With start of KBL, nothing is certain

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With start of KBL, nothing is certain

With the 2010-11 KBL season set to tip-off across the country tonight and tomorrow, parity in the 10-team league makes the outcome of the season anything but predictable.

On paper, there are several teams that have made significant upgrades during the offseason. The four early favorites to finish in the top half of the league standings are the KCC Egis, SK Knights, ET Land Elephants and the Samsung Thunders, with the defending-champion Mobis Phoebus and underdogs Dongbu Promy looking in.

Mobis lost last season’s most valuable player Ham Ji-hoon to military service, and Kim Hyo-bum inked a five-year deal with SK during the offseason. Losing two starters is huge and with its head coach Yoo Jae-hak leading the national team at the 2010 Asian Games, Mobis has a lot to overcome this season.

“Like I’ve always mentioned, our goal is to reach the postseason,” said Yoo. “Since there are a lot of new faces on the team, players will have to work well together.

“It’s tough to pick one favorite this season. I personally like ET Land and KCC. Samsung will also win some games once they have their three players back from the Asian Games.”

KCC retains many players from its second-place finish of last season. Jeon Tae-pung returns stronger with a season of KBL experience under his belt. Jeon was cut from the national team tryouts for the Asian Games, with Yoo opting to go with Lee Seung-joon as his lone foreign-born player to fill front court needs - Lee was born in the United States but now has Korean citizenship.

The biggest question remains the status of the injury-prone center Ha Seung-jin, who recently returned from an injury but is not yet 100 percent.

The addition of ethnic Korean player Moon Tae-jong - the older brother of LG’s Moon Tae-young - and Shin Ki-sung has improved ET Land to a top-flight contender. Moon Tae-jong is expected to challenge his younger brother for the scoring title this season.

SK has added Kim Hyo-bum and Terrence Leather to an already talented lineup that features the likes of Joo Hee-jung, Bang Sung-yoon and Kim Min-soo. With a star-studded lineup, SK head coach Shin Sun-woo is preaching a team-first approach.

“Rather than relying on specific players, I am hoping all the players contribute in the role they are asked to play,” Shin said. “Bang Sung-yoon will likely miss the early portion of the season and it’s not easy to say when he’ll be available at this point.”

With the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games taking place over two weeks in mid-November, teams will have to manage without their star players in the early portion of the season. With each squad scheduled to play 54 games this season, the loss of key players for a stretch of nine to 10 games can be a significant loss.

One of the teams most affected by the Asian Games is the Samsung Thunders. Lee Seung-joon, Lee Kyu-sup and Lee Jung-seok will be out for 10 games.

The Dongbu Promy will have to manage without its star forward Kim Joo-sung for nine games.

“Since we will be missing three players from our lineup, it will be important to figure out a way to fill the void,” said Samsung head coach Ahn Joon-ho. “But it can also work in our favor as we will be forced to give other players increased playing time.”

League officials are hoping for a large turnout this season and are looking to top the all-time attendance record of two years ago (1.22 million) by attracting 1.3 million fans this season.

In an effort to draw more fans to the stands, league officials have tweaked some rules to encourage high scoring games. Referees are expected to crack down on rough defensive players, and defensive players who make contact with offensive players in the paint in midair will be called for fouls.

One other rule change will require home teams to dress in dark uniforms instead of the traditional white uniforms.

By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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