Late-game free throws make clutch Ha happy

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Late-game free throws make clutch Ha happy

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KCC Egis center Ha Seung-jin dunks in a match on Jan. 14 against the Samsung Thunders. [YONHAP]

KCC Egis center Ha Seung-jin is a dominant force in the low post, despite usually being dismal at the free throw line. But Ha has been a different player of late, even coming up in the clutch at the foul line in the fourth quarter.

The 26-year-old, listed at 221-centimeters (7 feet, 3 inches) and 138 kilograms (304 pounds) is easily the biggest player in the KBL.

While Ha’s free throw shots seem to travel at a near straight line before clanking off the rim and backboard, the shots have strangely begun to drop in the fourth quarter.

On Jan. 14, the Samsung Thunders hosted the KCC Egis in Jamsil, southern Seoul. With the Egis trailing the Thunders 81-80 in the fourth quarter, a loud cheer erupted in the arena.

Just from the deafening noise, one could have guessed someone threw down a highlight-reel slam dunk.

But, no, it was Ha connecting on both his free throws.

Both Thunders and Egis fans cheered for Ha, who clenched his fist in jubilation after connecting on both.

Ha made five of six free throws in the fourth quarter and helped push the game against the Thunders to overtime before eventually helping the Egis to a 109-107 win.

Ha’s fourth quarter transformation has been nothing short of impressive. In the last 14 games, Ha has shot 67.7 percent (40 of 59) at the free throw line in the fourth quarter - but he’s shot 53.4 percent in the first three. Overall, Ha is shooting 55 percent from the line this season.

With opposing teams targeting Ha late in the game, his clutch shooting from the line has been huge for the Egis.

Ha connected on all six foul shots in the fourth quarter of the game against the SK Knights on Jan. 11. And it’s largely thanks to Ha that the Egis have won 12 of their last 14 games.

“Since I’m inconsistent at the foul line, I tend to get excited whenever my shots drop,” said Ha.

“When I celebrate with my teammates, it also helps boost my self-confidence,” he added.

In the early stages of the 2010-11 season, Ha’s free throw shooting was a big liability for the Egis. Ha made just 42 percent of his shots from the foul line in his first eight games this season.

And even in the fourth quarter, with the opposing teams rushing to foul Ha, the center hit merely three of his 16 shots from the line.

Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, the Egis went 1-7 in those eight games.

“I practiced 300 foul shots a day in an effort to improve my accuracy at the line,” said Ha.

“I tried to use the backboard to my advantage and although my shot is not perfect, I feel confident at the line in the fourth quarter.”

Ha’s free throws have become an event in itself at Egis home games in Jeonju, North Jeolla.

“Whenever Seung-jin connects on a foul shot, the fans in the arena go wild,” said Cho Jin-ho, the Egis’ public relations manager.


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