Yi hardens stance against Milwaukee

By Zhao Rui (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-20 07:12

Yi Jianlian trains with teammates during a training session for China's national team on Tuesday. Yi said he backs his agent Dan Fegan who has been trying to force a trade since Milwaukee Bucks picked Yi in the 2007 NBA Draft on June 28. Xinhua

Yi Jianlian has finally broken his silence on the controversy surrounding his NBA future, saying Chinese fans are wrong to blame his agent Dan Fegan for the ongoing stand-off with the Milwaukee Bucks.

His words reaffirm his desire to be traded by the franchise, which took him with the sixth pick in the 2007 NBA Draft despite his objections.

"Fegan is a responsible agent, and I have a lot of fun working with him," Yi told reporters at the national team training camp in Beijing. "So far we have cooperated really well and our relationship is not as bad as media and fans speculate."

As Yi's stand-off with the Bucks continues, many in China have started to criticize Fegan believing him to be the main barrier preventing the player from committing to the franchise.

But Yi said this is not the case.

"I've read some of the media reports, but I don't think he has made too many decisions for me," he said. "It's clear that he works for me, so everything he is doing is based on my ideas."

His comments drew an instant reaction from netizens.

Of 2,400 respondents to a Sina.com poll, 84 percent said Yi's words were "unwise" and just 6 percent believed he should back his agent.

The 19-year-old power forward hired Fegan last year, and he has played a major role in steering Yi's future.

He organized private training for Yi and refused several teams - the Bucks included - access to his workouts. It is thought Yi wants to play in a city with a large Chinese population.

The latest online poll by Sina.com found that 82 percent of more than 20,000 respondents want Yi to remain a Buck. Added to this, 71 percent think the Bucks is a suitable team for Yi to begin his NBA career with.

And it's not just the fans that are losing patience.

"I have heard about it, I hope he can solve his troubles as soon as possible and concentrate on the national team," China's head coach Jonas Kazlauskas told China Daily.

Several big names have urged Yi to end the turmoil and join the Bucks.

"I think Yi should know his agent works for him, it's not him who works for his agent. He will have to make a decision for himself," NBA legend Scottie Pippen told China Daily last week. "Just looking at the fact that he doesn't want to play in that market, I think he should really try to reconsider and embrace the fact that not only are you a part of the NBA, but you have a chance to go out and make a name for yourself."

"Yi should stand up and speak for himself," said Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. "You cannot let anybody control you. You should make your own decisions."

However, Yi's boss Chen Haitao, chief of the Guangdong Tigers, claimed on Monday that his player will "definitely not" play for the Bucks because Yi will not get enough playing time in Milwaukee to prepare him for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

US media and fan opinion is starting to turn firmly against Yi - particularly after Chen's comments.

"Forgive me while I try to contain my laughter," wrote Sports Illustrated analyst Chris Mannix. "Truth be told, the idea that Yi is ready to step in and contribute right away is ludicrous The learning curve for some rookies is practically a 90 degree angle, and the fact that Yi has faced very little American competition means his will be enormous."

"If Yi is so set on playing somewhere with a large Chinese population, I can think of the perfect locale - China," wrote a commentator on Hoopsvibe.com.

If Yi decides the Bucks just isn't for him, he will have to sit out the entire 2007-08 season before rejoining next year's draft unless he can secure a trade. This appears an unlikely option given the national team's preparations for 2008.

"Is there any team able to give Yi more minutes than the Bucks?" said Cathy Xing, a basketball fan in Beijing. "I cannot imagine teams like Spurs or Pistons will give him more time and get him into the starting line-up. Will any head coach sideline Tim Duncan and Rasheed Wallace to give a position to Yi? Obviously not."

Given the fact that the Bucks were 28-54 last year, earning minutes should not be a problem for a player with as much talent as Yi.

The team in fact has a major hole at power forward: incumbent Charlie Villenueva, who is coming off a serious injury, is more comfortable at small forward.

Yi is now training with the national team in Beijing and will compete in the Stankovic Cup in Guangzhou in July 28. Bucks general manager Larry Harris is scheduled to come to China then to meet Yi and Chen.

(China Daily 07/20/2007 page22)

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