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Coach Gong Luming led China's basketball team to Last 8 for first time in 1996

Reporter: Mike Fox 丨 CCTV.com

08-03-2016 16:04 BJT

Full coverage: 2016 Rio Olympics

China's men's national basketball team will tip off their Olympic campaign later this week, with what will likely be their toughest challenge of the Games when they face two-time defending champions, the USA in their opener.

Gong Luming's men have set the target of reaching the last eight in Rio, which would match their best ever result at an Olympiad. 

This current Chinese team may not have the experience but that certainly doesn't bother them. Gong Luming's young side won the 2015 Asian Championships to qualify for these upcoming Olympics but merely qualifying doesn't warrant success and now they are eyeing a last eight finish in Rio.

"We should be mentally prepared first because the Olympics is the highest level of competition in the world. We'll fight hard in every minute, for every ball and during every game," said Yi Jianlian, China center.

Back in 1996, coach Gong led China to the quarter-finals for the first time in the country's basketball history.

Wang Zhizhi was able to rise to the occasion in Atlanta and although the Chinese forward has now officially retired, Gong has returned to lead them on another Olympic journey.

Yao Ming helped China reach the last eight twice in 2004 and then in 2008 and alongside with Wang, the NBA hall of famer passed the torch to the country's new basketball generation.

"It has been 20 years and time flies. Coach Gong was only 39 at the time but now he's close to the age of retirement himself. He will lead young players in a difficult challenge but I hope he can stay healthy so the team can do well at the Rio Olympics," said Wang Zhizhi, retired China forward.

Without iconic figures like Yao, its a national team featuring the likes of Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin who haven't made their names on the global stage yet after recently being drafted in the NBA this summer.

"My form has not been stable in the warm-ups recently. At first, I was in a low state and then I started to perform better. Now I'm trying to retrieve my best form. I still need time to get the rhythm of my game. I want to save my best for the Olympics and to help my team," said Zhou Qi, China center.

"We shouldn't let up after winning the Asian Championship title last year. I think our warm-ups in Europe have helped us a lot even though we had just a few games. We played Italy and Turkey. They are not in the Olympics, so the opponents we'll face in Rio will be stronger. We should do more mental preparation but we have to know how to dictate our style of play and power on the court," said Yi Jianlian.

After officially bidding farewell to the old generation, China are opening a new chapter. A long road has made the team stronger and Gong's men are expected to lift the country's basketball team to heights.

"Now it's a challenging time for China's basketball. We have a good market, but we should lift our playing levels. It has been 21 years since we underwent professional basketball reform and we've gone through four Olympics since then. I hope the young team can deliver on the Olympics stage," said Wang Zhizhi.

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