The journey at the world championships ended for China in the second round against Lithuania. You might not have recognised a team without Yao Ming. But their coach is a familiar face.

Bob Donewald made plenty of noise during his time in the BBL as a brash young American who caused plenty of controversy and feared no-one, like a gun-slinger straight from a Tarantino movie.

The Michigan native first made his name as head coach with Leicester Riders from 1996-98 who he took to the finals of the National Cup. He then moved to Derby Storm, leading them to the finals of the Uniball Trophy.

After picking up the reins for the London Leopards in 1999-2000, Donewald, now 40, led the team to the final of the National Cup during the 2000-01 season.

“I had some tremendous experiences,” he recalled. “Leicester Riders give me a chance. Then I ended up going to Derby and Leopards and met some tremendous people along the way.”

It was starting at the bottom, the perfect apprenticeship for a kid who had learnt the trade from his father, Bob Sr., at Western Michigan University.

“It was a huge learning experience,” he declared. “Back then, I thought I knew how to coach. Now I look back, I realise I was clueless. But I was learning and it gave me some confidence to lead.

“I was fortunate to coach some great players. We had some great teams and some great moments.

“For me as a person, it was a stepping stone to give me the ability and confidence to go ahead and get in front of a group and lead a group.

“As a coach, you have to do practice plans, watch film and do all those things. I had learned from my father but to dive in a do it yourself, that’s a different thing.

“The people were very kind, you didn’t have to learn a different language although some of your accents back in England are a little bit different. The culture is not that different at all. They are very kind to the Americans. I’ve lived in Brazil, I’ve lived in Ukraine and now, I live in China. England was a good first spot because I was young and I didn’t have to adjust to European life.”

Donewald found his way to China via the NBA where he was assistant to Paul Silas with Charlotte Hornets before moving to Cleveland, working with LeBron James in his rookie campaign before exiting the Cavaliers.

Stints in the ABA and college followed but he had to wait his turn for another showcase shot. Unexpectedly, he ended up in the China Basketball League, taking charge of the Shanghai Sharks.

Jianlian Yi has helped offset the loss of Yao Ming (FIBA)

And that in turn led to a call from the national team there, where he has already shown his hard streak by throwing a player off the team for breaking a curfew.

“I’m fortunate enough to find myself in a situation in which I’m coaching a hard-working group of guys, I can steer it the way I want to steer it,” he said.

“Decisions for me are never tough. To me, you always look at it as doing the right thing, doing the right thing for the team and doing the right thing for the young guys because you want to make sure they’re learning the right way. What people will call difficult decisions are for me difficult in a way, but I try to look at it as what is best for us, what is the right way?

“You’ve got 1.5 billion people in China and 750 million are following the team, or something like that, on a daily basis. These young guys carried the pride of their country, the hopes of a nation, the future of China in their own little basketball world.

“Before we got to Turkey, everyone in China believed that basketball without Yao had no hope in China. What my basketball team has proved is that the future is bright in China.“

And, he insists, there is more in reserve.

“We had a team go to Hamburg for the U17 World Championship do well and now we’ve got these young boys in the World Championship make the Sweet 16 and now China is excited. They see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. They see that we’re not where we need to be, but I think they see there is definitely hope without Yao Ming.

“The culture is different than being in Brazil, being in Ukraine, being in America. Each culture is different. However, I’m a true believer that basketball culture remains the same and that’s something that we’ve tried to teach these guys. In the past, these guys would get down eight to 10 points and they’d hang their head. The next thing you know, they’re down 20 points. We wanted to teach them basketball culture – that’s it’s okay to keep fighting, it’s okay to keep trying.”

There will always be bumps as his young stars learn. But he believes they can take the confidence and experience from Turkey and move into their next great challenge.

China, with or without Yao, should make it to the 2012 Olympics. Going full-circle, Donewald will be back where it all began, calmer and wiser for the journey in between.

“I’m looking forward to 2012,” he said. “But I don’t want to rush it. I want to make sure we go about things the right way, that the processes are done properly. So that by the time we get there, we’re not just there to make up the numbers but we can be a force to be reckoned with.”

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