[SPORTS] Mengke set to trump NBA's Chinese heroes
- Mengke set to trump NBA's Chinese heroes
Saturday, Jun 07, 2003,Page 19
Yao Ming made an epic entrance. Wang Zhi Zhi made a historic debut.
But Mengke Bateer, the third member of Chinese basketball's "Great
Walking Wall," might beat them both to the ultimate prize.
Mengke is on the verge of becoming the first Asian player with a
National Basketball Association championship ring.
The seven-foot center is not on the 12-man playoff roster of the San
Antonio Spurs, but Mengke would be among those rewarded for his
season-long efforts should the Spurs defeat New Jersey in the NBA
"I feel sort of sad in a way I'm not on the roster," Mengke
said. "But once I'm able to get over that and realize the team is
playing for the championship, the sacrifice is worth it.
"It's very unfortunate for me not to play. But being on this team is
amazing. Everyone is working hard for the same goal. Playing time or
not, we're all on the same team," he said.
"It's the ultimate goal for any player to win a championship. In my
second year, to be in the championship, it is a phenomenal thing. To
end up with an NBA championship ring is the ultimate dream of every
player in the world," he said.
Mengke is in stellar company as a Spurs spectator. Australian
standout Andrew Gaze was in the same situation during the Spurs' 1999
"I have really enjoyed the entire season," Mengke said. "It has been
a great thing to be on this team with championship hopes. It was a
Mengke's efforts have been somewhat lost in the fanfare over Yao and
Wang was the first Chinese player in an NBA regular-season game.
Mengke was the second. Yao became the first Chinese player selected
number one overall in the NBA Draft and was an All-Star this year in
his rookie season with Houston.
Mengke's year was less spectacular. He missed pre-season training
camp to play for China at the Asian Games. He played only 45 minutes
over 12 games with 10 rebounds and nine points, missing 43 games with
left leg tendinitis.
But contributions are about more than numbers. Mengke worked in
practice against Tim Duncan and David Robinson, making certain the
Spurs' stars were pushed and tested so both they and he could achieve
their fullest potential.
"I hope I've done my practice well to get everybody to the top
level," said Mengke. "I try hard in practice even though I don't play
to make others better. Hopefully I had an impact but it's not
something I really think about."
Mengke, 27, was obtained from Detroit after his rookie season as
injury insurance for the big men. He has learned much from their
"The skills level would take years in tough practice with them every
day to pick it up. They have worked so hard their whole lives,"
Mengke said. "But the professionalism, the work ethic, all of this I
am able to pick up.
"I've been able to gain much important experience. If asked I will be
happy to share it. Me, Yao, Wang have been through Chinese
basketball. That provides players a future to the NBA. I hope more
young players will take the path."
Mengke will return to China after the finals to train with the
national team for the Asian championships, although he realizes as an
NBA free agent that his chances for a new contract would be helped by
playing in US summer leagues.
"The most important thing is to go back to China to train," Mengke
said. "If there's a chance to stay here and play in the summer
leagues, I would like to try and do that. I wouldn't if there were
Chinese officials have been understanding about Mengke missing
training time for the NBA finals and his homeland teammates have been
supportive as well.
"Chinese basketball has been very comfortable with me staying here
for the NBA playoffs even though the national team has started
training," Mengke said. "My teammates have been in contact with me
and hope we win the championship."
Mengke dreams of a greater role next season after Robinson retires,
but he also knows that he might not fit into the Spurs' plans at all.
"The goal is to have more playing time next year," Mengke said. "I
will try to work hard, stay in shape, pick up the schemes. I will
control everything I can. But it depends on what the team wants.
Everything is up in the air."