Former NBA Top Pick Yi Jianlian to Become the Chinese Team Captain in FIBA World Cup

Yi Jianlian (source: official weibo account of Dime)

According to Chinese media Sina Sports, former NBA player Yi Jianlian will be named as the captain of the Chinese national team in the upcoming FIBA World Cup hosted by China. This is the first time Yi has been nominated as the team’s captain, despite being a veteran of the national team for 15 years.

Yi was a lottery pick in the NBA and spent five seasons in the league. Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 6th overall pick in 2007, Yi played for the Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, and Dallas Mavericks in his five years in the NBA before returning to his home team Guangdong.

In 2016, Yi Jianlian made another attempt to return to the NBA by signing a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and playing a few pre-season games. However, Luke Walton, the Laker’s head coach at the time, did not offer Yi much opportunity in the team’s future. Struggling to contest for a reserve roster spot, Yi decided to pursue his professional playing career elsewhere and asked the team to release him before the season began.

Yi Jianlian achieved most of his honors in the Chinese leagues. Together with Guangdong, Yi is a five-time CBA Champion and is a three-time Finals MVP, and 4-time domestic player MVP. Yi was selected into the CBA all-star team nine times and had won two Slam Dunk contests in the CBA all-star weekend. In 2019, Yi was named the defensive player of the year in the Chinese Basketball Association tournament.

Having made his debut for the Chinese national team in the 2004 Olympics, Yi is a four-time Olympian and will likely to be playing in the Olympics for the fifth time in 2020, if China qualifies. The Asian team with the best performance in this tournament, excluding the 2020 Olympics host Japan, will earn a qualifying spot to the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo. During his national team career, Yi played alongside with the current Chinese team head coach Li Nan in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics finals.

According to Liu Wei, a retired former captain of the national team squad, Yi will be named as the team’s captain for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. “The role of the captain is not only connecting coaches and players.” Liu said: “It is also about managing the relations among players. So Yi not only needs to show his presence on the court, but also lead the team spiritually, and push every player to release his maximum potential.”

China released its FIBA World Cup team roster earlier this week, featuring notable players such as Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi, and Guo Ailun. Both Yi and Zhou have past NBA experience. Some other players in this Chinese team have also made attempts to play in the NBA. Center Wang Zhelin was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016 with the 57th overall pick. Xinjiang-born basketball player Abudushalamu Abudurexiti played for the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Summer League.

Dallas Maverick prospect and former CBA League MVP Ding Yanyuhang was not selected to be on the team due to personal injuries. Ding played in the 2017 NBA Summer League and signed with the Mavericks in the following year. However, Ding was waived by Dallas in Oct. 2018 and was sent to the D-league team the Texas Legends.

The 7-foot big Yi Jianlian is believed to be the best player in this young Chinese squad. Among all players in the Chinese 12-man roster, Yi is the only player who has substantial NBA experience and was once a starting player in the league. Yi is one of the underrated players earlier in his professional career. Playing alongside Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming, Yi was often smeared and discouraged by fans who often hope Yi would have the same achievements as Yao. However, after Yao retired from the national squad, Yi remains one of the most competent players among the declining Chinese national basketball team.

Yi has not made any public comments regarding his potential role as the team captain. In an interview with Chinese state media Xinhua Sports on August 22nd, Yi said that this World Cup has a special meaning to the basketball fans in China, and they hope to play their best games for the fans in return.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup will start on August 31st in eight Chinese cities. The finals will be played in Beijing on September 15th. The Chinese team defeated Ivory Coast in their first game with a final score 70-55. Yi scored 19 points, with 8 rebounds and 1 assist. The Chinese team will face Poland in the upcoming game later on Monday.