Milwaukee may face obstacles to get top pick Yi on team

Updated: June 29, 2007, 1:49 AM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Bucks said they've made a global impact by selecting Yi Jianlian.

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."

Yi is not scheduled to appear in Milwaukee, but instead will join the Chinese national team and scrimmage on Sunday and Tuesday in Dallas before heading to Las Vegas to play in the NBA summer league.

Harris said he wasn't sure if he'd meet with Yi's representatives in Dallas or Las Vegas, but that playing for the national team is Yi's priority.

"Based on timing, there wasn't any way to get him in here," Harris said. "I don't want anybody to be misled that that's a bad thing. Certainly we would encourage him to come here as soon as he could."

Questions about his defense, strength and age also 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.

Harris said Fegan was surprised at the Bucks' pick.

"He was shocked," Harris said. "I told him several weeks ago that we're going to take the best player. ... We think he's one of the best players and if he turns out to be the best one at six, we're going to take him."

Fegan did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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 Ming'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.

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.

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, 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," Larry 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 guard Mo Williams, Yi would join a rotation that includes Michael Redd, forwards Bobby Simmons and Charlie Villanueva and center Andrew Bogut, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft.

The Bucks also picked 6-foot-3 point guard Ronald Sessions in the second round with the 56th overall pick. Sessions was a pass-first point guard at Nevada that they hope to develop.

The team also could make a run at signing free agent Chauncey Billups, a veteran who expressed interest last year in signing with Milwaukee.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press