Gery Woelfel just posted a very informative article about new Bucks' assistant Jarinn Akana. As noted in this morning's Bucks notes, Akana's work with Yi over the past two seasons hasn't really been talked about much, but will likely be a key piece of getting Yi acclimated to both the NBA style of play and life in America.
"Basically, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him here,’’ Akana said. "But there was a lot of pressure on him in China. People here don’t understand that. I don’t think the Bucks understood that when they drafted him.
"He’s not like a regular draft kid. When you drafted Yi, you drafted a country. When he does good or bad, it’s like China does good or bad. It ain’t like a kid over here, representing his college or little town. They don’t carry a country on their shoulders.
"But when you’re a top guy in basketball in China, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on you. There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny, a lot of attention. And the media is tough ... you have no idea.
"But he understands what he’s getting into and knows the pressure on him. He’s serious about what he needs to do.’’
Akana also discusses the Chinese attitude toward individual stardom, which is something we've frequently heard about in the context of Yao Ming's development.
"He loves Michael Jordan, for sure,’’ Akana said of Yi, who is expected to arrive in Milwaukee later this week for training camp. "In China, Michael is very big.After a long summer of draft preparations and extensive traveling with the Chinese National Team, Yi certainly will face a steep learning curve. He will leave China tomorrow following China's last game in the CBA-Euroleague tourney, arriving a couple days late for training camp. He'll then have zero time to get settled in Milwaukee before he plunges into his first NBA camp, so the help of people like Akana will be crucial to making Yi's transition as smooth as possible. Fortunately for the Bucks Akana isn't some random Yi crony but a guy with three years of NBA assistant coaching experience with the Nuggets. It's an interesting contrast to Andrew Bogut, who didn't have much special coaching attention until Larry Krystkowiak was hired before the 06/07 season. Bogut in fact flew his personal coach Sinisa Markovic in from Australia last January, which coincided with a notable uptick in his production. Clearly the Bucks hope Yi doesn't have to take matters into his own hands.
"You have to understand the culture in China. It wasn’t culturally right to be individualistic, to put yourself above everybody else, even in basketball games. When you start scoring too much, and are being kind of individualististic, they have stopped games. In Chinese culture, it isn’t permitted to stand out and be different. It’s a team game. Everybody is on the same level.
"I think Michael Jordan kind of changed that. He changed what a superstar can do. He showed that it’s OK to be a superstar, an iconic figure.
"When Ming came to the NBA, he wasn’t comfortable when he was thrown into that position. But he’s gotten better. He still shies away from being singled out and that’s how Yi is, too.’’