Chinese basketball sensation Yi Jianlian and national teammate Sun Yue made Chinese basketball fans rapturously happy after they were selected by the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Lakers respectively in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft on Thursday night.
The 7-foot power forward, Yi, is thus the fourth Chinese player to make the NBA after Wang Zhizhi, Menk Bateer and Yao Ming. Yao has played for the Houston Rockets since being first in 2002.
Born the son of two professional handball players in Heshan, a light industrial town in southern Guangdong Province, Yi grew up revering Michael Jordan and soon followed in His Airness' footsteps by dunking for the first time as a 6ft5in 13-year-old.
Since then, Yi has taken Guangdong to three domestic league championships and represented China at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2006 World Championships. This season, he dominated the CBA rankings with a double-double average of 24.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
"I played for a national team for a couple of years, I think I'm ready," Yi said after the pick.
"Yi will end up being the best player in the NBA from China, and I know that is saying a lot," Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell confidently predicted this week. "He has much more body control than Yao, and he's a much better jumper. I'm real high on him, and I think I'm right."
While the rangy 7-footer's entry into the NBA is assured, his birth date is still up in the air. His resume states it as being October 27, 1987, but many Chinese websites mark it down as 1984 and his university entrance exam as having been taken in 2003, making his "official" age of 19 more than a little doubtful.
China's tradition of age-fudging to allow older players a spot in national and international youth championships, has not helped the enigmatic Yi, whose mysterious persona has not been shed despite appearances at LA film premiers and interviews with Western media in recent weeks.
NBA Coaches have been excited by Yi's pace, his natural leap and agile hands, but point out he still needs to work on his upper body strength and toughness to face down hardened NBA competitors.
Next year, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Yi will team up once again with Yao Ming to try and take away the gold on home soil.
Sun Yue, a 2.06m point guard from China, was also picked up in the draft, making it to the Los Angeles Lakers with the fortieth overall pick.
Sun, given the high honor of being called China's Magic Johnson by US media, averaged 13.5 points, 10.5 assists and 6 rebounds last season in the American Basketball Association (ABA) in the United States. He also led Aoshen to a third place finish and was named in ABA's All-Star team.
The first two picks of the draft were no surprise with 7ft center Greg Oden going to the Portland Trail-Blazers while the Seattle SuperSonics can be happy with high-scoring forward Kevin Durant of Texas.
(CRI, China Daily June 29, 2007)