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, state media said Friday.
Yi, who led the Guangdong Tigers to three straight national championships, was given the backing of his club to enter the draft, the China Daily reported.
The 6-foot-11 Yi has attracted attention in basketball circles for several years and had been promoted as a 2006 draft prospect, but his club said he was too young and inexperienced.
"But now he is different, he is getting stronger mentally and physically. I think next year will be a big chance for him, so for us, it's time to let him go," Guangdong general manager Chen Haitao was quoted as saying.
"This is a great opportunity and also a test for me," said Yi, whose height and on-court moves have brought comparisons to 2.26-meter (7-foot-5) Houston Rockets center Yao.
|Yi Jianlian of China is ready to make the switch to the NBA ranks in 2007. (Getty Images)|
"We always support our players in joining high-quality overseas leagues," CBA vice president Hu Jiashi said, but 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," Hu said.
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.
For now, Yi says his focus is on contesting another national championship and winning gold at next month's Asian Games at Doha, Qatar.
In the absence or Mao, Yi will lead the team along with former NBA player Wang Zhizhi.
China was runner up to South Korea at the last Asian Games, the first time in 20 years China failed to win the men's gold at the regional tournament.
Wang, the first Chinese to play in the NBA, ended a four-year U.S. stay earlier this year and now plays for the People's Liberation Army team in Beijing.