Houston Community News >> China's Yi Jianlian To Follow in the Footsteps of Yao Ming

11/3/2006 Beijing- China's teenage basketball sensation Yi Jianlian has said he had been cleared to join next year's NBA draft and follow in the footsteps of countryman Yao Ming in the world's top league.

China center Yi JianlianThe 19-year-old, seven-foot (2.12 meter) center said his club, three-time China Basketball Association (CBA) champions Guangdong Hongyuan, had agreed to allow him to enter the annual selection process for the lucrative US league.

"As far as my basketball career is concerned this will be a big test for me and a big opportunity," Yi said in an interview on China Central Television said Friday. "But right now I'm not thinking a lot about the draft. What is on my mind is how to win the Asian Games championship (next month) and this year's CBA championship."

In 2002, the Houston Rockets' Yao became the first-ever non-American player to top the overall NBA draft. Although Yi is not expected to go as high, he is likely to be selected in the first round.

After 11 games in the current CBA campaign, Yi is averaging 25.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per game in helping his team to a league best 10 win and one loss record. Yi was not allowed to attend the 2006 NBA draft due to a ban against any more Chinese national team players joining ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where China hopes to medal.

But several disappointing games at this year's World Championships appeared to have changed the view of CBA officials, who now believe China will be stronger in 2008 if more players have NBA experience, state press reports said.

"We have all along supported Ah Lian (Yi), we would also like to see some of the technical aspects of his game get a major improvement," leading news portal Sina.com quoted CBA vice director Hu Zhiqiang as saying.

However the state press said the CBA's backing of Yi's graduation could change if he is not snapped up among the top draft picks and it appears he will not get much playing time with the team that selects him. "We don't support and we don't oppose this (Yi participating in the NBA draft)... there are a lot of things that are hard to predict so I will not guess," Hu said.

The CBA has said previously it does not want to see Chinese players warming the bench in the NBA. Yi is currently preparing for the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, where much of the national team's scoring, rebounding and defending will fall on him as Yao will not be playing due to NBA commitments.

In last season's CBA finals, Yi was named the most valuable player, while at the 2006 World Basketball Championships in Japan in August he played alongside Yao and former Miami Heat player Wang Zhizhi to help China advance to the second round.

The seven-foot Wang was China's first player in the NBA. He was followed by another seven-footer Menk Bateer, who won an NBA championship as a bench player for the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.

Collectively Yao, Wang and Bateer were known as the "Walking Great Wall" of Chinese basketball centers.

(Contributed by AFP)