WKBL champions look back on winning season
Until the 2017-18 season, the WKBL was dominated by Asan Woori Bank Wibee, who won both the regular season and the championship for six straight years. The Wibee have been so dominant that when the Stars suddenly burst onto the scene this year, nobody saw it coming.
After such a successful season, the Stars’ oldest and youngest players - Jung Mi-ran and Park Ji-su - have mixed feelings about the upcoming season. Jung, who wrapped up her 15-year career at the end of the last season and retired, has passed the baton on to Park, who now has the fate of the Stars firmly on her shoulders.
Although it was only Park’s third season as a professional, she has been a dominant player, winning the MVP award for both the regular season and the championship. Behind her accomplishment, Park has credited Jung for her support in helping her adjust to the professional league.
Throughout the regular season, Park averaged 13.06 points per game while picking up 11.1 rebounds in 35 games. In the playoffs, Park’s record was even more impressive, averaging 25 points per game while picking up 12 rebounds per game in three games.
As for Jung, she may not have been best player in the Stars’ lineup this past season but she has been the greatest supporter and leader off the court, helping the younger players blend into the team quickly. In 15 games throughout the regular season, Jung averaged 1.20 points per game.
Below are edited excerpts of an Ilgan Sports interview with the two players.
Q. It’s been almost three weeks since the Stars won the Championship. How do you guys feel?
A. Park: It may sound like a scripted answer, but it’s still great. When I was in middle and high school, I won a lot. Since I won a lot, I got used to winning so it didn’t feel that special. But [this year] I really felt how great it is to win.
Jung: Both Ji-su and I won a lot when we were in school. For me, my team won in my first year as a pro, in 2004, when I joined right after graduating high school. At the time, I cried a lot. It’s very different winning in a school league and in the professional league.
Unlike my win when I was a rookie, I was on the bench for a lot of this season. Somehow, that makes it feel more meaningful. The best thing [about winning] is that I’m confident going around places during vacation. Until last year, I’ve heard a lot of people say how our season was disappointing and we should play better next year. That was very stressful.
Prior to the Stars’ victory in the regular season and the championship, only the Incheon Shinhan Bank S-Birds and Asan Woori Bank Wibee have won in the past 12 years. Did you feel more pressure in the upcoming season?
Park: After we won, we realized how great an achievement it was by Shinhan Bank and Woori Bank, winning for six straight years each. It’s difficult to win it once, so I think they must have had a lot of pressure and they seemed amazing for overcoming all that pressure. But since they did it, there’s no reason that we can’t.
I think it all comes down to how much we enjoy that pressure and overcome it.
Jung: It would be great if we could win all the games by wanting to win them. The best we can do is to just focus on one game at a time. When we got in a 13-game winning streak, after a three-game losing streak, there wasn’t a player that was counting on our winning streak. It’s probably more difficult to retain the spot than to win it, but if they can continue playing comfortably, I think they can stay [at the top].
Park, Jung has always encouraged you throughout the season so you must be very sad about her retirement. How do you feel? And Jung, how do you feel?
Jung: It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve been thinking about it since before the start of the season. I thought I could proudly retire after we won the title, but once we got in a three-game losing streak, I started to get worried that we might not win.
Park: I’ve relied on her a lot. When I’m stressed or frustrated, I normally don’t tell people about it. But whenever I had those kinds of moments, she would come over to my room and tell me different stories. As I heard her stories, it felt like she knew me better than I knew myself. Even when I’m playing in games, I’ve heard a lot people tell me to do more. Every time I heard that, Mi-ran always said to me, “you must have a lot of stress, and since you can’t accommodate for everything, talk to me if there’s anything you can’t do.” I learned a lot from her.
Jung: There were days when Ji-su didn’t look too happy after the game. On those days, I felt like I had to talk to her so I went up to her and said she doesn’t have to carry all the responsibilities because she’s still young.
Since she left to the WNBA and to the Asian Games at the beginning of the season, there were areas that she wasn’t personally satisfied about.
I’ve seen her getting discouraged multiple times because she was hearing negative comments when, to me, it looked like she was playing well enough. She was probably very overwhelmed. She really listened to me and played well right afterward. She’s a great player.
Park: Whenever I had a hard time, I hesitated on whether I should go see her [Jung] or not since I was a rookie. It was a little more difficult for me to go up to her because I was a rookie, but in all those situations, she came up to me first. As I went to the United States this [past] season, I had to show that I’ve become a better player. But since I wasn’t ready physically, it wasn’t easy. After playing in the United States, I’ve gotten more aggressive, but since I wasn’t physically ready, I kept on making mistakes and lost confidence. I was getting stressed, but after listening to her, I’ve started playing better in matches. I still can’t believe that [she’s retiring] because it feels like she’s going to play with me and be there for me.
Jung, now that you have left the WKBL, what advice do you want to give to Park?
Jung: Ji-su’s carrying a lot. Not only our team, but she also has a responsibility for Korea’s women’s basketball. So I feel bad every time I see her because she’s still young. It’s really hard to pick up a double-double in a match, but Ji-su’s become a player who has to do that. At such a young age, she’s been constantly making tough achievements. I really don’t want the fans to think that it’s something that she should achieve. As she’s going to try out for the WNBA again this time, I hope she takes good care of herself and avoid any injuries.
What is the last thing you want to say to each other?
Jung: It’s easy to earn recognition from fans because you just need to play good basketball. But since Ji-su also has a great personality, I think she’ll get recognition from teammates as well. If she takes good care of her body, not only can she lead the Stars but she’ll also lead the national team at the Tokyo Olympics.
But I don’t want her to take too much responsibility. When she’s having a hard time, she should talk to others and express her emotions so they know. I want to tell her that she doesn’t have to get everything accomplished by herself.
Park: She’s been a special teammate to me. When I was a rookie, a professional career was just really scary. It was really difficult when I was on the national team because I was the only high school student and it was the same in the professional league. In any of those situations, she would listen to me and understand me like she knows me better than I do.
I was thankful at first and I’ll always be thankful. It is sad that she’s retiring, but I’m glad we could finish [her career] with a win. I would have felt very sorry for her and would have been disappointed if our season ended like last year [in terms of record and standing]. I’m glad that we finished the season strong.
BY KIM HEE-SEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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