For father-son duo, basketball is a family value
The senior Hur is considered one Korea’s basketball greats, as his nickname “Basketball President” suggests. His son, Woong, is a promising new player who just finished his first season in the Korea Basketball League (KBL) as the No. 5 draft pick.
Since Jae quit his coaching job and Woong’s season ended, the two have been making up for lost time. But Woong, like other sons of sports legends, still sees his father as competition.
The most famous local father-son duo is footballers Cha Bum-kun and Cha Du-ri. In his retirement ceremony on March 31, Du-ri confessed with tears in his eyes that he was jealous of his father, a legendary footballer in the German Bundesliga, because he was never able to step out from his shadow.
Du-ri’s comments didn’t faze 21-year-old Woong. The Yonsei University graduate acknowledges that Jae was a great athlete, but says he’ll be even better than his father - unlike Cha.
Hur Jae, who holds record for most points scored in a FIBA World Championship with 62, supports his son’s efforts to make a name for himself.
“Woong could gain the same kind of recognition as Du-ri if he plays for a national team becomes a star of the sport,” he said. “Since he is a player who puts in lot of effort, I believe he’ll be one of the greats.”
The former national team coach also said that he hopes to play on the same side as his son, an experience that the Chas never had.
“Last year, I was coaching my son’s opponents on the same court and it didn’t feel good,” he said. “If I take a coaching job again and play with Woong and [second son] Hoon, what more could I ask for?”
For Parents’ Day two weeks ago, the Hurs couldn’t spend time together because Woong was in Las Vegas for his team’s overseas training session. Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, interviewed Woong on May 1 and spoke with Jae five days later in Seoul.
Q. Do you and your father spend much time together these days?
A. My father quit his coaching job in the middle of season, so my family was able to see each other more. We dined together, went shopping and exercised. It was the first time we’d been able to spend that kind of time together, so it was very valuable to me. Instead of doing anything particularly special, I just wanted to experience small things with my father.
Is your father the reason why you started playing basketball?
I originally played football. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was already 164 centimeters tall (5-foot-5), a lefty forward and the fastest student at school. There were lots of offers from football clubs at nearby schools. But when I entered sixth grade, my father went to the United States for 14 months for training. While living with my family in the U.S., I started playing basketball and that’s when I decided I wanted to shift my focus.
Did you ever play one-one-one with your father?
When I first started playing, we’d go one-on-one in the front yard of our house. At first, I lost easily, but by middle school I was winning. After my father retired from playing, he didn’t really exercise anymore (laughs).
It can’t have been easy for you to start playing basketball as the son of Hur Jae.
When I started, people would say, “You’ll be successful if you can achieve just half of what your father did.” But I wanted to be recognized as Hur Woong, not the “son of Hur Jae.” That’s why I said in my first interview as a professional player that I would prove my value.
Do you think you have proven yourself after finishing your first season?
Before my professional debut, I thought I would easily step out of my father’s shadow. In my college years, I was a regularly acknowledged for the strength of my offense so I wasn’t worried. But in my first year, I realized just how big and heavy my father’s shadow is.
Have your goals changed?
As I look back on last season, I think I’m very behind my father as a player. But that doesn’t mean I’ll give up. I will do my best improve before next season. I’m also at the beginning of my career, so I have some time to grow into the “Basketball President.”
Q. Your son says that family dinner happens only twice a year.
A. It’s actually more than that, although we haven’t typically spent much time together. My career has kept me very busy, and I feel sad when I think about the time I’ve missed with my family. But I am thankful to my wife and sons for their understanding.
Do you spend more time with your family these days?
Well, I’ve gotten closer to Woong recently because I’ve spent more time at home. Before that, even if I asked him to have dinner he would just say “no,” sometimes not even answering my calls. But things have been changing. Just a few days ago, for the first time in 22 years, my son and I drank soju and ate raw fish together.
Do you think your son feels pressure playing basketball as Hur Jae’s son?
Of course - he should feel pressure. Although he didn’t say anything, I’m sure things have been difficult. But he’s overcome that pressure well, and I’m proud of him. I feel the same about my youngest son Hoon.
Do you give him a lot of advice? Woong said you always lost when you played each other one-on-one.
Did he really say that? (laughs). Of course, I can’t match his speed. It’s kind of exaggeration to say that I give him advice, but rather I give him one-time lessons when I see him play. For example, if Woong asks, “Dad, why I can’t make shots?” I’ll give him pointers on his positioning and form.
Woong said that his first season as a pro was difficult
There’s a big gap between pro and college. I tell him, “Be a player who is essential to any other team.” I was a player and a coach, and what I’ve learned is that it’s most important for a player to become someone who is wanted by the coach. Until everyone recognizes him as a good player, Woong needs to work hard.
BY PI JOO-YOUNG, JOO KYUNG-DON [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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