Yi Jianlian has to carry the national team this summer as he is the only legitimate leader on the roster. Yi, who is plying his trade with the Dallas Mavericks now and won’t join the national squad until June, has barely come off the bench this NBA season and there is some concern that he will return to China with a ‘cold hand’.
Still, head coach Bob Donewald expects a lot from the 2.13-meter forward, stressing Yi is being underutilized in Dallas. “He can play,” Donewald said. “He didn’t get a fair shake in Dallas. But that can happen in the NBA. It doesn’t mean anything about Yi. It’s just the circumstances. “Look at Jeremy Lin, he got the right circumstance and his talent has shown. Yi is a big-time player. He’s emerged on this team over the past two years as a leader. I am expecting great things from him this summer.”
Since his NBA debut with the Milwaukee Bucks after being the sixth overall pick in 2007, Yi has struggled through a lack of minutes and too many injuries and has spent most of his time on the bench with the Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards and the Mavericks.
However, his international performances have been far more convincing. With Yao Ming having retired, Yi has become the team’s most prolific weapon on offense and its toughest defender. The 24-year-old was named the MVP of the FIBA Asian Championship with a stats line of 16.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. He was also the only player to finish with 20-10 stats (20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds) at the World Championship in Turkey two years ago.
Boasting a tall frame and an international profile, Yi is expected to be the national flag bearer for the Chinese delegation at the London Olympics’ opening ceremony. “It will be a great honor for me. Every athlete dreams of this. It would be my career highlight,” Yi told Basketball News recently.