Jeff Van Gundy wants to make one thing clear: He did not add Patrick Ewing to his coaching staff simply to school Yao Ming. In fact, Van Gundy, the new Rockets coach, would not even allow Ewing and Yao to be photographed together. But because Ewing scored 24,815 points and grabbed 11,607 rebounds in a 17-year career, and because the hopes of the franchise hinge on the play of the 7'6" Yao, it's safe to assume that the former Knicks great will be laying—and has already laid—pivot(al) lessons on the second-year center.
While pointing out that "I'm not just Yao's coach"—honest, guys, we get it—Ewing acknowledges that he does have things to show Yao. Here, in Ewing's own words, are a few of them.
"Right now Yao is a good player, but he has the size, shooting ability, passing ability and athletic skills to be up there with Shaq. He needs a variety of shots. I had turnaround jumper, a fade to the baseline, a jump hook and a faceup jumper. He doesn't need to shoot as far out as I did [ Ewing may have been the best-shooting 7-footer ever from 20 feet in], but he's got to have all of those shots.
"The main thing he needs is to get closer to the basket. When I played, you could just bull your way in and the defense would bull you back The rules have changed, so it takes finesse along with power. One of the ways to do that is to take a real deep position, deeper than you really want to be. Then, when the defense pushes you out, you'll be where you want to be.
"Defensively, Yao has to play bigger. He has to use his size to clog the lane better than he did last year. Put your hands up, hold your position, stay balanced."
Ewing's most important instruction, though, will be unspoken. "Patrick is hardworking; he has passion, he loves practices—he loves everything about the NBA," says Tom Thibodeau, Van Gundy's top assistant. "Yao, and everybody else, will take a lesson from it." Indeed, Van Gundy believes that Yao's scoring dipped last March and April not because the Rockets' guards failed to get him the ball (the popular opinion) but because Yao didn't forcefully establish position and demand it.
The new coach is sure of one thing. "We won't be talking in Chinese," says Ewing, "because I don't speak a word of it."