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Club: Yi Can Enter 2007 NBA Draft
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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 forward.

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 permission.

"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 year.

"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.

Mengke 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.

(China Daily November 3, 2006)

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