GUANDONG (FIBA Asia Championship/FIBA Basketball World Cup) – Yi Jianlian is back on the court and playing big minutes again in his native China.
The pressure of following in Yao Ming’s footsteps and making it in the NBA has for now abated.
The NBA question is now being directed at Wang Zhelin, an 18-year-old who stood out for China at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship.
Wang is in the CBA, too, playing for Fujian and coach Tab Baldwin.
His presence in the league, and that of former NBA players Stephon Marbury and Tracy McGrady, means that the spotlight is not only on Yi, who served as his nation’s flag-bearer at the London Games in late July.
Yi played at an Olympics for the third time and averaged 14.8 points and 10.2 rebounds but China lost all five of their games.
Having toiled on the bench of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened NBA campaign, Yi has returned home to play for Guandong, the club where he shot to fame eight years ago.
In his first spell with Guandong, Yi celebrated Chinese Basketball Association(CBA) title-winning triumphs in the 2004, ’05, ’06 and ’07 campaigns.
He was the MVP of the first three of those CBA Finals.
The way things have begun for Yi this season, another championship and more individual honors look to be real possibilities.
In Guandong’s latest success, a 107-93 triumph over a Dongguan side coached by former Australia boss Brian Goorjian, Yi made 13 of his 16 shots from the floor and finished with 41 points and 11 boards.
Guandong improved to 5-1 with that win.
It helps Yi that on the frontline alongside him is Ike Diogu, Nigeria’s best player this summer at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament and the London Games.
Diogu came close to making the Phoenix Suns roster but was cut before the start of the season.
Whether Yi decides to remain in China, or have another run at the NBA, only he knows.
In America, he has played for Milwaukee, New Jersey, Washington and Dallas.
For now, he is making headlines again back home.
Next year, China will again lean heavily on Yi as they compete at the FIBA Asia Championship in Lebanon and attempt to qualify for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.