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Sun working to find his place in NBA, Lakers

By Dave McMenamin,
Posted Nov 20 2008 4:46PM

LOS ANGELES -- By now, Yao is a household name and Yi is emerging into the collective conscious of the basketball realm, the question remains: Who is Yue?

Sun Yue, a lithe 6-foot-9, 205-pound guard selected with the 40th pick in the 2007 Draft by the Lakers, joins Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian as the third member of the Chinese national team playing in the NBA.

After averaging 6.8 points and 2.5 assists during China's run in the Olympics this past summer, Yue came to America despite no guarantee that he would make the roster as a second-round pick.

Yue (whose name is pronounced SAHN YOU) edged out Dwayne Mitchell, Joe Crawford and Coby Karl in training camp to become L.A.'s 15th man for 2008-09.

Prior to cementing his spot on the Lakers, Yue played for the Beijing Aoshen Olympians of the American Basketball Association for the past three seasons. Sun, 23, was named First Team All-ABA in both 2007 and 2008 while earning Second-Team All-ABA honors in 2006.

He has yet to play a minute during the regular season and you can find him racking and fetching all the balls that rolled around the gym after practice as part of his rookie treatment, but that doesn't change Yue's enthusiasm about being in the NBA.'s Dave McMenamin caught up with Yue after a recent Lakers practice to talk about his journey to the league.

Question: What was it like to warm up at STAPLES Center last week across the court from Yao Ming? Two guys from China getting ready for an NBA game in Los Angeles, pretty amazing. I heard he came up to you and said it was funny to see you in a Lakers uniform because he was used to seeing you in the Chinese National Team threads.

Answer: Nothing could be better for me. Me and Yao have had a lot of fun playing on the national team together and it was a funny moment to see each other wearing different uniforms. He already has his position and is proven in the NBA, for me, I still need to find my position. I'm the rookie and I can learn from him. Everything that he does is good and if I keep doing hard work every day, I hope I can find a position too.

Q: What's your first memory of the NBA growing up?

A: The first time I think I was 11 or 12 years old and I watched the TV and somebody was playing basketball and wore the pretty uniform and the nice shoes, too. I think the first game I watched was the Chicago Bulls playing the Utah Jazz in The Finals. The first thing I thought was, "Oh, so basketball can be played like that." It was incredible. I started to fall in love with the sport and I started to play from there.

Q: Did many of your friends play basketball or did they play other sports?

Rookie Sun Yue is still learning the ropes of the Lakers' intricate offense.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

A: My situation was kind of a little bit different because when I was nine years old, I grew up so fast and was really tall for my age and my parents saw that I was really tall, so they sent me to a sports school where they had all different sports and I lived with the basketball team in the dorms. So all my friends played basketball from the time I was very small.

Q: When did you realize that your skill level was at a point where the NBA was a possibility?

A: I think playing in the Olympic Games gave me a lot of confidence. I think I can play in the NBA. I still have to find a rhythm and I still have to find the right way to play in the NBA, so I still need time and to make adjustments to everything. The team, the offense, the new coach -- I have adjustments with everything. So far I feel pretty good about playing the right way and I feel confident enough to play in the NBA.

Q: I've read you being compared to Magic Johnson and also Toni Kukoc. Are you somewhere in between? Are either of those a fair comparison?

A: I think every player is different. Nobody can be totally the same. Not many players would want to compare themselves with another player. I want to try to be the first myself.

Q: I also read that there is nothing on the court that you like doing more than the other thing. You like passing, you also like shooting. You like rebounding ... you like everything the same. What is your best skill though?

A: I think passing. Since I've played basketball I've played guard, so the last 13-14 years, I played the one position. I enjoy passing. I like sharing the ball with my teammates, that's what basketball is to me. I like passing from the backcourt and watch[ing] my teammate go in for a layup and score. That feels just like I scored.

Q: How did your experience with the ABA in Los Angeles help you?

A: It gave me a lot of help. The skill might not be like the NBA, but the style of play is similar. Many American players are very athletic, so when you play against them that's the hardest thing. They're fast, they jump, they're running, the go for offensive rebounds like crazy, so the first year I came here with the ABA, that was very hard to get used to. When my second season came I was used to it and those experiences playing in the ABA really helped me get ready to play in the NBA.

Q: Where were you when you found out that you were drafted by the Lakers?

Chinese Basketball Terms
Word Chinese Translation
Dunk Kou Lan
3-pointer San Fen Qiu
Rebound Lan Ban
Assist Zhu Gong
Steal Qiang Duan
Block Feng Gai
Jump shot Tiao Tou

A: Before the draft I worked out with many teams. I was travelling everywhere. My last stop was in Golden State. I was in my hotel room watching the draft on TV. After the first round picks I thought, 'Oh, maybe it's not going to happen,' and I just started doing other things like making phone calls and getting something to eat. And then the 40th pick they read my name. I didn't believe it at first because they didn't read my name in correct Chinese. By that time the draft had already been on TV for an hour and a half, I waited through a lot of commercials. That was a long time. It was a hard time to wait.

Q: If you can complete this sentence: Growing up, the basketball court was my ...

A: Many players think basketball is their job, their profession, but I like to think of it as my hobby. When you have a hobby, you are interested in learning about it and you want to spend time thinking about it. So it is my job, but it is also my hobby.

Q: How are you going to reach your ultimate goal of cracking this rotation and getting playing time?

A: For now I'm trying not thinking about it too much. For a rookie, I think I'm in a normal situation. A lot first-year players don't play a lot. For me, the only thing I can do now is work hard and make the head coach have confidence in me. He will start to trust me and then he will give me a chance.

Q: What is the best coaching advice you've ever received?

A: Right now the most important thing is to work on reading the offense. I'm trying to get an idea of how the triangle offense works. They want me to know all the positions in the triangle. I watch tape every day and I write down notes on paper everyday. It's a very big job. The coach told me that some people take two or three seasons to understand this offense.

Q: Are you improving at it?

A: I'm starting to get it. This triangle offense is very famous for being very hard to learn. You need time to get in it. It's very deep. Look at my teammates, they have been playing with each other for three or four seasons. They know it now. For me, it will take a while.

Q: What can you say about your fans back in China and the support you receive?

A: In China, I'm not very famous. I have Yao before me and Yi before me. I'm the "OK" one. I'm not super, I'm the OK one. I know that many people from China like me, they tell me that I can play well, but right now I just want them to know that the NBA is a very, very high-level league. It can take a long time for somebody to get used to everything. I need time. I don't know how long, but I'm trying to make sure that I make it and I'm doing my best.

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