China's top young basketball talent Yi Jianlian has finally been given the
green light to enter the NBA, after his club agreed to release the player to the
2007 NBA Draft.
Guangdong Baomashi Club officially announced yesterday that Yi could go at
the end of the season.
"This is a great opportunity and also a test for me," said the 2.10-metre
The 19-year-old, dubbed the "next Yao Ming", was linked as an entry for the
2006 draft on two NBA draft websites, but his club would not give him
"We did not let Yi join the 2006 draft because it was not the best timing for
him," said the club's general-manager Chen Haitao. "But now he is different, he
is getting stronger mentally and physically. I think next year will be a big
chance for him, so for us, it's time to let him go."
The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) is likely to give approval to the
move despite a rule that Chinese players are not eligible for the NBA Draft
until they turn 22.
"We always support our players in joining high-quality overseas leagues," CBA
vice-president Hu Jiashi said yesterday.
Yi, who averaged 20.5 points and 9.6 rebounds last season, has led Guangdong
to three consecutive national championships. This season the club is on top of
the standings once again, with 10 wins and one loss.
Yi competed at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 and was a mainstay at the
World Championships in Japan in August.
Despite the team's limited international success, Yi is highly rated by US
scouts. Leading draft website NBADraft.net predicts the teenager will be picked
in 11th position next year in a strong draft, Meanwhile probasketball.about.com
lists him fourth spot out of 150 prospects, a place higher than NCAA superstar
Joakim Noah, who helped Florida University to the national championships this
"I am not as excited as people expect," said Yi. "It is too early to predict
my future in the NBA, because I am still improving all the time.
"For me, what I care about most now is winning another title for my club and
also getting the gold medal at the Asian Games this year."
His boss Chen said life in the NBA will be tough to start with: "I know it
will be very hard for him to win minutes on the court in his first season, but I
believe he will make tremendous progress and I am fully confident for him."
Yi is the latest Chinese basketball talent looking to follow in Yao's giant
footsteps and gain NBA stardom, but there is no guarantee of Success.
Menk Bateer and Wang Zhizhi, the other two towers in China's NBA "Great
Wall," struggled to make an impression.
Wang ended a four-year American stay earlier this year and now plies his
trade for Bayi Rockets in the CBA, while Bateer also returned home after his
stays with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors.
"If he is going to be stuck on the bench, it would be better if he stayed at
home," Hu said.