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Translation of in-depth article on Yao’s rehabilitation

May 17th, 2006
by John

We’ve got a monster translation from Raymond, our correspondent in China, from a piece on Yao on Sina.com. Listed below are some of the highlights of the article. Thanks for the 3 hours you put into this translation, Raymond!

1. The Toyota Center is forlorn and empty these days during the off season. In the parking lot, only 2 cars are parked there everyday. One is Yao Ming’s BMW, and the other is an SUV that belongs to Rockets assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.

2. Currently, Yao Ming is the only Rockets player that comes to Toyota Center to train. The cast on his left foot was discarded almost 3 weeks ago. He can walk without crutches and drive, but just cannot run quickly. Yao Ming decided to end his own vacation. He had taken rest for over a month since he had broken his foot in Utah on April 10. Every day his life was just confined to his bedroom, dining room, toilet and Warcraft. So a little over a week ago, he decided that this kind of “everyday is Sunday” life should be over.

3. “I just can’t wait until a full recovery of my toe to return to training. Even though I’m injured and in my rehabitation, I just feel uneasy and itchy. I took 40 days’ rest right after my rookie season. I did nothing but eat, drink and played. When I resumed training, I found it so tough to restore my physical strength, so I consulted some experienced players. They told me that they never take a rest for more than 20 days during their summer vacation. So starting from my sophomore season, I have never taken more than 20 days of rest. Of course, it is different this season. I have a foot injury. But I thought I should be allowed to resume training. My foot cannot move, but I can train other parts of my body.”

4. Unlike Patrick Ewing who lives under camera and media attention, Thibodeau is Yao Ming’s genuine coach. While Anthony Falsone was like a sculptor that built Yao Ming’s muscles and physical strength, Thibodeau just focuses on improving Yao Ming’s footwork and other fundamentals. “Players like Yao Ming who understand and treasure the importance of training are so rare.” Thibodeau commented.

5. Yao Ming has resumed physical training for his upper limbs. Now he can press bench up to a maximum of 150 Kilograms, but still 20 Kilograms short of 170 Kilograms, the standard for a super center, the yardstick set by China’s national team head coach Jonas Kazlauskas. Anthony Falsone has left Houston to be with the Chinese national team in Beijing, but his set of training methods had already been imprinted in Yao Ming’s head. So every day after an hour’s workout in the gym, Thibodeau will be waiting for him on the basketball court.

6. Since he still cannot move around and is not allowed to pivot on his injured foot to practice his shots (as that might further aggravate his healing), Thibodeau has to push a wheelchair around for him. Yao Ming just sits in the wheelchair, and relies entirely on the strength of his abdomen, arm, wrist and fingers to practice his shots.

7. Thibodeau has been responsible for Yao Ming’s training for almost over a year now, and he has barely stopped one day on that training. Thibodeau has designed a special way to train Yao Ming’s shooting. He sets 7 spots in the paint within the 3-point line. Yao Ming needs to shoot for 20 times from each spot, and then moves to the next spot for another 20 shots. So after 2 to 3 rounds of such shooting, exhausted and sweating, Yao Ming will need to adjust his breath to take 10 free throws at the charity stripe. Thibodeau divides the shooting into 4 sessions. And each session ends with 10 free throws. There will be only one minute of rest for Yao Ming in between the shooting sessions. In the entire shooting session which usually lasts for an hour, Yao Ming has to practice at least 340 shots. This is what Yao Ming is asked to do in the off season. During the NBA regular season, in order not to tire him out and to reserve his energy, the daily number of shots is halved.

8. Now that it’s the off-season and Yao Ming is still recovering, the number of shots has been reduced to less than half. As Yao Ming could not move around swiftly on his feet for the shots, Thibodeau has to push the wheelchair from one spot to the other and have him walk slowly to sit in the wheelchair to release his shots. The two of them just continued for another hour on the shooting practice. “It is very difficult to shoot like this sitting.” Yao Ming said. “I cannot pivot with my feet. But when I sit, my body will definitely be up straight, and I need to adjust my strength (of the arm and wrist), as well as radian or arc of my release needs to be set higher.” It is not the first time that Yao Ming shoots while sitting. There was one incident in the regular season playing against the Memphis Grizzlies. Yao Ming was bumped by Lorenzen Wright, but while falling to the floor, he hurriedly released his shot that banked into the net for a score. Yao Ming said: “Ling Huzong (the young swordman in Jin Yong’s martial arts story, Smiling Proud Wanderer i.e. Xiao Ao Jiang Hu) once told Tian Boguang that he can fight better sitting than standing. I am number one in my free throw percentage amongst the NBA centers. I don’t know how they will rank me shooting while sitting.”

9. Other than practicing his shooting, there is some other training waiting for him. Thibodeau takes out 2 full baskets of tennis balls to train Yao Ming on catching them. This is not a practice strange to Yao Ming, as Thibodeau started to use this method while Yao Ming was sitting out 21 games during his recuperation this past season.

