Lee vies for acclaim abroad
With his 206-centimeter (6-foot-9) height, local analysts call Lee a “monster” who possesses both accuracy and speed.
Lee, 21, may be the most promising center in Korea, but he hasn’t gotten much global attention. In June, Lee participated in the 2015 NBA Draft, but failed to get a pick. He also wasn’t invited to the NBA Summer League, where rookies and unsigned free agents play.
Despite being the best blocker at the FIBA Basketball World Cup last year, with 2.6 per game, Lee’s reputation seems to still be behind American and European prospects.
However, Lee, who is a junior at Korea University, says he won’t give up on playing in the United States. In recent weeks, he has been training with the national team formed for the FIBA Asia Championship in Hunan, China, next month.
Lee first experienced American basketball at the end of last year. He took training programs from the United States Basketball Association last December and January. For four hours daily, Lee said he improved lot with the training.
“Not only in shooting, but I learned various techniques in dribbling and steps,” he said last Tuesday in an interview with JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, at Jincheon Training Center. “It was an opportunity to experience out-of-post plays.”
Since then, Lee said he realized the importance of improving his technique. These days, he has been voluntarily doing nighttime training in order to improve.
“In the United States, my height is not enough to play as a center,” he said. “I even played a guard during practice games in the U.S. It’s a pity that my height didn’t grow much after high school.”
During his time in the United States, Lee was positively evaluated for his shooting and agility. But his stamina couldn’t match the bigger American players.
Last year, Lee won the gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games and was exempted from having to serve in the military full-time just by finishing basic training.
However, he had to head straight to the United States after finishing basic training in May. Lee had lost 5 kilograms (11 pounds) during training and didn’t have enough time to regain his strength.
“I do weight training every winter, but just before the season, I lost weight,” he said. “This meant I had less power. I should train hard to enhance my stamina.”
In Korea, there was no one to challenge Lee. When he was a senior at Kyungbock High School, he took the national record of 42 rebounds in a game against Keisung High School in 2012. With Korea University, he led the school to two consecutive titles in the college basketball league.
Lee said that he will probably enter the Korean Basketball League (KBL) draft next year, but before that happens, he aims to get more international recognition.
In the Korea national team, it is inevitable that Lee will have to compete with center Ha Seung-jin, who is wearing the national team uniform for the first time in four years for the FIBA Asia Championship. The 212 centimeter-tall Ha is the first Korean to play in the NBA. The 30-year-old was the 46th overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2004.
“This is my first time playing with Seung-jin on the court,” Lee said. “I want to learn lot from him.”
Before Lee gets into the action internationally next month, he will warm up through the Professional-Amateur Basketball Championship, where 16 teams compete. Korea University is scheduled to face the Wonju Dongbu Promy 2 p.m. today in Seoul.
While critics say Lee should first be tested in the KBL before thinking about going overseas, it seems certain that this basketball player will not give up his dream.
“The NBA is a stage where players who are better than me also fail to enter,” he said. “It’s more difficult when you are Asian, but that’s why it makes me ambitious. I will keep knocking on doors even if I fail.”
BY KIM JI-HAN, JOO KYUNG-DON [firstname.lastname@example.org]