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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Yao works out with Olajuwon

Associated Press

HOUSTON -- As long as he plays for the Houston Rockets, Yao Ming will always be compared to Hakeem Olajuwon. He might as well turn to The Dream for advice.

Yao worked out with Olajuwon at the Toyota Center on Tuesday, the cornerstone of the Rockets' future getting his first lesson from the greatest center in franchise history.

"For a young player, how many people get this chance?" Yao said. "I'm the honored one of those."

The 44-year-old Olajuwon is the NBA's career leader in blocked shots (3,830) and led the Rockets to their only two championships in 1994 and '95. The 12-time All-Star spends most of his time now in Jordan, though he still has a real-estate business in Houston.

The reclusive Olajuwon sat next to team owner Les Alexander during the Rockets' loss to Utah in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series. Afterward, Yao eagerly accepted Olajuwon's offer to practice with him.

Olajuwon worked with Yao for about 90 minutes, picking apart Yao's post moves and giving him pep talks along the way.

"How do you dominate the game?" Olajuwon asked his attentive protege. "You are hardworking, you have the conditioning, you have the shots. You have everything. Now, you have to dominate."

Olajuwon showed off a few of his old moves, too, dropping in some baseline jumpers and jump hooks as easily as he did 10 years ago.

Yao hopes Olajuwon's killer instinct rubs off on him, too. By the end of their practice, Yao felt like it had.

"The biggest difference between him and me is the mentality," Yao said. "He's got two championship rings. I can hear very strongly from him, 'You are the biggest player on the court. You need to go in and change the game. You need to be dominant.' He repeated that time and time again. I feel a little bit different. I feel his heart."

Olajuwon retired after the 2001-02 season and the Rockets drafted Yao with the first pick a few months later.

Yao has blossomed into one of the league's top centers, averaging 25 points and nine rebounds last season. But he showed in this year's playoffs he still has much to improve, committing 33 turnovers against Utah.

"My average score is up, my average turnovers are also high this year," Yao said. "I need to work on that."

Olajuwon showed Yao how to get into the lane from various spots and score using a single dribble.

"If you get the ball here, they're in trouble," Olajuwon said. "You should score easily."

The two had no more workouts planned, but both seemed eager to schedule another.

"It was great, just to see that he has all the tools," Olajuwon said. "He is very smart. It's so much fun to work with a great player like him, who has all the potential. It's scary to see what he can really do by just adding little things to his game."

Yao will return to China later this summer and play with his national team and when he comes back in the fall, he'll have a new coach. The Rockets fired Jeff Van Gundy last Friday after four seasons and will reportedly hire Rick Adelman.

Yao played for Van Gundy for four seasons and lamented his firing.

"He gave me the best four years, so far, in my career," Yao said. "I appreciate what he did for me. I'm so sad to hear he's leaving. We knew a little bit before that it was going to happen. I'm still sad."

The Rockets haven't introduced Adelman as their coach, but local media reports say Adelman has agreed to terms of a contract. The Rockets would not confirm the reports, though they said Adelman was flying to Houston on Tuesday night.

Adelman's teams are known for playing a more up-tempo style than Van Gundy's more methodical, half-court approach.

"When the new coach comes in, we're going to have a lot of adjustments," Yao said. "Most important is the team success. Whatever the team wants me to do, I will do it."

Olajuwon said Yao is versatile enough to play in any system.

"The most important thing -- if he dominates, anybody can coach," Olajuwon said.