Sports/Olympics / Basketball

China's next Yao says no to NBA draft
Updated: 2006-04-19 21:50

China's Yi Jianlian, linked with a move to the NBA, says he plans to stay with the national team rather than follow Yao Ming's path this year.

The 2.1 meter forward for the Guangdong Tigers in China's premier basketball league believes he is not ready for the NBA and wants to concentrate on China, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"I see myself as a national team member," the Beijing News quoted Yi as saying. "After all, I haven't yet reached NBA standard."

"As a young player, I must move forward gradually."

Chen Haitao, a spokesman for the Guangdong Tigers, said that Yi's time would come.

"It's a matter of time for (Yi) to enter the draft, but now is possibly not the right time. (Guangdong) won't block him participating in the draft."

While Yi's club might not seek to quell his NBA aspirations, China's basketball officials have voiced concerns about the prospect of China's talent missing national team games while warming benches in NBA teams.

"We have always supported those who leave the country to play overseas," Li Yuanwei, director of the China Basketball Association, was quoted as saying in the Beijing News.

"But they are important talents in our national basketball team. We must guarantee their playing time... We want to protect our players from sitting on the bench after they get to the NBA," Li said.

In contrast to Yao Ming's glittering career, the NBA experiences of Menk Bateer and Wang Zhizhi, the other two towers in China's NBA "Great Wall," were characterized by regular transfers and little game-time.

Wang returned to China earlier this month after four years in the U.S..

While Wang is expected to bolster the national team in the future, China basketball was rocked last week when Yao Ming broke his foot in a Houston Rockets NBA game, casting doubt over his fitness for Tokyo's World Championships in September.

But Yi's patriotism will warm the hearts of China's basketball officials.

"This summer, there are big matches like the World Championships and the Asian Games which are very important to me and I don't want to miss these opportunities," Yi said.