Road to Olympics not closed yet

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Road to Olympics not closed yet

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The Korean men’s basketball team stands on the podium after finishing third at the FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China on Sunday. The team booked its spot at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in July. [NEWSIS]


Korea failed to capture an Olympic berth at the FIBA Asia Championship last weekend but the road to the 2012 London Olympics is not yet closed, according to head coach Hur Jae.

The national men’s basketball team beat the Philippines 70-68 to take the bronze medal on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough to put them in the Summer Games as only the winner automatically advances. That honor went to host China after it edged Jordan 70-69 in the final.

“We tried our best over the past three months and I’m really sorry to all the fans that we couldn’t get an Olympic ticket,” Hur said upon arrival at Incheon International Airport on Monday. “But there’s still a ray of hope. We can try again at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament”

Korea has not joined the Olympic basketball competition since Atlanta 1996. It still has a mathematical chance of qualifying by doing well at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which starts next July. The tournament will see 12 nations from around the world vie for the three final berths for London. The venue has yet to be confirmed.

Along with Asian Championship runner-up Jordan, Korea will be joined by Greece, Lithuania, Macedonia, Russia, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Angola, Nigeria and New Zealand at the tournament. They will be divided into groups of four and the two top teams from each group will proceed to the knockout stages.

But pundits predict Korea will have its work cut out against stronger rivals, a possibility highlighted by the fact that the nation stands only above two - Jordan and Macedonia - in the FIBA rankings.

“The race is not over,” Hur said. “As we regroup for the tournament next year we will definitely give it our best shot.”

He said the current squad lacks a strong enough physical presence on the court, as shown by its failure to stop Iran and China last week.

“In order to win more physical challenges the players need to work out more,” Hur said. “Our players need to play with more confidence.”

The coach also needs to find a new strategy for forward Moon Tae-jong, who was granted Korean citizenship in July and joined the team as the one permitted naturalized player.

Moon, who plays for Incheon ET Land, is known for his accurate jump shots but the 36-year-old had a hard time maintaining his stamina through the recent championship.

“I won’t say I’m satisfied with Moon,” said Hur. “But he did give me lot of ideas. Now I know what kind of plays he should make. I’ve got a lot of homework to do.”

The team disbanded on Monday as the players need to prepare for the upcoming Korean Basketball League (KBL), which starts on Oct. 13.

Hur, who also coaches defending champion KCC Egis, said he also needs to prepare for the new season.

“I’m exhausted but I need to work on my club because I want to end the season with more good memories.”


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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