Unlikely manager propels Xers to height of successWhen pro basketball team TG Sambo Xers promoted assistant coach Chun Chang-jin to the manager’s position at the end of the 2001-02 season after firing Kim Dong-uk due to the team’s poor performance, basketball fans wondered who Mr. Chun was.
With his short hair and sumo-wrestler physique, Mr. Chun’s face and name were virtually unknown at the time. Now, however, three years later, everybody knows Mr. Chun. In Wonju, Gangwon province, where the team is based, everyone knows the “Mount Chiak Tiger” as his fans nicknamed him. After games are over, mostly male basketball fans cry out, “Nice job, Manager Chun.”
Since he became the manager of the TG Sambo Xers in December 2001, the team has posted 141 wins with 93 losses and have won the championship final twice and come in second once. The Xers have also won the regular season league twice ― not a bad record for any team.
As for being a basketball player himself, Mr. Chun was somewhat less successful.
In the mid-1970s, the strongest team in the middle school league was Yongsan Middle School and its top players were Mr. Chun and Yu Jae-sik, now the manager of the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus. Influenced by his late father, also a basketball player, Mr. Chun started playing the game in his fourth year at Sangmyung Elementary School. From the beginning, he was very good and mastered the basics and later moved on to the Yongsan Middle and then High School teams, although his teammate, Mr. Yu, left Yongsan and played for Kyungbok High School.
Mr. Chun was selected for the national youth team and competed in the Universiade Games before joining the Samsung Electronics team in 1985. Mr. Chun was a shooting guard and driving-in was his specialty. “Believe it or not, I was once a slim 75 kilograms (165 pounds),” he reminisced.
In 1986, Mr. Chun received the Best Player Award in the Korean amateur league’s spring season. Then, he experienced a recurrence of a left ankle injury he had suffered when he was in middle school.
Despite undergoing surgery, the injury persisted and so Mr. Chun had to give up playing. Lee In-pyo, an official with the Samsung team, immediately hired him as head of public relations and administration, so that he could remain with Samsung.
In 1997, when the Korean professional basketball league was born, he became an assistant manager. A year later Mr. Chun was appointed defensive coach at the club. After a successful 1998 season there, he was approached by Choi Hyeong-gil, a TG Sambo executive and a fellow Yongsan High School alumnus, with an offer of an assistant coach position at the Xers, which he accepted in October 1999.
Mr. Chun stresses teamwork. “Individual skills are important, but every position needs to play their part to win. So, our team emphasizes teamwork the most. Training is also focused on that. Storey Awvee also changed his style since he joined TG Sambo.” Mr. Awvee used to play for Arizona State University.
As for the team living together in five apartments in Wonju, he said, “Living and spending a lot of time together improves teamwork.”
Mr. Chun does not like to talk about himself. When asked for an interview, Mr. Chun replied, “Things like this, players should do it. They are more popular.”
When the TG Sambo players tried to carry their manager high to celebrate winning the regular season, Mr. Chun said, “Let’s do it after we win the championship.” He does not like to be in the media, though when he has complaints over a referee’s decision, he is not afraid to show his anger.
Mr. Chun’s operating style such as granting full authority to the staff is also seen as a major contribution to the success of TG Sambo. Trainers are responsible for physical training and the coaching staff takes care of basketball exercises.
Mr. Chun cannot drink at all; most basketball players and coaches are up for a drink at the end of a match, but a cup of beer makes him red, so he foregoes it.
Mr. Chun lives in Wonju most of the time, though he has a house in Bundang, Gyeonggi province. His wife and two children are living in Canada where the children study, so he makes one or two international calls a day, easily spending 300,000 won ($300) each month.
He last saw his family in May 2004, but this year, as the team will play in an international competition in Singapore next month, Mr. Chun might have to wait a little longer for a reunion.
by Sung Baik-you, Limb Jae-un