WUHAN, China (26th FIBA Asia Championship): Two years ago, at the end of the gold medal game of the 25th FIBA Asia Championship at Tianjin, there was this man who was called all sorts. But down the time, Yi Jianlian has not only silenced those wagging tongues, but also carved a niche for himself in Chinese basketball history – emerging as the leader of a team that has faced its up and down of a team going through transition especially in the post-Yao era.
Yi led China to its 15th gold medal in the 26th FIBA Asia Championship, but most importantly the first time China had stood on top of the podium without the iconic Yao Ming in its midst.
Is the question, ‘After Yao who?’ answered now. To me: Yes, with an emphatic tone.
Yi emerged as the MVP – and there cannot be many to question this achievement – voted by an electoral college of coaches averaging 16.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
“He brought a high level of intensity, as well as incredible skills both inside and outside,” coach Bob Donewald praised his leader. “He loves to play defense and drove the whole team to do a great job guarding opponents.”
“We didn’t start good tonight and we got behind, but we got it going good in the second quarter and played with a lot of effort and did everything to come back,” Yi said of the final game against Jordan.
“We knew it was gonna be a hard game to play - we prepared well mentally,” said Yi, who poured in 25 points and collected 16 rebounds besides six blocks in the final.
“But the toughness was still beyond our imagination. So hard tonight. I am very excited.”
“This win is an acknowledgement of all the work we have put in.”
“The youngsters needed time to develop; especially their chemistry with me,” Yi said about the team in transition.
Yi’s transformation to a team leader has been hailed by his teammates.
“Every summer, he passes his experience and skills to us after coming back from America. I can feel the change. He used to focus on himself, but now he is keen to instruct us,” said budding center Su Wei, who was Yi’s former teammate on CBA club Guangdong Southern Tigers.
S Mageshwaran / FIBA Asia