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Original Issue

Yi Jianlian

THE BIG NBA draft questions—Who would go No. 1? Who would go No. 3?—weren't all fit to be answered on selection day. Uncertainties surrounded 7-foot, 248-pound forward Yi Jianlian, projected as a top 10 pick after averaging 24.9 points for Guangdong in the Chinese league last season. Will the sterling workouts he put on for scouts in L.A. over the past few months translate into the NBA grind? And how old is he anyway? (He says 19, some reports say 22.) For other questions, Yi, relying at times on an interpreter, has answers right here.

On adjusting to the U.S.
I came [to L.A.] three months before the draft. I'm getting used to the people, and I'm taking English classes an hour a day, every day, and two hours on Saturday. I don't want to use an interpreter my first season, so I'm trying really hard to learn the language. I'm going to live by myself, no matter where I get drafted.

On his hometown
It's Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. It is very hot there, like Texas, and it is very commercialized. There are skyscrapers everywhere and a lot of American restaurants. McDonald's, Burger King, everything.

On his parents
They raised me in an apartment. We were middle class. They were team handball players. My mother [Mai Meiling, who's 5'8"] played for the Chinese national team. Now they are postal workers. My parents [his father, Yi Jingliu is 6'5"] love the U.S.

On first playing basketball
I started in first grade because I was so tall. I wasn't very good, but I loved it and didn't play other sports. After grade school the government put me in a sports school.

On that sports school, which he attended for two years
I lived in a dorm with four or five guys and one bathroom. We had classwork from 8 to 11:30. I didn't like classes. Basketball training was a lot of running and team-oriented drills. It was tough. The first time I did the 400-meter run I couldn't finish. I was so upset I wanted to quit. If someone doesn't perform there, they are asked to leave.

On the NBA
I watched it on TV as a kid. My favorite team was the Spurs because of their teamwork. I started to think about playing in the NBA when I visited the States with the national team in 2002. We went to a game in Phoenix, and I loved the atmosphere, the way the fans were so into the game.

On his star power in China
It's crazy. When I would stay in a hotel, people would wait outside for an entire day just to see me. They would chase me down the street looking for pictures or autographs.

On what he likes about the U.S.
I'm not as visible here. I go to parties. [His agent, Dan Fegan, gets him onto guest lists.] I've been to the premieres of Shrek the Third and Pirates of the Caribbean. I like the whole scene, the hip-hop, the R&B.

On his four-wheel life
I like to drive. [He borrows a car from Fegan]. I want a Range Rover. I have a Chinese license, and as soon as I get drafted, I am going to get an American one.








Yi, who has led Guangdong to three titles in four years, appears on the cover of the current SI CHINA. He was also its cover subject last September.