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Yi Jianlian at Ease in NBA Spotlight
    2007-06-28 13:28:14     China Daily

Yi Jianlian of China smiles during 2007 NBA Draft media availability in New York, June 27, 2007. [Photo: Xinhua/Hou Jun]

BEIJING, June 28 -- Yao Ming was a bag of nerves watching the NBA Draft in Shanghai five years ago. He should have been over the moon when his name was called out first by NBA commissioner David Stern, but instead all he could manage was a shy smile and a stiff high-five with his parents and coaches.

Yi Jianlian is the leading light for a new generation of Chinese ballers, and there is no way he'll look quite so awkward on draft night.


"I know there will be an introduction of the Draft prospects. I think the best idea I can come up with is to ride a bicycle onto the stage, and let everybody know I am from China. What do you think?" joked Yi, who arrived in New York from Los Angeles yesterday. "I am looking forward to the Draft. I am very excited and I have some expectations for myself."


The 19-year-old power forward represents one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2007 NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden tomorrow morning Beijing time, and his presence at the extravaganza is proof enough of the changing nature of Chinese basketball.


"I will wear a made-to-measure suit. It is a very formal place, so I am not going wear any fancy clothes."


With hip-hop on his iPod and a taste for limited edition sneakers, Yi certainly looks and sounds the part.


Unlike Yao, who didn't get a taste of American culture until the pre-season games in 2002 due to lengthy negotiations between the Houston Rockets and the Chinese Basketball Association, Yi has embraced the western lifestyle since he arrived in Los Angeles from Shenzhen three months ago.


He has attended movie premieres of "Shrek" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" and successfully navigated LA's complicated highway system. He can chat with his trainers and other American players in English thanks to the hour-long English classes arranged by his agent Dan Fegan.


"The training in LA helped a lot," said Yi, who had previously visited United States for the 2002 Adidas ABCD Camp in New Jersey and Pete Newell Big Man's camp in Las Vegas in 2003. "It has helped me get stronger technically and get used to the American lifestyle. I didn't find there is anything very different about the United States, I feel comfortable with everything here."


Despite impressing many observers with his offensive attributes and athleticism, Yi's stock has slid somewhat due to an unusual workout process designed by Fegan.


Yi has remained in Los Angeles and representatives of just seven teams, including Boston Cetlics, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns, have been allowed to see him in the flesh.


The policy has raised red flags among some observers - for example, leading website Draftexpress.com has moved him down from a peak 3rd pick to 10th.


Yi says he doesn't care how high he goes, lending credence to the theory that he is more concerned about destination than draft position.


"I don't think the ranking really matters to me and I don't think it makes any difference except the top two picks," said Yi. "I don't care what they say about me. They have the right to say anything about me, good or bad. No 5 or No 8, I don't care at all.


"The first three years on my contract are so important for me so I want a team that really wants me and fits me. Of course I know it's not up to me to select a team, it is the team that picks me."


Yi will be the fourth Chinese to play in NBA following Yao, Wang Zhizhi and Menke Bateer. While Yi is expected to be more of a success than the latter two, he will be vying for attention with a stellar crowd of rookies.


Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Al Horford form the core of a draft that is the strongest since the 2003 crop that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.


"I will feel very good making it to the NBA. I still remember the first time I watched a game live in 2001, it was amazing to see how fast and strong they were. I told myself: 'I want to play there some day.'" Yi said. "But I am not going to say this is the biggest dream in my life, this is just a start. I call it the first step of my career."


Chinese interest in the draft does not end with Yi.


National teammate Sun Yue appears to have an outside chance of being taken in the second round, and has been busy working out with teams after an impressive showing at the pre-draft camp in Orlando.


He recently worked out with Dallas Mavericks, who hold the 34th, 50th and 60th picks, and local media reports said team management were impressed by his passing ability.

 

(Source: China Daily)

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