Seo Jang-hoon bows out of the KBL

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Seo Jang-hoon bows out of the KBL

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Seo Jang-hoon. By Lim Hyun-dong

The match-fixing scandal surrounding Dongbu Promy coach Kang Dong-hee isn’t the only reason pro basketball in the country is going to be losing a few fans.

Seo Jang-hoon, one of the most popular players in the Korean Basketball League’s history, is preparing to draw the curtain on his decorated 15-year career.

The six-foot-eight tall, so-called “national treasure” center, has long said that he will retire after the 2012-13 season. His team, the Busan KT Sonicboom, is currently tied for sixth in the 10-team league along with the Seoul Samsung Thunders and the Promy. Which six teams that make it to the playoffs will be decided by March 19.

In a recent interview with Ilgan Sports, Seo said that he will leave the court with a lot of regrets about his performance, an indication of how much of a perfectionist he is.

Seo, 38, is the all-time leading scorer in the league. He surpassed 13,000 points in December, a mark that will not be broken for years. Choo Seung-kyun, who retired from the KCC Egis last year after a 15-year career, is a distant runner-up to the record with 10,019 points.

Seo averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game throughout his professional career.

He is also remembered for leading his alma mater Yonsei University to be become the first college to win the Basketball Festival, the biggest national competition at the time, as a freshman in 1994. Many of his Yonsei teammates, including Moon Kyung-eun, Lee Sang-min and Woo Ji-won, led the league for many of the following years.

The following are excerpts from the interview.

Q. Your time on court is ticking away. How does that make you feel?

A. I’m flooded with all kinds of emotions. I felt heavy this season as our team hasn’t done well and I was also injured many times. It’s not the way I imagined I’d retire. Still, it wasn’t a meaningless year. Not at all. I’ve learned a lot from coach Jeon Chang-jin and had a good time with my teammates.

I’ll play in the final game just like I usually play. I’m not sure whether I’ll shed any tears on that day. We’ll see. For now, I don’t really feel like it’s the end.

You started this season saying that you would retire when it ended. What made you do that? [Most Korean athletes make the announcement right before they quit.]

In fact, not many athletes in Korea retire that way. But I thought it was necessary in the interests of developing the professional sports culture in the country. I felt awkward about doing it, but the practice is quite common in the United States, which has an advanced culture of professional sports. I also wanted to have a chance to say goodbye to the fans in each away game. They’re the ones who made me the Seo Jang-hoon I am today.

What kind of player do you think you’ve been?

I have a lot of regrets about how I played on the court. I regret the many times that I should’ve done better. It’s like I haven’t done my best. But I’ve always been earnest about the games. I don’t regret that. A strong will to do my best in every moment, that’s who I am.

When basketball fans hear your name, they recall your performance with Yonsei University. What do you think about that?

Those were such happy years. I felt like I was in a dream when I played for the first time during the Basketball Festival. Only a few months before, I was a nameless high school potential talent who hadn’t earned very much recognition. It was amazing to see the players I had only seen on TV in person on the court.

Then, I suddenly found myself a member of the winning team of the Basketball Festival and winning the Most Valuable Player award myself. I was so thrilled and thankful for everything.

In my whole basketball career, I have the best chemistry with the players I played with for Yonsei. I had fun playing basketball back then. I still keep in touch with the other players from the Yonsei team. It feels like it was only yesterday, but time flies so fast. Many of them are now trying to become a good coach, and I wish them well.

When was your best moment as a professional athlete?

It was when we won a gold medal during the 2002 Asian Games. In my whole career as an athlete, that was the only time I cried. It was so moving to beat China in the final, and soon after that I did an interview for a 9 p.m. TV news program and I was choked up during the interview.

I joined the national team right after graduating from high school but we lost to China for nearly 10 straight years before beating them. People had great expectations for me based on my frame and my ability, but I disappointed them. And then we finally beat China. It felt like finishing overdue homework.

What do you want to do most after you retire?

I’ve been a basketball player all my life and I haven’t thought about what I would do next. Of course, I try to think about it but there’s no specific plan. I’ve been obsessed with winning. I’ve devoted everything to winning and that’s been stressful. Maybe that’s because more of the spotlight is shone on me than the others. But now everything isn’t going to be about winning anymore, and I feel like that will take a load off my chest. It’s going to take some time to adjust, though.

You made headlines when you signed your contract with KT last year. You donated all of your salary from the contract plus some to Yonsei University. Are you going to continue to donate after you retire?

A pompous retirement ceremony isn’t Seo Jang-hoon style. So I thought playing with no salary to help those in need would be a real retirement ceremony. I’ll try to quietly help others after I retire. I’ve enjoyed a lot of popularity as an athlete and I want to think of the rest of my life as extra.


By Kim Ji-han, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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