Not the next Yao Ming skipped the two-hour workout Tuesday
evening as the NBA pre-draft camp opened. He also will bypass the
games today, Thursday and Friday. He will be in town to take a
physical. He will remain a curiosity.
Yi Jianlian is a known, a sure lottery pick June 28, possibly in
the top five. But he also is an uncertainty of international
proportions that won't be solved in the four days of intense
scrutiny as 30 front offices and some coaches gather outside
Orlando, Fla., the player who comes here with common doubt cloaked
in official mystery.
Prospects from China must disprove doubts about adjusting from a
league in which the competition is comparable to the lowest levels
of Division I, less than in Europe and far below that of the
recognizable school names that will rule the lottery four weeks
from Thursday. More pressing, though, is the age issue.
NBA executives long ago accepted as unreliable the stated
birthdates of Chinese prospects, aware of years of allegations of
tampering by government officials trying to put players in an ideal
light for international success. American teams then would begin
tracking a supposed teenager in a junior tournament, unaware he
might be two or three years older and in better position to play
well -- and therefore have two or three fewer years left in his
career in an obvious drawback to the organization that invests
millions in his development.
Yi is said to be 20. Yao was 21 when he was picked first in
2002. Both are 7-footers, although Yao is that and then some,
listed at 7-6. Both are from China.
Yao usually was delightful and charming when he joined the
Rockets in a crush of media and marketing advances. Yi likewise
appears welcoming of his new surroundings, speaking English and
attending movie premieres while working out in Los Angeles in
preparation for the draft.
But they are nowhere close to the same player. While Houston
coaches had to plead with Yao to be more assertive and worked with
him to find a necessary mean streak on the court, trying to push
him into becoming an intimidating force inside, Yi is an aggressive
forward who can handle the ball and gladly will drive to the basket
and dunk on an opponent.
Sixty-two players are scheduled to participate during the four
days, including point guard Bobby Brown, a two-time All-Big West
Conference selection from Cal State Fullerton. Nineteen others --
Yi and the others expected to make up most of the top of the draft
-- will attend only to take physicals.
(China Daily via Agencies May 31, 2007)