by Marcel Mutoni / @marcel_mutoni

Yao Ming is a much happier man these days than he’s been over the past year. He has a sunnier outlook on his future these days, and the press in Houston seems to be buying in, too.

Doctors have cleared Yao for all basketball-related activities, and the big fella sounds optimistic about the upcoming season. The Houston Chronicle reports:

“That’s just the confidence (issue),” Yao, 29, said. “I still need to work on that. Compared to two months ago, it’s already a lot better. Two weeks ago, I could not even take off off my left foot. That thing, it’s in my head.”

The next step in Yao’s return to the court — removing those doubts — should be much easier to overcome than all those steps covered. Monday, he cleared perhaps the most important hurdle. An examination by Dr. Tom Clanton revealed that the hairline fracture in Yao’s left foot had healed, clearing him to work through full-contact workouts toward full scrimmages by the start of practices Sept. 25.

“I’m pretty confident,” Yao, 7-6, said when asked if he thought he would be the player he had been. “We just need to build on it every day. I’d like to be like Big Zeke (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who played nine years in Cleveland after similar surgery.) I’m wishing, wishing long career, same city.”

Now, I’m not sure Big Z is the guy Rockets fans want to hear their franchise player aspire to be like, but it’s certainly better than moping about the possibility of retiring soon.

So, yeah. They’ve got that going for them.