With Yao Ming missing this summer’s FIBA World Championship, it will be down to players like Yi Jianlian to spearhead China’s challenge.
Still only 22, he has already played three seasons in the NBA and has been a member of China’s National Team for six years.
Born in the Guandong province, Yi was already playing in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league by the time he was 15, spending the first five years of his career playing for the Southern Tigers.
He won the league’s Rookie of the Year award in 2003 and the next three seasons helped guide them to the CBA league titles.
The summer of 2003 also saw Yi represent China in the U19 World Championship in Greece, where he averaged 18.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
The following year he was the youngest member of China’s Olympic basketball team.
In spite of limited playing time in Athens, Yi finished as China’s second highest points scorer – averaging 11.4 points per game – behind Yao and he followed that up with several impressive performances in Japan at the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
He averaged 24.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in his final season in the CBA and was named the league’s MVP.
Selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the sixth overall draft pick in the summer of 2007, he made his home debut by scoring 16 points and securing eight rebounds in a Bucks win over the Chicago Bulls that was reckoned to have been followed by over 100 million Chinese viewers.
At the 2008 Olympic Games, averages of 9.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game brought Yi’s status from that of young talent to that of key player for his country.
That same summer, following his NBA rookie campaign, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, but he has since endured another two injury-ridden seasons.
He will play for his third NBA team after the FIBA World Championship, joining the Washington Wizards.
Last year, with Yao unable to make it to the FIBA Asia Championship, Yi took on the responsibility of being China’s main man, averaging 18.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game but was unable to prevent his team from falling to Iran in the final.
An aggressive and athletic player, the 213cm power forward is always eying up the possible dunk, while his shooting and general levels of consistency have seen considerable improvement.
If he manages to reproduce his best form in Turkey, the absence of Yao will be a lot less hard to swallow.