Chinese prospect Yi gets permission to enter '07 draft

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.