Kiki Vandeweghe Hearts Yi

Since Kiki Vandeweghe and Del Harris took the reins of the coaching staff last week, there’s been a lot of buzz about how these personnel moves could positively impact the team’s younger players –especially Yi Jianlian.

As Nets Daily reminded us recently, Harris may be most responsible for unleashing Yi onto the basketball world. During the 2004 Olypmics, Harris, then coach of Team China, inserted a 16-year-old Yi into the starting lineup. When Harris and Kiki were hired by the Nets last week, Yi, who has been injured since early November with a sprained knee, and is expected to miss at least another week after getting 50 stitches in his lip at practice Saturday, reportedly was pleased with move.

Now it appears that Kiki is making more exceptions in order to cater to Yi.  In today’s practice report, the Star-Ledger’s Dave D’Alessandro wrote that Jarin Akana has been invited to multiple practices by Kiki Vandeweghe. Who’s Jarin Akana? In the past, he’s functioned as a trainer, a coach on Jeff Bzdelik’s Denver Nuggets staf and, a part of Harris’ Team China staff. Currently, he works for NBA agent (and Yi’s agent) Dan Fegan. Most notably, he’s responsible for working with Yi, according Dave D.

What makes this move even more significant is the fact that Lawrence Frank had asked Akana to leave practice last year when he was brought in for the same reasons. Akana’s recent reappearance points to two things: yet another example of the rift between Kiki and Frank, and Kiki’s desire to make Yi as comfortable and happy as possible.

It makes sense. While most NBA observers think Yi still has plenty of potential, Kiki took a very calculated risk bringing him over from Milwaukee in the Richard Jefferson trade last season. Yi was starting to put together a solid season last year before injuring his hand, and he seemed to fall out of favor with Frank towards the end of the year. He got another chance this season, but got hurt before he was able to prove if he deserved it.

But with this new information, I think it’s safe to say Yi Jianlian is going to be a major part of the Nets future – at least as long as Kiki Vandeweghe is involved with the organization. As D’Alessandro noted, there’s nothing wrong with Kiki bringing in Akana – but considering his history with the organization and the team’s prior coach, this looks to be the first shot of many that Vandeweghe is going to take a very hands on approach with Yi.