Hur hoping to erase bad memories in WuhanFormer guard Hur Jae was Korea’s star player at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Fifteen years later, he has switched his baggy shorts for a blazer and tie and is gunning to secure the team an Olympic berth for London 2012 as its head coach.
Korea embarks today on its bid to qualify for the quadrennial event at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China. The competition guarantees the winner - of 16 teams - a place at the Olympics, while those that finish second and third will still have a chance as they will playoff with nations from other continents.
Korea, currently No. 31 in the world, left for China on Tuesday to start training for today’s Group A match against Malaysia, which gets under way at 4:30 p.m. (KST). It faces Lebanon and India later in the week.
In the Asia Championship, the 16 teams are divided into four groups, with the top three from each progressing to the next round. The 12 teams will then be divided into two groups, with eight going on to the quarterfinals.
Hur’s team got off to a flying start after it was formed in May by winning the East Asia Basketball Championship - also held in China, in the former capital Nanjing - in June. It subsequently collected a silver medal at the R. William Jones Cup in Taiwan after losing out to Iran.
Hur said both of these competitions were tune-ups for today, and he will be looking to avoid a repeat of the hammering Korea took two years ago at the last championships. As coach, he had to shoulder most of the blame for the team’s seventh-place finish - its worst at the event.
But both his prospects and those of his players are looking brighter during his second stint in charge.
“This is my second opportunity,” Hur said last Thursday. “I will prepare for every game like it is the final.”
Hur, who claimed the MVP award at the 1995 Asia Championship, has been building the team around Moon Tae-jong (formerly Jarod Stevenson), who was granted Korean citizenship in July. Only one naturalized player is allowed to play for each team in the tournament.
The 35-year-old was born in Seoul but moved to the U.S. at an early age. He is renowned for his jump shots and clutch ability for Incheon ET Land in the Korean Basketball League (KBL), although a question mark hovers over his stamina. But with Moon attacking from outside the three-point line and center Ha Seung-jin, formerly of the Portland Trailblazers, taking care of the lane, Hur has faith in the team’s chances.
“As Ha is still in good form, we have established a nice balance,” he said.
However, the team, which has not made the final in the last three editions, will still have to find a way around defending champion Iran and other threats in Wuhan.
“It’s not going to be easy as China and Middle Eastern countries have improved,” Hur said. “But we are in good shape and we’ve prepared hard.”
By Joo Kyung-don [firstname.lastname@example.org]