The Lakers’ season is more than a month away, but the Sun has already risen.
Rookie Sun Yue met with reporters Wednesday, a couple of days after arriving in his new city, half a world away from his home in China.
The Lakers’ second-round draft pick from 2007 answered questions in English while sitting at a table before being surrounded by more than a dozen Chinese-speaking media members in a corner of a room at the Lakers’ training facility in El Segundo.
In all, about 30 media members were in attendance. Even Mitch Kupchak seemed surprised.
“Quite frankly, this is a very unusual turnout for a player who was drafted two years ago who we hope to be on this team for many, many years to come,” the Lakers’ general manager said. “The fact remains, though, he has to earn his way onto this club.”
Sun, 22, signed a two-year contract with the Lakers last month.
He started for the Chinese national team in last month’s Olympics but lacks NBA-level experience and is not expected to be a rotation player for the Lakers this season. If he is unable to squeeze in enough minutes as a backup, the 6-foot-9 guard could end up spending time with the Lakers’ Development League team, the D-Fenders.
He provided spurts of a distinct blend of height and ball-handling ability for China at the Olympics.
Against Team USA, Sun held up under Kobe Bryant’s relentless defensive pressure early in the game and made his first two three-point shots. In the second half, he blocked a driving layup try by center Dwight Howard.
Overall, he averaged 6.8 points and 2.5 assists in six games at the Olympics. China finished 2-4, losing to Lithuania in the quarterfinals.
Sun, selected with the 40th overall pick in 2007, said the Lakers became his favorite NBA team as he started delving deeper into the sport as a teenager in China.
“The Lakers helped me make my dream come true, so it feels good,” Sun said Wednesday.
Though his English was less than perfect, Sun appeared to have a good sense of humor, smiling as an English-speaking reporter struggled to say hello in Chinese.
Said Sun: “Your Chinese is better than my English.”
Sun also revealed that his nickname was “Q,” short for the Q-tip cotton swab. One of his former coaches gave Sun the name because of a small mole near his left ear.
Sun is somewhat familiar with Southern California after playing for an American Basketball Assn. team that played its home games at Azusa Pacific in 2006-07.
The Lakers re-signed center DJ Mbenga to a one-year contract that was only partially guaranteed.
Mbenga, 27, averaged 2.5 points and 1.6 rebounds in 26 regular-season games after joining the Lakers midway through last season. His averages fell to 1.4 points and 1.3 rebounds in seven playoff games.