Star player returns to coach ShinhanJeon Ju-won has returned to the Women's Basketball League as the playing coach for the Shinhan Bank team. Since taking a break in March to have a baby, Jeon has not transformed into a slightly chubby post-natal housewife. But what would you expect from a star player? In jeans and a white shirt, Jeon, 32, appears to be in her early 20s.
Not that she is worry-free. In an interview at Jangchundan Park, she spoke of the difficulties of being away from her baby due to practice and game schedules, and whether she can live up to her reputation in her new role as a playing coach.
She is doing well so far, having led her team with a contribution of 27 points, three assists and three interceptions in the championship final on Sept. 19. This is a world away from Shinhan’s last place finish in the previous season. This year, the team beat last season's champion, Chuncheon Woori Bank, 60-56. Shinhan won three straight games out of five in the championship, and Jeon was unanimously voted most valuable player.
But Jeon’s mind is always on her baby. “I returned to my original weight two weeks after giving birth. It's because I breast-fed.”
“I saved up a month’s worth of breast milk to breast feed her as much as possible, because I knew it wouldn't be easy to do so when I go back to the court. I even had to borrow my husband's fridge to store the milk.”
“Subin is just adorable. I couldn't see her for two weeks when I went training in China. Because of my game schedules I am only going to see her after the championship, but my mother-in-law says she will bring her courtside, so that's fine. Subin hates being away from me.”
But being a mother doesn’t stop Jeon’s girlish habits. “I collect perfumes. I have more than 100 bottles of them. After matches I prefer scents like green tea. When dressed casually I sometimes put on men's cologne. I buy clothes just as any other girls do. However during summer and winter times I don't have time to either buy or appreciate clothes due to the tight schedule. So I mostly have fall and spring clothes. I don't usually put on make up. But when dressed formally I put it on ever so slightly.”
“I am a gourmet. Colleagues call me ‘Daejanggeum’ [‘the absolute taste’]. I like to look for places that provide good food. Sushiharu at Nonhyeon-dong is the best place for sushi, if I may advertise,” she says, mentioning the restaurant jointly run by her husband Jeong Yeong-yeol and teammate Kim Yeong-ok.
Regarding her well-placed freckle, she said, “People regard it as a beauty spot because it is on the top of my upper lip. They called me all kinds of names and made fun of me. I would respond that it is my sheer beauty which allows that spot to be a beauty spot.”
“My dad used to be a big fan of basketball. His friend's daughter played it so I guess he felt jealous. When I was in 4th grade at elementary school my dad dragged me to a basketball testing. I passed even though I wasn't tall or sporty. The tester Hwang Sin-cheol of Sunil Middle School gave out tangerines. I was the only one to eat, so he later told me I would become a good player because of my outgoing character. If I didn't become a basketball player I would have become a surgeon. I liked dissection in biology class.”
But her talent for basketball was recognized early. “In high school I was caught in a bidding war. I eventually went to Hyundai. I was told that Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Ju-yung really wanted me to join Hyundai. After I joined, we defeated Samsung for the first time in the club's history. The whole Hyundai group was delighted. Chairman Chung had a special passion for women's basketball. Hyundai gym in Chenggun-dong was really close to his house. He himself came over and often invited us for dinner. The food was from the Chinese catering staff of the Plaza Hotel. When he wanted his usual, North Korean style dumpling soup was the menu. It was really great. He watched all our games. If he missed it on live television he always watched it on tape. He used to ask me specifically why I did what in which game.”
Asked about how long she would play, she said maybe for about two more years. She didn't like the idea of coming back after retirement, but the team consistently asked her to. “There is a lot of pressure,” she said.
“A playing coach is more of a player than a coach. It requires 40 minutes worth of energy even if I play 5 minutes. I also have to exercise as regular players do. When I really do retire, I would like to go back to school and become a proper coach.”
by Sung Ho-jun