10. “We watched alot of my videos. They discovered that I was not too good in catching the basketball. Either I cannot catch and hold the ball firm, or the ball got stripped from my hand easily. This had adversely caused more turnovers and lowered my efficiency. But those two abilities are all-important to a low post player. Therefore Thibodeau used this method to train me. Just think about it. If I can catch a tennis ball hard and firm, then do you think I cannot do the same with a much bigger basketball?”

11. So during those days of Yao Ming’s recuperation period, people can see this scene everyday: Thibodeau and Falsone standing 10 to 15 meters away from Yao Ming with 2 big baskets of tennis balls in front of them. They would take tennis balls one-by-one from the basket, and throw them at Yao Ming with the malice and ferocity of a baseball pitcher. Yao Ming had to strive to catch the tennis balls, and placed them in an empty basket in front of him. There were a total of 100 tennis balls in those baskets for Thibodeau and Falsone. One such pitch-and-catch session lasts for 50 tennis balls, and every time, there would be 4-5 sessions.

12. Compared to his recuperation period earlier this season, Falsone is not around, and Thibodeau is the lone pitcher. Yao Ming cannot stand to sit on the wheelchair to catch the tennis balls, and the number of throws this time has been significantly reduced. As a matter of fact, Yao Ming can now catch the tennis balls easily. “The tennis ball is so small and I never did that before. So initially, I could barely catch 10 out of 50. But then after 2 to 3 days later, I can catch 20. Then another 2 to 3 days later, I can catch 30. More and more tennis balls into the barrel, and less and less tennis balls on the ground. Finally I can now catch at least 45 out of 50.”

13. “Now I can really catch and hold the ball much better than before. I think I can now not only catch tennis balls but eggs, too. Well, you cannot break a tennis ball but you may break an egg. But I guess I can catch at least 3 or 4 eggs out of 10 easily.”

14. So right after he returned from his injury which caused him to miss 21 games in the regular season, Yao Ming improved a great deal in catching the ball, and his turnovers were significantly reduced. He can now catch the basketball fast and firm, and then turnaround to score from a jumper or breakaway from a double team, which was the reason why Yao Ming played so well after the All Star break. “Now I know how to catch those tennis balls. I am now doing it just for practice. It becomes to me just a piece of cake.”

15. Compared to his weight in Utah when Yao broke his foot, after a month-long rest with the majority of time doing nothing, Yao Ming has put on only 4 pounds (1.8 Kilogram). When Tracy McGrady showed up at Toyota Center after a month’s rest from his injury, his face was so round and he had such a big belly. Yao Ming is different. He never takes eats like yogurt or French fries, and he seldom drinks carbonic/acidic drinks. He drinks water when he is thirsty, and he strives to stay away from snack food even if he craves for them. “It’s just different players think differently. Professionals all know how to control this kind of thing. Well you may laugh at how fat Tracy looks like. But once he resumes training, he will lose weight quickly. I just don’t want to go through that torture. I just simply don’t let myself to get fat.”

16. “I can’t run now. I have to wait patiently to recover totally. Actually I can run very fast now. You all did not know that I can run very fast now.” In Anthony Falsone’s strength and conditioning training, the to-and-fro sprint is an extremely important drill. This is particularly taxing for a 2.26M centre sprinting up and down between the baseline. The players need to do 5-peat of such to-and-from sprints. The passing time for a center is 70 seconds; 65 seconds for the forwards, and 60 seconds for the guards. So there will be a 2 1/2 break after one session of such a sprint, before the player needs to take another session of the 5-peat sprints. This happens at least 4 sessions per day.

17. Initially Yao Ming could barely complete a session within 70 seconds. But last summer, Yao Ming could complete a session with a forward’s time (within 65 seconds). And he then further improved to be able to complete 4 sessions all within 65 seconds. “As we need to run 4 sessions at the same time, we must reserve some energy at the beginning of those sessions.” Yao Ming said. “Sometimes we don’t need to run 4 sessions at the same time, but just one session. Then I run as quickly as I can, and I can complete the sprint within 55 seconds. Last year, right before the Asian Championship, while training with the national team, I was at the return leg of the final session. I looked at my stop watch; only 55 seconds with 10 seconds left. I just walked back on that return leg. Now I cannot run yet, and Falsone is not around. He is now in Beijing with my teammates on the national team. I can envision they will have a hard time with Falsone.”

18. Anthony Falsone does not feel like a stranger anymore in Beijing. He can now remember most of the players’ name, and cheerfully greet everyone with hello. “I don’t worry a single bit about Yao Ming.” Falsone said. “He is a true professional. He already knows what he needs to do.” So Anthony Falsone and his assistant coach went to a CBA banquet on this Sunday night. But on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, it is morning of yet another day. And it is time for Yao Ming to leave home (to drive to Toyota Center for another day of training).