Dallas assistant confirm post

Updated: February 18, 2004, 10:06 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Dallas assistant coach Del Harris doesn't speak very much Chinese, but he isn't worried it will be a problem when he leads the Chinese national team at the Athens Olympics.

"Pick and roll is really pick and roll in any language," Harris said Wednesday.

Harris will become the first foreigner to guide China in international play.

"It's an honor," the longtime NBA coach said. "The people of China are looking at this as a very significant, landmark event. It's important for sports, but it's also symbolic of the new, open China that they want to put forward to the world.

"For the Chinese people, this is another step in showing the openness of their country."

In Beijing, spokesmen for the State Administration of Sports and the Chinese Basketball Association said they couldn't confirm Harris' appointment.

Harris, who has extensive experience coaching international basketball, said the Chinese sports ministry approved him as coach on Tuesday.

During the Summer Games, Harris will coach Houston All-Star center Yao Ming, who is thrilled that his country's team will be coached by someone with Harris' background.

"(Rockets president) Carroll Dawson told me Yao was so excited he could hardly sleep," said Harris.

Harris said his NBA coaching background as well as his international resume -- he has been involved with national teams from Puerto Rico, Canada and the United States -- gave him an edge over other candidates for the Chinese job.

Harris was an assistant to Rudy Tomjanovich on the 1998 U.S. team at the World Championships in Athens.

The 66-year-old Harris, who has more than 500 career NBA coaching victories, sees his affiliation with the Chinese team as a positive in many ways.

"It's good for the Mavericks and it's good for the NBA," he said. "It's good for the city of Dallas."

Harris will not join the Chinese team until the Mavericks' season is over. Former Dallas star Rolando Blackman, now the Mavs' director of player development, will be an assistant on his staff during this summer's games.

Before leaving for Greece, the Chinese team will train in Dallas, Harris said. He's hoping to schedule exhibition games there as well as in San Francisco.

Harris said that Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who has been critical of his players participating in the Olympics, has been supportive of him coaching in Athens.

"I asked him before I agreed to do it and he had no problem with it at all," Harris said. "I think it enhances the Mavericks."

Cuban thinks the Chinese made the right choice and is happy Harris is being given the opportunity.

"Del is a great ambassador for the game, and a great coach" Cuban said. "I think it's great for him and for the NBA."

Dallas coach Don Nelson supports Harris' decision.

"It's quite a sacrifice, giving up your whole summer," Nelson said. "But if it's something he wants to do, I'm happy for him."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press