Sun Ming Ming: "The NBA is a realistic goal"
Sun Ming Ming: I am feeling good and feel as if I am getting stronger every day.
What has been the toughest part of the recovering process after the surgery?
SMM: The toughest part was the three weeks after the surgery. The surgery was on September 26 and I was not allowed to train or pick up anything heavier than a telephone. I missed going into the gym and playing. I rested, watched classic NBA games, a lot of old Laker-Celtic games, live NBA training camps, and read books.
Tell me a little bit about your childhood. How was growing up in China?
SMM: I grew up in Heilonjiang Province in a small town called Bayan. It is in Northern China, close to Russia. The population is of about 2,000 people. During the summer and spring, it is a farming community. The winters are very cold there is no possibility to farm.
When and why did you first play basketball?
SMM: I first began playing basketball when I was about 15. City officials saw that I was bigger than most kids and I was recruited into the basketball program. I enjoyed it from the beginning. When I first started playing, I was around 6-foot-7.
How scary was the whole thing – the illness, the operation?
SMM: I was not too nervous about the surgery until the night before. My doctor, Mr. Shahinian at the Skull Base Institute was very optimistic from the beginning and I had confidence in him. He has been great. When I first found out about the tumor causing my growth and stopping me from building strength and stamina, I was actually relieved. I had been working very hard since arriving in the United States, but was not progressing very well. Now with the tumor gone, I feel better, I am lifting heavier weights, and running longer distances without getting too tired. The progress motivates me to work harder.
What did you know about the NBA before arriving at the United States?
SMM: I knew who Michael Jordan was and liked him. I knew the NBA has the best players in the world and the game was much faster than in China. Since 2002, more games were being shown on Chinese TV and I tried to watch as many as possible. I admire Tim Duncan's skills. I know Shaq is the strongest and of course Yao is the best Chinese player. Now, I watch the NBA whenever I can.
Have you received donations from basketball people, NBA people?
SMM: My agent, Charles Bonsignore, took care of the fundraising. He told me that most of the donations were from very nice people from California to New York to Hawaii. We borrowed a lot of money and the doctor helped a lot too. Charles said that the only NBA person who donated was (director of the Las Vegas Summer League) Warren LeGarie. I am thankful to everyone.
How long have you been away from your family?
SMM: I have been away from my family for almost a year. I talk to them at least once a week, though.
And who's been your support people here?
SMM: I have a lot of people that have helped and supported me. Obviously everyone at Passing Lane Sports, Charles, Frank Catapano, Harold Woolfalk, and Mike Martin have worked hard to help me. When I was in North Carolina, I lived with a great family (Rocky and Celeste Manning). Keith Gatlin and James Wilson trained me while in North Carolina. In Ventura, California, it seems like the whole city has supported me. Everyone has been so friendly. I lived with Charles and his family for five months, then moved into a house with players from Ventura College. My translator, Jim Chang has been helpful to both Charles and I. Greg Winslow and Jeff Theiler, the coaches at Ventura College have welcomed me as if I am an official team member. I practice with them every day. Coach Theiler stays after practice to privately work with me. Also, my trainer David York has helped me build much-needed strength. The players at Ventura College are fun to live with and they have welcomed me as a teammate. There have been so many people that I cannot name them all.
What would have happened had you taken this operation later this year instead of last September?
SMM: I always think about where would I be if I had the surgery last in September of 2004. In China, they only told me that I had low iron... That is why I lacked stamina. But I cannot look back. I am happy and healthy now.
How much money do you need to raise in order to pay all the expenses of the operation?
SMM: In order to pay medical loans, I am not completely sure the exact amount I know it is over $70,000.
How's a typical day in your life now?
SMM: Since I started working out again at the end of October, my days are usually the same. From Monday to Friday, I go to English class from 9 to 12. My English has improved a lot since classes began. At 12:30, I work out in the weight room and do footwork drills. At 2:00, I practice with Ventura College. At 4:00, Coach Theiler and I work more footwork and post drills. By 5:30, I am home. On the weekends, Coach Winslow will open the gym so I can shoot and get more weight room in.
What are your short-term goals?
SMM: I think I have reached my short-term goals. I am healthy and happy. I feel myself getting stronger.
Do you see playing in the NBA as an option in the near future?
Jorge Sierra is the editor of HoopsHype.com. Charles Bonsignore, Sun Ming Ming's agent, helped conduct the interview
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