SEVEN-FOOT grinder Yi Jianlian watched intently from the bench as China crumbled and then rose to beat gritty Kazakhstan.
Sidelined by hamstring and groin injuries, it may not take long, though, before the skillful NBA big man starts pounding the lanes again for the defending champions in the ongoing Fiba Asia Championship.
“He’s getting better,” said China’s Greek coach Panagiotis Giannakis after they repulsed Kazakhstan, 73-67, in the second round of the Asian championship where three tickets to the 2014 Fiba World Cup are at stake.
This could be ominous for Gilas Pilipinas, which is on a collision course in the quarterfinals with the Chinese.
“Yi has to come back as soon as possible. For the moment, we’re waiting,” added Giannakis, who engineered Greece’s silver-medal finish in the 2006 Fiba World Championship in Saitama, Japan.
An inside threat with pterodactyl wingspan, Yi was reduced to a passive motivator on the bench against Iran in the opening round and Kazakhstan on Monday night.
In the absence of the former Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks power forward, 6-foot-7 slasher Zhou Peng, shooter Wang Shipeng and seven-foot skipper Wang Zhizhi, the first Chinese to play in the NBA, stepped on the plate.
The 25-year-old Yi could still recover in time for the quarterfinals on Friday as the 2011 Asian champion tackles lightweight Bahrain today before the tournament takes a break on Thursday.