|Bucks take risk, select Yi with No. 6 pick|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 28 June 2007 17:36|
But that's only if they can get Yi, selected with the sixth pick in the NBA draft, to a city his handlers had shunned in the weeks leading up to Thursday night.
Disregarding his desire to play in a city with a heavy Asian influence - there are only about 27,500 Asian Americans in Milwaukee - the Bucks picked the 6-foot-11 forward to become the fourth Chinese player to make the NBA.
The question is whether he'll ever wear a Bucks uniform.
``I think so,'' Yi said. ``It's a surprise to me. ... I'm not really familiar with the city as well, but I'm happy to be playing with the team and happy to play in the NBA.''
Bucks general manager Larry Harris said Yi was rated third on the Bucks' draft board, and will showcase Milwaukee to China.
``It's global now,'' Harris said. ``Chinese basketball is huge and it's growing and to have one of their countrymen that is actually very, very good and can play and is young and can be here for a long time, I don't know how it's not a windfall for us.''
There's no guarantee he'll make the same impact as Yao Ming, his national teammate selected by the Houston Rockets with the first pick in 2002.
Questions about his defense, strength and age surround Yi Jianlian (pronounced EE TEE-an-LEE-an), who has been protected by handlers who wanted him in a city like Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia or the Bay area.
Agent Dan Fegan did not allow the Bucks to hold a private workout or see Yi, but did allow teams as low as the Sixers, with the 12th pick, to take a look at one of the draft's most unknown talents during a workout in Los Angeles. Harris said Philadelphia was among several teams that called and tried to trade for the pick.
Yi said the Bucks never watched him workout in China, either, but Harris said that wasn't accurate.
``We felt comfortable from our standpoint, we did not need to go out there to confirm or deny our own feelings about Yi as a player,'' Harris said of the Los Angeles workout. ``We spent a week in Qatar to see him play. ... We saw him in Japan for the World Championships. We saw him in the Olympics two years ago. We've been to China. We've estimated we've seen him over 20 times in the last four years. Rest assured, we know him.''
Fan reaction at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks play, was mixed - with about half the crowd standing and cheering.
His English is basic, but better than Yao's when he was picked five years ago. Yi has been in the United States for several weeks adjusting, and unlike the three Chinese who played before him - Yao, Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer, he was on hand to witness his selection.
``I played for a national team for a couple of years, I think I'm ready,'' Yi said immediately after the pick.
Yi has a deft shooting touch from the wing, soft hands and an athletic body in the mold of Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies. But some teams shied away from him because of the influence to put him in a large Asian market.
``I was really surprised they took Yi, mostly because I was getting the same faxes they were getting,'' said Kevin McHale, vice president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Chinese Basketball Association lists Yi's birthday as Oct. 27, 1987 - which would make him 19 at draft time. But he has long been rumored older.
``There's a lot of speculation, 19 or 22,'' Harris said. ``I think it's the nature of the beast when you're dealing with international players. I know he's not 39.''
Yi played on China's 2004 Olympic team and 2006 world championship team. In the Chinese league this season, he averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds with the Guangdong Tigers.
In 2004, Harris' father, Del Harris, coached the National Team of China and watched Yi develop.
``When my father was coaching him on the Chinese national team, they thought he was going to be a small forward,'' the younger Harris said. ``Now his body has grown. He's 238 pounds, he's a legitimate power forward that not only can score, but can really shoot the ball outside.''
Yi appears to fit in well with the Bucks, who stumbled to the third-worst record in the league last season after injuries to four of five starters. If Milwaukee is able to keep free agent point guard Mo Williams, Yi would join a rotation that includes sharpshooter Michael Redd, forwards Bobby Simmons and Charlie Villanueva and center Andrew Bogut, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft.
The team also could make a run at signing free agent Chauncey Billups, a veteran who expressed interest last year in signing with Milwaukee.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.