However, I have a feeling that the Chinese players won't be taking it seriously. No one plays hard in an all-star game, but the level of Korean basketball has fallen off in recent years, and Wang ZhiZhi said publicly that they no longer look at Korea as their biggest rivals, instead saying that Lebanon and Qatar were the biggest challenge they would say (and then continued by saying they would still beat them anyway).
Immediately after it was announced that Yi Jianlian would be entering the NBA draft, Sina.com put up a poll asking where Yi would be drafted. With about 10,000 votes, most (37%) think he'll be gone in the first ten. I was a bit surprised, though, that fully 18% thought he wouldn't even get drafted in the first round, and only 6% said he would be picked first. If people think Chinese fans are biased, then they should look at this poll.
Another poll that was made asked readers to pick the four players they thought would be cut from the national team. If you don't remember, my picks were Hu Xuefeng, Zhang Jinsong, Zhang Quingpeng and Huo Nan. The general consensus agreed with me on Huo and Zhang Songtao, but the majority said the last two would be Zhang Quingpeng and Chen Jianghua, instead of my predictions of Hu Xuefeng and Zhang Jinsong.
On a related topic, it appears that Li Nan's long-lasting injury (which has prevented him from playing in the World Championships or any games in this CBA season) means he will not be traveling to Doha for the Asian Games. Originally, it was Gong Songlin that was going to be his replacement, but when he got injured himself, he was forced to withdraw, meaning that a spot has been opened for one more lucky player.
Finally, an interesting article from Slam Magazine, which was posted here. Although the author was there to try to catch up with God Shammgod, he also had some nice things to say about Yi and Chen Jianghua.
Yi and Chen both look good and like legit prospects. Yi finished with 36 points and close to 20 boards. He is stronger than I thought, quite athletic, has good court sense and is a little more street than I thought. Byrd tried to intimidate him with pushes and bows and Yi gave it right back. It’s still a little hard for me to gauge his NBA potential because he was a man amongst boys. If he can maintain that attitude and aggression against guys as big or bigger than him, he is going to be very good. Point guard Chen is supposedly only 17 or so but birthdates of the players here are notoriously suspect. I’d say he’s 19 or 20 and he looks legit too.
Chen is very quick, but under control, has a great handle, is confident and seems to have really good instincts. He and hahmm were a good matchup. Chinese players do not get the greatest coaching and often have trouble really developing their games but Chen is lucky to be from Guangdong and in the best possible place. I am definitely going to keep my eye on him and hope he continues to grow, both literally (he is probably 6-1 and could use 2-3 inches) and hoops-wise.
However, I found one interesting little side-note right near the end:
The crowds of people waiting there for autographs had time to rush over and crush against the door, screaming “Yi Jianlin!” The team translator said to another American on board, “You take the back and I’ll take the front. Put your shoulder down and push.” I walked off the bus right in front of them and a huge surge clawed at Yi. They followed the plan and just bulled through. It was pretty wild and aggressive. A lot of people were asking me for autographs, which I thought was funny. I actually signed a few from people who were persistent even when I said Chinese something approximating, “You don’t want me.” I signed a jacket, a T shirt and several programs.
Either the masses were just interested in getting an autograph from someone famous (as evidenced from asking an autograph from the writer, who's a nobody), or else Yi Jianlian is really big superstar. I would pick the latter. I would also say that there's going to be several dozen million new fans of whatever NBA team drafts Yi next year, and that Yi's jersey number (9 for Guangdong, 11 internationally) will probably be one of the top 5 jersey sellers in the NBA, if not the very top.
If you believe all that is going to happen, then you find yourself wondering "Would ever surpass Yao in popularity?". You know what? I'm wondering that myself...