The intrigue surrounding Chinese power forward Yi Jianlian is
building, with less than a week remaining until the National
Basketball Association draft.
Yi is no Yao Ming, and in fact has little in common with the
7-foot-5 Houston Rockets center. Yi is a 7-footer who can dribble,
jump and face the basket. His game has been compared to that of
former Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc.
Yet many experts aren't sure what to make of Yi, who could be
sliding a bit in the June 28 draft.
The Milwaukee Bucks won't get a first-hand view of Yi, whose
camp has declined a workout request by the team. Bucks director of
player personnel Dave Babcock wanted to go to Los Angeles to take a
closer look but was rebuffed by Yi's agent, Dan Fegan.
"Basically they said they can't work it in the schedule,"
Babcock said Friday. "We're not a high priority for them. We'll see
Fegan has sparked a good share of controversy by requiring teams
to come to Los Angeles to see Yi, by putting restrictions on the
type of workouts his client would do and by having him skip the
Orlando pre-draft camp.
Yi did not even go through the physical testing in Orlando,
something the top-rated prospects normally do even if they do not
compete in the camp.
The Philadelphia 76ers, who hold the 12th overall pick in the
draft, attended a private workout for Yi earlier this week.
But the Bucks, drafting sixth, were bypassed. Florida power
forward Joakim Noah earlier had declined an invitation to work out
with Milwaukee, although his Gators teammates, Al Horford and Corey
Brewer, auditioned for the Bucks earlier this week.
"It's disappointing, but I'll tell you what," Babcock said. "We
still like him (Yi). He's a good shooter, very skilled, runs. He's
not a thin kid. His English is good. He'll be an impact guy in the
NBA next year."
Bucks general manager Larry Harris said he had hoped to give the
team's coaching staff a chance to meet Yi and see him in an
"The kid is nearly 7 feet and 240 pounds, and he's getting
bigger," Harris said.
"He can run the floor. He has great hands, and more of his forte
is facing the basket. From 16, 17, 18 feet, he can make that shot.
He's more athletic than people think."
Yi's age is a matter of debate. He is listed as 19 years old on
the Chinese national team roster, but some say he is really 21 or
He's the true wild card in this draft, a player who might go as
high as No. 5 to the Boston Celtics or slip all the way to
Sacramento at No. 10 or the 76ers at No. 12. The Chicago Bulls, at
No. 9, also could have some interest.
Yi played for the Gundong Southern Tigers in the Chinese
Basketball Association last season, and he averaged 24.9 points and
11.5 rebounds per game. He also has played with Yao as a member of
the Chinese national team and took part in the 2004 Olympics and
the 2006 FIBA World Championship..
"I went to China three years ago, and I spent a lot of time
around him," Babcock said. "We're prepared on him."
Babcock estimated that he and Harris and scouts Scott Howard and
Scott Roth had seen Yi play 20 times in the last four years.
Howard saw Yi in the Asian Championships last December in Qatar,
and Harris watched him in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where Harris'
father, Del, coached the Chinese team.
"He (Del Harris) thought Yi was a tremendous kid, really
bright," Larry Harris said. ""He had him at a young age, and at
that time (in 2004) thought he could be a small forward."
Harris and Babcock indicated that the Bucks would not be scared
to select Yi on draft night.
"I'm just saying we're still interested," Babcock said.
"If we feel like the player is the best player on the board,
we're not going to shy away from it if we think it would fit our
team. Noah is the same way. If Noah is the best player on the
board, we're not going to turn the page on him just because he
won't come work out for us."
(CRIENGLISH.com via Agencies June 25, 2007)