April 19, 2006

China’s next Yao Ming says no to NBA draft

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Yi Jianlian, linked with a move
to the NBA, says he plans to stay with the national team rather
than follow Yao Ming's path this year.

The 2.1 meter forward for the Guangdong Tigers in China's
premier basketball league believes he is not ready for the NBA
and wants to concentrate on China, a local newspaper reported
on Wednesday.

"I see myself as a national team member," the Beijing News
quoted Yi as saying. "After all, I haven't yet reached NBA

"As a young player, I must move forward gradually."

Chen Haitao, a spokesman for the Guangdong Tigers, said
that Yi's time would come.

"It's a matter of time for (Yi) to enter the draft, but now
is possibly not the right time. (Guangdong) won't block him
participating in the draft."

While Yi's club might not seek to quell his NBA
aspirations, China's basketball officials have voiced concerns
about the prospect of China's talent missing national team
games while warming benches in NBA teams.

"We have always supported those who leave the country to
play overseas," Li Yuanwei, director of the China Basketball
Association, was quoted as saying in the Beijing News.

"But they are important talents in our national basketball
team. We must guarantee their playing time... We want to
protect our players from sitting on the bench after they get to
the NBA," Li said.

In contrast to Yao Ming's glittering career, the NBA
experiences of Menk Bateer and Wang Zhizhi, the other two
towers in China's NBA "Great Wall," were characterized by
regular transfers and little game-time.

Wang's NBA aspirations clashed with China duties, leading
to his sacking after failing to join the national team during
the Asian Games in 2002.

Wang returned to China earlier this month after four years
of official ostracism.

While Wang is expected to bolster the national team in the
future, China basketball was rocked last week when Yao Ming
broke his foot in a Houston Rockets NBA game, casting doubt
over his fitness for Tokyo's World Championships in September.

But Yi's patriotism will warm the hearts of China's
basketball officials.

"This summer, there are big matches like the World
Championships and the Asian Games which are very important to
me and I don't want to miss these opportunities," Yi said.