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Yi Leads Global Talent as Oden Tops Draft
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Yi Jianlian, seen as China's next breakout star after Yao Ming, leads global prospects in Thursday's National Basketball Association Draft with US college star Greg Oden the likely first selection.

Yi, a 7-foot forward with quickness and a nice outside shooting touch, is likely to be taken among the top 10 selections, possibly in the top five, after the 19-year-old star led the Guandong Southern Tigers to three Chinese titles.

Yi averaged 24.9 points and 11.5 rebounds in 30 minutes a game last season and worked out in private sessions with several teams, impressing Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Billy King in many areas.

"Shooting the three-pointer, handling the basketball, seeing him run," King said. "We got to see him do the same testing we do with prospects, like shuttle runs and sprints."

Oden, who led Ohio State to the US college finals as a freshman, is expected to be selected first overall by Portland with playmaker Kevin Durant from Texas the likely second selection by Seattle.

Atlanta chooses next followed in order by Memphis, Boston, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Charlotte, Chicago and Sacramento.

Joakim Noah, the son of French tennis legend Yannick Noah, is joined by his two-time US champion Florida teammates Al Horford and Corey Brewer and Ohio State's Mike Conley among other US prospects.

But with Germany's Dirk Nowitzki winning NBA Most Valuable Player honors and France's Tony Parker taking NBA Finals MVP honors - both firsts by a European - and San Antonio's champions having a record six non-US players, global talent ranks high.

"For years, a lot of the NBA execs might have thought the American player was better. But that's not the case anymore," Nets general manager Ed Stefanski said. "Some foreign-born players are excellent. They're here to stay."

Italy's Andrea Bargnani was the top pick in last year's draft and Australian Andrew Bogut went number one in 2005.

Yao went number one to Houston in 2002 and has had a major impact in raising NBA interest in China. Almost one in five NBA players last season were from beyond US borders.

"If the international ranks didn't exist it would be impossible to duplicate the quality of play we have today," Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said.

Global media will reach record levels at this year's draft, which will be seen in 115 nations and heard in 18 languages.

"This is the first time the NBA Draft is being broadcast live in the Guangdong area," said Lu Xiaofeng of Guangdong TV Sports. "Our country is proud of the potential draftees from China and hope they get selected early."

Noah will receive special attention.

"This is going to be huge in France because Noah is expected to be picked higher than previous French NBA stars Tony Parker and Boris Diaw," said Canal Plus reporter Samyr Hamoudi.

"Since Noah's father is loved in France and they are considered a family sports dynasty, people in France are very excited to follow Joakim in the NBA."

Other global hopefuls seen as strong prospects include 22-year-old Brazilian forward Tiago Splitter, Spanish guard Rudy Fernandez, Italy's Marco Belinelli, Finland's Petteri Koponen and Ukraine center Kyrylo Fesenko.

"Talent for your team can be found anywhere," Toronto Raptors vice president Maurizio Gherardini said. "You can't be surprised to find talent anywhere in the world."

(China Daily via Agencies June 27, 2007)

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