China's NBA prospect Yi Jianlian will enter the 2007 Draft amid
high expectations, but Team USA big man Dwight Howard has warned it
will take mental toughness - and cartoons - for him to prosper as a
The Orlando Magic center, in Beijing promoting October's China
Games in Shanghai and Macao, said Yi needs to stay focused to
overcome the huge challenges ahead.
"Yi is definitely a great player, he is talented and quick, and
he is one of the best hopefuls coming out in the draft this year.
But a first round pick doesn't guarantee you anything in your
career," Howard told China Daily yesterday. "For me, the rookie
year is extremely tough, it's so long and the size of the players
you face every night is incredible.
"Some rookies don't realize how hard playing in the NBA really
is. They might think it's a cake walk, but it really is tough with
a long 82 game season, practicing every day and getting up every
morning and lifting weights. The biggest thing about the NBA is
As the first overall selection in the 2004 Draft, the
22-year-old All-Star forward offers a good example of how a rookie
can adjust to life in the NBA. He was named to the 2004-05 NBA
All-Rookie First Team and averaged 12.0 points and finished eighth
in the NBA in rebounding (10.0 rpg) in his first season.
More major improvements were seen this season as Howard powered
the Magic into the Playoffs for the first time since 2003 with a
team-leading 17.6 ppt. He also played for Team USA at the World
Championships in Japan last year.
"I am just staying focused," he said. "I just try to worry about
what I need to accomplish on the court and off the court, and try
not to get caught up in the media and all the hype or anything.
"I know it is tough because there is a lot of stuff that you
want to do as rookies coming in, and knowing that first we have to
settle down and learn our roles before we can talk to a superstar
or anything like that. One thing is work ethic, in order to become
a great player, you have to really, really work at it in this
Howard added that Yi would be better off joining a team that
really wants to give him time on court, rather than just trying to
climb as high up the draft as possible.
"Finding the right team is important for him, this is also a big
challenge for international players," he said. "Darko (Milicic) is
a good example that what a right team means to you, he is improving
very fast with us, but I know his days in Detroit were not sweet at
The second overall pick behind Lebron James but ahead of Carmelo
Anthony and Dwyane Wade in 2003, Milicic was a major disappointment
with a miserable 1.1 ppts with the Detroit Pistons. He was traded
to the Magic last season and increased minutes greatly benefited
his game, demonstrated when he averaged a personal best 12.6 ppt in
the Playoffs last month.
According to Howard, mental toughness won't just come from time
in the gym and on the practice court.
A big fan of cartoons and especially "Finding Nemo", Howard said
exposure to American culture was needed to help Yi avoid feeling
like a fish out of water.
"I like watching cartoons, I had a lot of fun doing this," he
said. "It makes my season not so boring and this is a good way to
deal with the NBA's tough schedule.
"It takes some time for international players to melt into
American culture, but it is really fun when you get into it, and it
is very helpful for them."
Off the court, however, Yi does not appear to be having many
problems adapting to his new life. He conducts interviews and
conversations in English and takes English classes every night to
Yi is already independent: He drives on his own in Los Angeles
where he is based, finds his own restaurants and even hit the red
carpet at the movie premieres of "Spider-Man 3" and "Shrek 3." He
listens to hip-hop, plays video games and dresses in the requisite
Sean John jeans and Jumpman shirt.
In addition, he is expected to save a lot of energy on business
affairs after teaming up with Dan Fegan, a longtime NBA agent whose
clients include Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Nene.
Yi is now in Orlando for pre-draft training camp. In a poll
conducted by Sohu.com, 43 per cent of the participants believe Yi
will be a top three selection in the draft, while 20 per cent say
he will be at No 4 to 7.
He is highly rated by US scouts, with respected ESPN.com draft
analyst Chad Ford believing he is the 3rd best player in the draft
behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.
Along with Yi, Chinese point guard Sun Yue has also announced he
will enter the draft. The 2.06m point guard was ranked No 14 among
international players in the draft and some experts predict he
could land a late second round slot.
(China Daily June 5, 2007)