Four years ago, China wasn't even an afterthought for most NBA teams. Then along came a young man named Yao Ming. Now, NBA scouts visit China by the dozen - no one wants to miss out on a chance to land the next Chinese superstar. 'Teams are starting to get clued in,' said Detroit Pistons international scout Tony Ronzone who, while with the Dallas Mavericks in 1997, was the first NBA scout to enter China. 'Most teams are still behind, but they are starting to realise that they need to come over here.' Ronzone estimates that, over the next three years, at least four Chinese will be drafted by NBA teams. Two of the most hyped prospects are seven-footers Yi Jianlian and Tang Zhengdong. Yi, just 16, plays for Guangdong Tigers and has been dubbed by some in the Chinese media as 'the next Yao Ming'. Tang, 19, plays for the Jiangsu Dragons and was named MVP of the CBA All-Star Game this season. Yet another seven-footer, 21-year-old Xue Yuyang of the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, was chosen in last year's NBA draft. The Denver Nuggets own the rights to Xue, but the CBA refuses to let him go. This is the fear with drafting Chinese players - they may never play for you. Right now, China is more worried about making the CBA a money-earner and building a medal-contending national team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Many believe the latter is a definite possibility. 'It's going to take years to get to the elite status,' said Bruce O'Neil, an NBA scout who runs the US Basketball Academy in Oregon, where Chinese national teams often train. 'But they'll be able to beat anybody in the world here shortly.' And what is shortly? 'Within the next five years.'