands the ball inside, which is good. He's thick from the waist down, which will help him position up inside. He's got a couple good solid post moves. ... For his age and being that size, I thought he'd be a lot thinner.''
Could there be a Ming dynasty in the U.S.? According to Brock, it won't happen for at least another year, if at all. Any college or pro suitor would have to secure his release from the Sharks, the Chinese national team and the government, which amounts to a lot of red tape.
No such player has played in the NBA. Ming's arrival, however, is testament to the fact that times are changing. He could be one of the first.
``I really hope so,'' said Ming, whose favorite player is Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon.
Said Nichols: ``It would be wonderful for him to be able to attend a university for a while. Obviously, he's a kid that could play in the NBA at some point, if he should decide to do that. ... He's really much older than 17. He's a quality, quality kid.''