Sixers get second look at Yi

Chinese 7-footer likely first-round draft pick

Posted: June 19, 2007

First question: What's worth a 2-day round trip of nearly 14,000 miles?

Second question: What's worth a 1-day round trip of nearly 5,000 miles?

Answer to both: An opportunity for the 76ers to personally evaluate Chinese 7-footer Yi Jianlian before the June 28 NBA draft.

The Sixers sent a front-office contingent to China during the season to meet with Yi and Chinese government officials. They were augmenting that group for today's visit to Carson, Calif., where Yi has been working out under the supervision of trainer Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball.

President/general manager Billy King, senior vice president/assistant general manager Tony DiLeo and director of player personnel Courtney Witte made the first trip. This time, they were to be joined by coach Maurice Cheeks and possibly executive vice president Larry Brown.

Today's trip tells you this much: Yi's advisers, including agent Dan Fegan, must believe Yi could be available as late as No. 12, the first of the Sixers' three spots in the first round. But it doesn't necessarily tell you that Yi is one of the players the Sixers have targeted.

"We're doing this partly to let Maurice see him in person," King said yesterday after Rice shooter Morris Almond and Arizona wing man Maurice Williams worked out at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. That session essentially became a one-on-one competition after Florida State's Al Thornton delayed his visit until next Monday because of a sprained ankle and De Paul's Wilson Chandler canceled.

"We'll see what [Yi] does every day, preparing for the NBA season," King said. "We're just doing our research. We felt it's best to get out there."

Yi is a fascinating prospect, following a path pioneered by Wang Zhi-Zhi, Mengke Bateer and, most successfully, Yao Ming. He is listed as 19 years old in the NBA's media draft guide, but various reports have listed him as old as 24.

"[Yi] is very close to a player like Amare Stoudemire [of the Phoenix Suns]," Yao said when the Houston Rockets played in Philadelphia in March. "He's taller, almost 7 feet. He has very nice touch. He's very athletic. I think he has good . . . balance for a great player."

Asked at the time whether Yi was ready for the NBA, Yao - who has developed into an All-Star center - said, "From my experience, it's very important for him to play in the summer league. I think that will be good for him and his team, which team drafts him. I was not in summer league the year the Rockets drafted me, and I had a very tough start. For a player from China, you need time to adjust."

Yao described Yi as "a very good 4-position [power forward] player, can play a little 5 [center]. He's a good shot-blocker. He just needs the right training, people who can tell him how to play at this level."

Various reports have indicated that the transition will be easier for Yi, because he has a better command of English than Yao initially had.

"There is no reason to be nervous," Yi recently told the San Francisco Chronicle through a Mandarin interpreter. "I know what I've been learning, what I've been working on. How hard [the jump is] depends on yourself. I think if you work hard enough, you'll be fine."

Yi, playing for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, reached the finals of the Chinese Basketball Association five times, winning three championships. He joined his country's national team in 2002-03 and became a starter with Yao, playing for veteran NBA coach Del Harris.

He averaged 24.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks this season, with his team losing the championship series to Bayi, led by Zhi-Zhi.

"Everybody says we haven't drafted [an international player]," King said, "but there have been times we've had guys [we were very interested in]."

That list includes current Orlando forward Hedu Turkoglu, Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko and, most recently, Golden State big man Andris Biedrins. The Sixers were prepared to take Biedrins, who had been training in Philadelphia, at No. 9 in 2004 until Andre Iguodala became available. *

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