KB Stars hope they've found the winning formula
The 2021-22 Women’s Korean Basketball League (WKBL) season kicked off on Sunday with the six women's basketball teams vying for the regular season trophy.
Established in 1998, the WKBL regular season starts in October and ends in April or May the following year. This year, the regular season started Sunday and will end on April 16th, 2022. Six clubs — Yongin Samsung Life Blueminx, Incheon Shinhan Bank S-Birds, Asan Woori Bank Wibee, Bucheon Hana 1Q Woman's Basketball Team, Busan BNK Sum and Cheongju KB Stars— each play 30 games, facing each other six times in the regular season.
The top four clubs advance to the postseason from March 31, 2022. The winner of the regular season will face the fourth-place club and the runner-up will face the third-place club in a best-of-three format. The last two clubs standing will play the finals, which will played as a best-of-five format.
Woori Bank Wibee have the most regular season wins and the most post-season championship titles. The Wibees have won the regular season 11 times including the most recent 2020-21 season, but lost against the Samsung Life Blueminx in the playoffs.
The KB Stars and the Blueminx faced each other in last season's championship, with the Blueminx beating the Stars 3-2, winning the third game 74-57 to win their first championship title since 2006. It was also first time in WKBL history that a club that finished fourth in the regular season has gone on to win the championship title.
Despite missing out on a trophy, Park Ji-su, who plays center for the KB Stars, showed off her skills throughout the championship finals, scoring the most of her team in most of the matches that she played. Park had the highest average score per match with 22.33 points, the most rebounds per match with 15.23, the most blocks and also the highest success rate of two-pointers with 58.3 percent. She was dubbed the WKBL MVP for the season.
At just 22-years-old, Park is already one of the biggest names in the WKBL and one of the few players ever to have concurrent careers in both Korea and the United States. Park was drafted into the WNBA when she was only 19-years-old, becoming the first Korean player to enter the U.S. league in 15 years, after Jung Sung-min, who was picked by the Seattle Storm in 2003.
This August, Park jetted in from the United States to play for the Korean national team at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games as Korea made it to the Olympics for the first time in 13 years. Korea lost to world No. 3 Spain, No. 4 Canada and No. 8 Serbia.
Alongside Park in Tokyo was Kang Lee-seul, the 27-year-old basketball player who will be joining Park at the KB Stars this season. Kang debuted in the WKBL with Hana 1Q in 2012 and after playing for the Bucheon side for a decade, acquired free agent status and transferred to the KB Stars.
The JoonAng Ilbo sat down with the two players on Oct. 19 at the KB Financial Group Training Center in Cheonan, South Chungcheong.
“I really wanted to play with Kang,” said Park. “I am not usually like this but I sent her a birthday cake on her birthday and a message that I really wanted to play on the same team with her.”
The KB Stars narrowly missed out on a trophy last season, and the addition of Kang on the outside makes the team a stronger candidate this season.
“Park told me many great things about the KB Stars,” said Kang. “Also, who would say no to the best basketball player in the country.”
Kang topped the list for having the most three-pointers for four consecutive seasons from 2017. Last season, Kang threw an average of 2.46 three-pointers per match, scoring an average of 18.2 points per match.
With the acquisition of Kang, all eyes are on the KB Stars this season as a survey conducted by the WKBL indicates that 84 percent of the media, 45 percent of the athletes and 40 percent of fans thing the club is most likely to win this season.
“It’s actually the first time I said that my objective is to win,” said Kang. “I haven’t played even the playoffs until now. It’s the first time that my club was elected as the strongest team of the season.”
“I am thirsty for a win. The KB Stars desperately wanted me to be on their team, and my aim is to win.”
The duo of Park and Kang is expected to be especially productive, with Kang able to alleviate some of the pressure on Park on the court.
“Kang’s shot timing is really fast,” said Park. “That means the opponents won’t leave her alone and will surround her. I hope that gives me more space around net so that I can score better.”
Kang joined the KB Stars with a clear idea of how she can help improve Park's game.
“I want to be of help to Park and will do my best to make Park’s season easier,” said Kang. “I want to cut at least five minutes of Park’s time on the court.”
“I also have much less pressure trying three-pointers. Even if I miss and it becomes an airball, I know that Park is going to be there to catch the ball. It’s a win-win.”
The KB Stars beat the Blueminx 68-59 in the first match of the 2021-22 WKBL season on Sunday. The second match will take place on Monday as the Wibees face Hana 1Q at 7 p.m.
BY PARK RIN, YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]