Joined: 04 Feb 2004
|Posted: Mon Dec 13, 2004 5:25 am Post subject: B-Ball Fans: 7'4" Korean Center Feature
|I can imagine it would be somewhat irritating to be 7'4" in Korea. I get too many comments for just being 6'3".
I like the bit about the Korean national basketball team running from Pusan to Seoul as training back in the old days. These youngsters are obviously a bunch of pantywaists. Imagine Allen Iverson doing that ("man, we're talking about Pusan, man!".
From The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)
Sunday, December 12, 2004
He plays for a professional basketball team that draws a few hundred spectators for home games and often travels by bus to away games. There are no luxury boxes, but for $25 fans can sit in "VIP" seats that have backs and armrests.
He shares a modest, ground-floor apartment in Clackamas with his parents and a pet parrot. The 8-foot ceilings come close to skimming the top of his shaggy black and blond-streaked hair.
Ha Seung Jin is temporarily stuck in the basketball equivalent of Palookaville.
But in the not-so-distant future, Ha could be thrust into a glitzy world of big crowds, charter jets and stylish digs. For that to happen, the Trail Blazers would have to exercise their draft rights and sign the 7-foot-4, 320-pound center to a contract.
So close, and yet so far.
In the meantime, Ha, 19, the first South Korean drafted by an NBA team, is working on his continuing development by playing for the Portland Reign of the American Basketball Association. He earns about $4,000 a month.
Reign coach Antonio Harvey, a former Blazers player, does not think his first-year franchise will have Ha for long.
"I suspect the Blazers will take him sometime this season," Harvey said. "The steps he's made in just the short time we've had him have been huge."
John Nash, the Blazers' general manager, said he would like to sign Ha sooner than later.
"That would be our preference," Nash said. "We would like to put him under contract sometime this season."
First, though, the Blazers would have to create a spot on their 15-player roster, most likely through a trade. The Blazers selected Ha in the second round of the 2004 draft with the No. 46 pick.
"If we were able to make a trade or transaction to create a roster spot, then it would make a lot of sense," Nash said.
Although the polite teenager needs to become more assertive on the court and improve his post game, he shows enough promise for a player of his towering size and tender age to excite those who have seen him. Comparisons to China's Yao Ming, the 7-6 center for the Houston Rockets, are common.
"His only real weakness is his understanding of the game, and that takes time," Harvey said. "It doesn't happen overnight."
A tireless worker, Ha sets a good example with his disciplined approach in practice.
"He runs every line drill as hard as he can," Harvey said. "I wish some of my American players had the discipline he has."
Ha doesn't lack for confidence. He wears jersey No. 5 in part to reflect his desire to become one of the top five players in the NBA.
"Of course, I would like to be (in the NBA) right now," Ha said through an interpreter. "However, it's not that easy. Hopefully I'll be there as soon as I can based on my abilities." Family provides inspiration
If Ha is seeking inspiration to reach the next level, he need only look at his family.
His father, Ha Dong Ki, was the starting center for the South Korean national team in the late 1970s, when basketball was relatively new to the country. Part of the national team's primitive training regimen then was a 10-day run from Pusan to Seoul, the capital.
Ha's older sister, Ha Eunjoo, 21, plays in a pro basketball league in Japan and, at 6-6, is the same height as Dong Ki.
Then there is Ha's mother, Kwon Yong Sook, who stands tall in a family of giants despite being only 5-6. Each of her two children weighed 13 pounds at birth, and keeping enough food on the table was no small feat, either.
"I bought everything in bulk," she said through an interpreter.
John Kim, Ha's Los Angeles-based agent, credits the parents for providing a stable, supportive home in Suwon, a suburb of Seoul.
"They sacrificed a lot to make sure their son and daughter had everything they needed to reach their goals in basketball," said Kim, who represents Ha along with high-profile agent Arn Tellem for SFX Sports Group, an international management for marketing agency.
"Money isn't a big thing for them. They want the best for their children."
Ha's parents arrived in Portland on Nov. 29 and plan to stay with their son at least until the end of the ABA season in March.
Ha's father said he was reluctant to allow his son to play basketball at a young age because of the pressure he thought he would face. Ha did not begin playing competitively until he was 12.
