This season the Houston Rockets have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference and Yao Ming as been the league’s most dominant player. At 26.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, he is also making a strong case as the league’s best center.

Since Yao entered the league in 2002, he has improved every season. A lot of that improvement can be attributed to his work ethic and the teaching he received over the years. Jeff Van Gundy and current Rockets assistant Tom Thibodeau, as well as myself when I was on the staff, have all played a part in laying the foundation for him to get to where he is today, which is now a perennial All-Star player.

During the first few years in the league, there seemed to be doubts about Yao’s mental toughness and that too many times he would defer to others on the court. In some instances it was true, but I told him, "If you can score 50 on a player, go ahead and get that 50 no matter who you are playing against. Just keep going and keep pressing." I think he is doing that this year. He is much more assertive. Sometimes he would want to step out to the three point line like some of the European big men we have been seeing over the last few years, but we would tell him, "Get your butt in the post!"

Aside from his tremendous willingness to learn, God has blessed him with great size and ability for a guy who is 7-6. He’s agile, has great touch and has pretty good footwork. I always told him, though, that if I had played against him I would have gotten 50 on him. How would I attack him? I would use my quickness. At 7-6, it would be hard to jump and shoot over him, so I would mix it up, sometimes facing up and other times using my jump shot. You definitely have to make him move his feet.

But seeing as I left the game the year before he came in, I guess we’ll never know what would really happen. Still, one thing I do know is that if he continues to work as hard as he has, the sky is the limit for him.

Patrick Ewing worked with writer Andrew Pearson on this story.