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Harris to coach Yao, Team China

2/17/2004 - Dallas Mavericks

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming will have an American coach with Texas ties at the Summer Olympics in Athens, ESPN.com has learned.

In what will be received internationally as a landmark announcement, Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Del Harris is expected to be named this week as the first-ever foreign head coach of the Chinese national team, according to sources in China.

Harris could not be reached Tuesday; the Mavericks are in Memphis to play the Grizzlies. Mavericks officials deferred comment to the Chinese Basketball Association.

Li Yuanwei, general secretary of the CBA, was quoted in China on Sunday by the Xinhua news service as saying: "We are still talking with the Dallas Mavericks [about] details and the contract has not been signed yet."

Harris, 66, has a 556-457 record as an NBA head coach with Houston, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers. He joined close friend Don Nelson as essentially the Mavericks' co-coach in the spring of 2000.

Harris also has extensive international experience. Fluent in Spanish, he coached for many years in Puerto Rico and has also served as a consultant to Canada's national team. In 1998, during the NBA lockout, Harris was an assistant to another former Rockets coach -- Rudy Tomjanovich -- with the American squad of fill-in pros that won the bronze medal at the World Championships in Athens.

He'll become the third member of the Mavericks' coaching staff to take an offseason international post. Mavericks assistant coach and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson has served as an assistant with Lithuania's national team since the 1992 Olympics. Mavericks assistant coach Rolando Blackman, meanwhile, has spent the past few offseasons as an assistant coach to Germany at the request of Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki.

The Mavericks, of course, were the first team in NBA history to suit up a Chinese player in 2001 after using the 36th overall pick in 1999 to draft Wang Zhizhi. Wang, now with the Miami Heat, has since severed ties with the Chinese national team by refusing to return to his home country the past two summers. Wang is not expected to be selected to the Chinese Olympic team.

China is turning to Harris for his veteran know-how after a disappointing 12th-place finish at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis and a shocking loss to South Korea in the 2002 Asian Games. Behind 30 points and 15 rebounds from Yao, China avenged that loss to South Korea in October to win the Asian Championships and secure the region's automatic Olympic berth.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.