With a number of international players taking dominant roles in the NBA, the stigma of being a "foreign" basketball player is slowly wearing away.
I first started covering the international phenomenon in 2002, when I traveled to Italy to watch the Euroleague Final Four in Bologna. I was there to watch two international stars who were thinking about making the jump to the NBA -- Manu Ginobili and Marko Jaric. They played together in the same backcourt and wowed me with the sophistication of their games.
The next day I traveled by train to Treviso to check out an 18-year-old prospect that local coach Mike D'Antoni (yes, that Mike D'Antoni) was promoting -- Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
You know how things have gone -- Ginobili is amazing . . . Jaric has been so-so . . . Skita was a bust.
Over the next few years I traveled around Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Russia watching prospects work their way toward the NBA.
Some of the players I scouted overseas are making their mark on the NBA -- Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Boris Diaw, Nenad Krstic, Leandro Barbosa, Andrea Bargnani, Anderson Varejao, Jose Calderon, Thabo Sefalosha and Andris Biedrins. The jury is still out on others like Darko Milicic, Mickael Pietrus, Carlos Delfino, Sasha Pavlovic, Ersan Ilayasova and Sergio Rodriguez. And yes, there have been a few high-profile busts like Skita, Pavel Podkolzine and Yaroslav Korolev along the way.
What's undeniable is that international players have made a significant impact on the league this decade. Given the hundreds of thousands of dollars NBA teams are now spending in international scouting budgets, we can expect the trend to continue to grow.
In that spirit, I spoke with several NBA scouts and executives to get a feel for "The Next 10" -- the future league stars from the international game.
Some are international veterans. Some are draft eligible for the 2007 NBA Draft. And a couple are exciting young prospects who will be eligible in the future.
1. Yi Jianlian, F, China
(Drafted by Bucks on June 28)
Yi has been generating tremendous buzz from international scouts this year as the next "It" player from overseas. He's been dominant for the Guangdong Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association this season, averaging 24.8 points per game and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field.
Like Yao Ming, Yi has great size for his position. He's a 7-footer, but unlike Yao, Yi is an excellent athlete who runs up and down the floor, spots up for 3-pointers and loves to deliver huge dunks on the fast break. In that way, Yi is more like last year's No. 1 pick, Bargnani, than he is Yao.
Next season, his impact on the NBA should be felt across the globe.