"As a player in Korea, I knew how tough it would be for him," Dong Ki said through Kim. "At the beginning, I didn't really want to expose him to basketball.
"But then his sister started to play basketball, and she liked it. Seung Jin wanted to follow his sister. I let it happen." Immediate impact
Ha's impact on South Korean basketball was almost immediate. He led Samil Commercial High School in Suwon to three national championships and played seven games for Yonsei University, helping the team win a prestigious national tournament, before moving to Los Angeles last December to begin working out in preparation for the 2004 NBA draft.
While still in high school, Ha went up against Yao in the title game of the Asian Championships. But he picked up four fouls in four minutes and scored only four points as China defeated South Korea 106-96.
"I was very impressed that someone that tall could be that good," Ha said of Yao. "It gave me hope that if I work on my game, I can play like him."
Leading to the draft, Ha worked on his skills at UCLA in one-on-one sessions with former Chicago Bulls center Will Perdue and others, including former UCLA center Jelani McCoy and Eddie Griffin of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ha also found time to see the sights, visiting Disneyland and Universal Studios and taking in a few Lakers games. He tried yoga.
He spent time in Los Angeles' sizable Koreatown and learned his first English phrases: "Damn, she's fine," and "She's really hot." He since has added a third: "What up?"
"The most important phrases," Kim joked.
Ha updated his wardrobe while in Southern California by visiting the area's "big and tall" clothing stores. Finding clothes that fit and size-17 shoes in South Korea usually required a pricey special order.
After being drafted by the Blazers, Ha returned to South Korea in early July for a short visit and received a hero's welcome. But the constant stares and autograph requests grew tiresome, making Ha more appreciative of his relative anonymity in the United States.
"I feel very comfortable living in the U.S. because everybody minds their own business," he said. "Being so tall and living in Korea, it has its burdens."
The most irritating thing about being a tall Asian in the United States, Kim said, is that Ha frequently is mistaken for Yao, an NBA All-Star.
"He doesn't understand why someone would mistake a Korean for a Chinese person," Kim said.
Although Ha is far from a celebrity in the United States, he has a loyal following among Korean Americans and frequently visits a district of Korean businesses in Beaverton to dine and shop. A basketball autographed by Ha was auctioned Friday at a fund-raising dinner in Portland for the Oregon Korea Foundation.
"We're really proud of him," said Portland resident Ken Choi, the foundation's chairman. "I think almost everybody knows him either by name or from watching (Korean cable) TV. If somebody doesn't know him, they're not Korean." Injury changes plans
Ha was expected to play on the Blazers' summer league team, but he suffered a setback when it was discovered he had a stress fracture in his right leg. The injury also dashed plans to have him play professionally in Europe this season.
He returned to action in mid-September, in time to participate in the Blazers' training camp and play in some scrimmages. Nash said he was pleasantly surprised by what he saw.
"He was a little further advanced than what we had expected," Nash said. "If we had a roster spot, we would have signed him then."
Instead, plans were made to have Ha play with the Reign. Through five games, he was averaging 11.4 points and seven rebounds. He made his first start Nov. 30 in a 99-98 loss to the Bellevue (Wash.) Blackhawks at Warner Pacific College, showing flashes of raw talent and inexperience.
Ha's most impressive move came midway through the first half when he got the ball with his back to the basket just outside the lane, spun to his right past a defender and threw down a left-handed dunk.
But Bellevue forward Chris Baert, who at 6-9 was giving up seven inches to his adversary, blocked a close-range shot by Ha and later dunked on him. Ha appeared to tire easily, sometimes lagging behind the action. He picked up his third foul late in the second quarter by awkwardly running into a player who had driven the lane.
"He doesn't go too hard to the rim, but that's going to come with time," Baert said after the game. "He's a young guy. I think he's got a tremendous upside. There's not too many human beings walking around that big."
Ha acknowledged he needs to become more aggressive and improve his conditioning. In Korea, Kim said, Ha routinely scored easy baskets because he rarely, if ever, went against post players close to his size and strength.
"He can lay it up very soft in Korea," Kim said. "Here, he can't do that. People are always challenging him."
The challenges would only get bigger for Ha if he makes the jump to the NBA. He knows that, and he accepts it.
Said Kim: "He considers this a learning experience for basketball and for living."