Big Man Clinic
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Rockets.com Staff Writer
HOUSTON -- Yao Ming wants to become the most dominating center in the NBA.
Who better to learn from than Hakeem Olajuwon?
Yao received his first tutorial from the Rockets legend Tuesday afternoon during a private workout on the main court at Toyota Center.
Speaking after a 1-1/2 hour workout of studying Olajuwon's footwork and practice regimen, the Rockets' current star center gushed over the lessons he learned from one of the most dominating big men in the game's history.
The most important advice from Olajuwon? Develop a dominating attitude.
"I'm learning the mentality from him," said Yao, who had been unable to workout with Olajuwon in the past because of other offseason obligations. "I don't know how many times I heard him talk about being dominating. That's why he can be 'The Dream.' The mentality is the biggest difference between him and me right now. I hope not far in the future that I can do things like him."
Yao doesn't appear to be that far away.
During his fifth season in the league, the Rockets center drew praise around the league for his dominating level of play before being sidetracked with a fractured bone below his right knee. He missed almost two months before returning for the final month of the season and playoffs. Yao averaged a career-best 25.0 points and 9.4 rebounds, earning him a selection on the All-NBA's second team.
Olajuwon said that Yao is certainly on the verge of being the league's most dominating big man.
"It's amazing how agile he is for a guy of that size," Olajuwon said of the 7-foot-6, 310-pound center. "He's so smart because he understands the game. He's just looking for the things that he can do so that he can enhance the skills that he's already got. He just has to dominate the game. He has so many advantages because of his size and skill so I'm just showing him little things that he can do to consistently be a dominating player. It will be scary to see what he can do in the future."
So where does Yao have to get better? Yao had plenty of thoughts on that after evaluating his own game following the playoffs.
Despite averaging a double-double in the seven-game series against the Utah Jazz, Yao was frustrated with his play after the Rockets failed to get past the first round for the third time in his career. He led the team in turnovers and, at times, struggled to get into an offensive rhythm even though Utah didn't immediately double him. Yao also had trouble on defensive end, particularly when he faced Carlos Boozer or had to provide help defense when a guard penetrated the lane.
That's what led him to seek Olajuwon's advice.
Unsurprisingly, the former star was happy to give it. The Rockets great talked with the younger center at length about everything from developing Yao's mentality to his defense. He said Yao should mimic the defense of former Utah center Mark Eaton, a defender that gave Olajuwon trouble in the past because of his size and shot-blocking ability.
"He has to take advantage of his size, meaning when he's in the lane, the lane is closed," Olajuwon said of Yao. "He should block everything that comes in there. By standing up, he's very difficult to shoot over. He has all the tools and all the potential. By adding little things to his game, he can be dominating."
Yao believes he could add some of Olajuwon's offense as well. He was amazed by Olajuwon's pivot moves and hopes to add some of them to his own game.
"His moves looks easy on television, but when you actually do it and there is contact on your body, it's different," Yao said. "I'm going to do what he taught me every day. I need to do it a couple hundred times a day and get myself used to it. I then need to use those moves in a live game, maybe in an international team game. That's a good place to try a new skill."
Since he doesn't have as many obligations with the Chinese national team this summer, Yao plans to work on what he learned from Olajuwon after he undergoes minor toe surgery. He'd also like to workout with Olajuwon more in the future.
But in their first meeting, Yao certainly picked up Olajuwon's main message.
"He's got two championship rings," Yao said. "I'm not saying I figured out everything today, but I hear from him that I'm the biggest player on the court and I need to dominate. He repeated that time and time again. I feel a little bit different. I feel his heart."