Like a veteran, rookie Yi dodges age question

Updated: October 4, 2007, 6:52 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- Yi Jianlian finally arrived. His shroud of secrecy continues.

Yi Jianlian
AP Photo/Morry GashYi Jianlian, right, defends Maurice Williams during a practice drill in St. Francis, Wis.

Yi, Milwaukee's top draft pick, joined his new team for his first practice Thursday, but again dodged the question that's hounded him since announcing he was coming to the NBA.

Yi's birth certificate lists him as being born Oct. 27, 1987, which would make him 19, but he's long been rumored older.

"I have no comment on that," Yi said through translator Roy Lu.

Yi, a 6-foot-11 power forward, looked sluggish during practice, the Bucks' fourth of training camp. He traveled Wednesday on a 15-hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago, where he was swarmed by about 75 fans, including one girl who jumped into his arms.

"I'm a little bit tired, it's tough from the long trip," Yi said in English.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak said Yi (EE') didn't sleep well on the plane, and player personnel director Dave Babcock said Yi immediately settled at the hotel instead of going out for dinner.

Yi missed the first two days of training camp because of responsibilities with the Chinese national team, and he's played in about 40 games since the NBA's regular season ended.

"He'll probably hit the rookie wall a bit earlier than most guys, because he's already had his training camp four months ago," Andrew Bogut said.

At Thursday's practice, Yi also showed flashes of the talent that made him the sixth overall pick despite his handlers' attempts to keep him from Milwaukee.

Yi, expected to star alongside Yao Ming for China in the Beijing Olympics next summer, signed with the Bucks after concerns about his development and playing time were eased.

Wearing orange and white high tops embroidered with his name that clashed badly with the Bucks' training apparel, Yi blocked a few shots but showed obvious signs of fatigue, coming up short on several jumpers at the 2 1/2-hour practice.

Still, he caught the eye of Krystkowiak, who said he's learned "Hello" and "Thank You" in Chinese but doesn't plan to learn much more.

"He's got some good skills and everything that we thought all along," Krystkowiak said. "He's got a high basketball IQ and I don't think there's going to be a big issue with the English. He understands English really well in basketball terms."

A handful of Chinese reporters were on hand to watch practice, as well as Yi's former general manager, Liu Hongjiang, who was expected to stay in Milwaukee for a few days to help Yi get acclimated.

Bogut, the Australian selected No. 1 overall in 2005, said Yi was already the subject of Hollywood-style gossip columns in China and that being so far from home will be the toughest part of Yi's transition.

"Everybody's looking at every step ... it's just one of those things he's got to get used to," Bogut said. "Being so far away from home, you can't just pick up the phone and call your mom and your dad, because there's time differences and all kinds of obstacles that come in your way."

Yi seemed to be taking it all in stride and had several good matchups with Charlie Villanueva, the player he'll battle for a starting spot. He hit a turnaround jumper over Villanueva and outworked him on a defensive series, earning praise from Krystkowiak.

Yi, who has taken English lessons for several years, has a better grasp of the language than Yao did when he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Houston Rockets in 2002.

Yi also said he's been impressed by Milwaukee so far, and is eager to explore the city that has a tiny Asian population and is known more for beer and bratwurst than cultural diversity.

"On the freeway I saw a big electronic billboard (and) my picture was on it," Yi said. "It was a big surprise to me and I feel excited. It's a beautiful city, nice downtown, you've got lake, you've got river. It seems comfortable here."

As for his first night in the new city, he only did one thing.

"Just relaxed," he said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press