Chinese prospect Yi gets permission to enter '07 draft

Updated: November 3, 2006, 7:46 AM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- Chinese forward Yi Jianlian, a 19-year-old rising star touted by many as the next Yao Ming, has received permission from his club to enter the 2007 NBA draft.

Yi, who lead the Guangdong Tigers to three straight national championships, was given the backing of his club to enter the draft, the China Daily reported Friday.

The 6-foot-11 Yi has attracted attention in basketball circles for several years and had been promoted as a 2006 daft prospect, but his club said he was too young and inexperienced.

"But now he is different, he is getting stronger mentally and physically," Guangdong general manager Chen Haitao told the newspaper. "I think next year will be a big chance for him, so for us, it's time to let him go."

"This is a great opportunity and also a test for me," said Yi, whose height and on-court moves have brought comparisons to Yao, the 7-foot-5 Houston Rockets center.

Yi, who averaged 20.5 points and 9.6 rebounds last season, still needs the approval of the Chinese Basketball Association and an exemption from a CBA rule that Chinese players are not eligible for the NBA draft until they turn 22.

"We always support our players in joining high-quality overseas leagues," said vice president Hu Jiashi, who added it was important for Yi to get a lot of playing time.

"If he is going to be stuck on the bench, it would be better if he stayed at home."

Yi says the prospect of playing in the NBA is not as exciting as people expect.

"It is too early to predict my future in the NBA, because I am still improving all the time," he said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press