Yao says China has narrowed gap to top
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Yao Ming was limping slightly and clearly flustered after enduring a game full of Lithuanian double and triple teams.
The Houston Rockets' centre said he was nevertheless pleased that China has established itself as one of the world's top basketball teams over the last four years -- an astonishing advance that mirrors the country's growing economic might.
"We were only able to get a spot in the top eight with the level we're at now but at least we have closed the gap to the top," Yao said. "That's thanks to all the matches we've played against European teams and to our own progress in recent years."
Yao, who scored 19 points in the 94-68 loss that knocked China out of the tournament, said he had a great time at the Olympics even though his face often seemed to register pain and frustration.
China won two of their six games, beating Angola and Germany.
"We have finished our journey for the Olympics," he told a news conference. "The result is regrettable. Lithuania put a lot of pressure on us to make bad shots. We didn't perform as well as we can. Lithuania played extremely well."
China were a surprise eighth at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Ostensibly their position was no higher on their home soil but Yao said China was now a much stronger team.
"Four years ago we made it to the top eight but the process was really difficult and full of pain," the six-times NBA All-Star said. "When we got eighth it felt like a cake had fallen from the heavens.
"This time the result is a bit disappointing. The process was full of passion. We improved our training and raised our basketball competence. My Olympic journey has been full of joy."
He said China had stood up well against the world's best.
"We had so many formidable opponents in our group," he said. "We've gained a lot of experience. We had persistence, motivation and a lot of passion. It's rare in my 10 years on the team that we played so many successive high-level matches."
Yao, 27, sidestepped a question on whether he would be back in 2012.
"The next Olympics is quite far away," he said. "Four years ago I thought 2008 would not be far away, but I had three major operations over that time. I hope that won't happen again."
(Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng; Editing by Steve Ginsburg)
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