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China coach Gong hopes team will improve after USA game
More than 19,000 fans filed into the Staples Center in Los Angeles and watched the two-time defending Olympic champions roll to a 106-57 triumph over the Chinese.
What Gong wanted before the tip-off is for his 2015 FIBA Asia Championship winners to gain experience against the best, and the USA, the team most people expect to capture the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games next month, are certainly that.
The Americans' roster has players from their last Olympic title win and from their 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup romp, as well as exciting new ones like Indiana Pacers superstar Paul George. The USA look like they are going to put up a big number on all of the teams they go up against this summer. In their first exhibition game, the USA beat Argentina, 111-74.
"Before the game started, we kind of knew the result," Gong said to the American media after his team's loss. "The result for us was not important. More important is the process."
The process involves getting all of his players, as former NBA big man Yi Jianlian already understands, to know what level they will have to play at to have a chance of winning games in Rio and at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 that China are hosting.
Yi Jianlian (CHN) played in the NBA
Gong is no stranger to the gulf in class that exists between the USA and most of the teams they go up against. Two decades ago, he was at the helm of a China side that beat Angola and Argentina in its first two games at the Atlanta Olympics before crashing to a 133-70 defeat to a USA team that had Shaquille O'Neal, Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuwon and other NBA All-Stars.
"One thing doesn’t change," Gong said after Sunday's setback. "America is still very strong in the world in basketball."
The two sides will play on 6 August in Rio, the opening day of the Olympics, in Group A. The challenge for China will be to not allow another heavy loss to affect the rest of their Olympic campaign. They will need to have a top-four finish to advance to the Quarter-Finals.
The USA beat that Yao Ming-led China on the opening night of the Beijing Games eight years ago and the Americans' coach at the time, as he is now, was Mike Krzyzewski.
Krzyzewski says Gong will have seen some positives in Sunday's performance.
"They all impressed me because I like when people play hard and they play together," he said. "They didn't have a guy out there who didn't play hard and together. "In 2008, they had this center, I forget his name…Yao Ming? He was not a bad player and a great, great guy. What a great sportsman for the world and a great representative for his great country.
Yao Ming (CHN) faced the USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
"If you remember, that game that we played, I think may be the most watched game ever by a number of people. What an event that was, and how well the Olympics and basketball in particular was hosted by the Chinese. It was an honor to play against them then and it is an honor to play against them now."