You know him now
Updated: 2011-09-27 07:47
By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)
China's Yi Li plays during his team's final match against Jordan at the Asia Championship in Wuhan, Hubei province on Sunday. Yi scored 10 points off the bench in China's win, including a thunderous dunk. [Photo by Cui Meng / China Daily]
Yi Li transforms from forgotten bench player to budding star after sublime week, Sun Xiaochen reports
A skinny young man, once dropped by his team, finally got to prove himself as he helped it regain its lost crown. Two years ago, China backup forward Yi Li was cut from roster just before the Asia Championship, and his country failed to capture the trophy.
Two days ago, a revitalized Yi scored 10 points including an inspirational dunk in the final of the 26th Asia Championship, helping his country book a ticket to next summer's Olympics.
The 24-year-old made a difference in the simplest possibly way - when the chance came again, he grabbed it.
After scorer Wang Shipeng withdrew from the lineup with an injury last month, Yi was named as his replacement.
The journey to Wuhan was his first major event.
Yi delivered a dazzling package of long shots, sharp penetration and perimeter defense from the bench.
"I am extremely excited now. This could be the most unforgettable game of my life," Yi said emotionally in the locker room after the final.
Donewald said he wasn't surprised.
"I told Yi he was going to be our secret weapon before the tournament," Donewald said. "He did his job well with some really good plays. (His dunk) gave us a huge confidence boost."
After overcoming his nerves during the pool stage, Yi put on a show in the country's last two group matches against Jordan and Japan, totaling 33 points, nine rebounds and two steals.
Yi's pull-up jumper and smooth finishes in the paint filled Wang's void on offense, while his solid perimeter defense helped lock down opposing shooters.
Always suffering from lackluster rotations, Donewald finally discovered a treasure on his bench.
"He is near the top, probably the best performance (since he joined the national team). He came with complete focus on both ends of the floor," Donewald said after the win over Japan.
"He can knock down perimeter shots while breaking the zone into the basket. He also made plays for others. The most important thing he brought is defense. We got another quick and long wingman out there locking their shooters down. So far, he's done a great job as a role player."
Yi has been a star in training for years.
He debuted in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) for the Jiangsu Dragons in 2004, and claimed the rookie of the year award.
As thin as a rail, Yi couldn't adapt to the power forward position, so he found his rhythm as a small forward.
He averaged 16.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season and was named to the all-star roster in the past two seasons.
Yi's talent drew attention abroad - he was invited to play in the NBA summer league for Los Angeles Lakers in 2008.
Although he struggled a bit during his American sojourn, Yi has improved his post-up ability while enhancing his body shape under professional NBA coaching, according to his agent Sha Yifeng.
"He's got all the talents to play a starting position on the national team," Sha said. "He is already mature enough mentally and physically.
It's the time for him to shine."