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Ye made the Chinese national youth team for the first time in 1998. A year later, she was named rookie of the year on China's national team. Many consider her to be a potential star, if she can keep injuries at bay.
She has been out for the better part of the last 15 months, nursing a bad right knee. Many advised her to hang up her shoes and call it quits, but the strong-willed Ye refused to listen. She was relegated to the bench this past season, while recovering. When Ye finally hit the court again last month, she was quickly added to the national team roster by coach Gong Luming.
"This is Ye Li's spirit," Gong said, referring to her determination to come back to basketball at all costs. "Her spirit means hard work, persistence and eyeing to be the No. 1 at all times."
Last year, after the Chinese men's team lost to Germany, the United States, Angola, New Zealand, Russia, Turkey and Argentina in the world championships, Yao was inconsolable.
He felt he had let down his team as the only superstar on the roster. In fact, he was so ticked off that he turned down a birthday gift from Ye that was meant to cheer him up.
"He is unhappy," Ye said last year. "He is angry with the team's performance in the tournament."
But as seriously as they take basketball, Yao and Ye can shake it off, too. Soon enough, Yao bought two plush toys for Ye. One is a rabbit, the other a huge elephant, which she uses as a pillow.