The men’s basketball team, led by coach Choo Il-seung, beat Japan 74-55 in the men’s basketball 7-8th place match at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games held at Zhejiang University Gymnasium in Hangzhou, China on the 6th. Korea finished the tournament in seventh, the lowest ever. The previous record was fifth at the Doha Asian Games in 2006.
Basketball players are engaged in a battle for responsibility over the Hangzhou disaster. Many reasons have been raised, including the lack of support from the Korea Basketball Association, which is under criticism all the time, and the lack of preparation of the coaching staff, including scouting for opposing countries. All of them have a point.
But did all the players do their best at every moment? No. The players themselves would know better. This time, the national team was not an “one team.”
The national team continued to make noise as some players were excluded from the selection. Rumors have emerged that “there are factions within the national team and they are in confrontation with coach Choo Il-seung.” There has been a situation where the player selected by coach Choo Il-seung is not recognized by his teammates because he is not showing his skills. The national team has been divided.
“There were many internal problems among the players. There were also complaints about the coaching staff. Coach Choo Il-seung failed to take control of the entire team,” a source in the national team said.
The team stayed at the Jincheon Training Center for three months. However, as the team could not find an opponent for the practice match, coach Choo Il-seung asked the Korea Gas Corporation in person. There was a skit in which the team went from Jincheon to Daegu and played the game. Participation in the final qualifying round for the Syrian Olympics also failed. He had never had actual experience.
The association quickly arranged two consecutive friendly matches between Japan and Seoul. However, it was not enough. Ultimately, the team hurriedly went to Japan and Fukushima. The level of players they encountered in Japan was not satisfactory even. In a series of processes, some players completely lost confidence in the association and coach Choo Il-seung. The final list was announced too early, and even a number of injuries were reported. The disaster had already been predicted even before the competition began.
The cause of the disaster was Korea’s 77-83 loss to Japan in the last group qualifying match. Korea allowed a whopping 17 3-pointers. Japan shot four 3-pointers to make it to the center and made three. It is also true that Japan’s power analysis was not properly conducted. But that was not all.
“During the game, Japan kept making 3-pointers. Usually, if a player gets three shots in a row, even a player you don’t know defends. The coach ordered the defense of outer shots, but the players didn’t follow suit,” a source from the team said. However, he refuted, saying, “The coach didn’t instruct the defense method according to the situation.” At least it turned out that there was a great deal of confusion in the court.
Korea lost to China 70-84 in the quarterfinals, falling to the fifth and eighth place rankings. Since then, a number of players have failed to play.
“When I asked the trainer, there were only two players who were actually hurt. But they said neither you nor I could play. These days, players can’t control themselves. If you don’t want to run, you don’t run. Words such as patriotism and fighting spirit with injuries are relics of the old era,” a source said.
It is true that support for the national basketball team is poor. However, it is also true that the support for the national team has improved a lot compared to the past. Among the national team players who participated in the Asian Games, there are countless players who are playing in worse circumstances than basketball. Some say that it is not easy to motivate players who earn hundreds of millions of won (hundreds of millions of dollars) per year while receiving cheers from the spectators in a pro game. It is also true that considering the poor conditions of the national team, it is not easy for players to play with pride.
The club was not self-interested and cooperated properly
Cooperation between the KBL club and the national team also had many problems. The training period was three months, but some players were often called out due to various club events. Excluding injured players, there are about six to seven players who can actually train, and it has been reported that it has not been long since they played their own five to five practice games properly. Since there was no opponent for the practice game, there was no way that the training could be done properly. In other words, there were not many opportunities to see if the players were in harmony.
An official said, “There was a time when a team official raised his voice to coach Choo Il-seung, saying, ‘Don’t run the national team like this.’ When Korea lost in the quarterfinals, I heard that some teams told their players to go easy because the season opening is just around the corner,” he said, expressing confusion.
Japan already has a plan until the 2028 LA Olympics. What about Korea?
Japan grabbed three wins at the 2023 Basketball World Cup and became the No. 1 player in Asia to qualify for the Paris Olympics. At the Asian Games, Japan sent out new players who were not included in the 25-member national team’s reinforcement list.
The technical committee of the Japan Basketball Association prepared a report on strengthening and fostering Japanese basketball after the end of the World Cup. The reporter obtained the report with the cooperation of the Japan Basketball Association. The Japanese Basketball Association has clearly set road maps and goals for the national team by 2030, which marks the 100th anniversary of the association, and is calmly implementing detailed plans within them.
Specifically, they have major goals of making basketball the number one sports they actually like to play, making basketball the number three sports they like to watch, fostering 10 men and women who play abroad, participating in consecutive Olympics and aiming for the round of 16 in the world, creating 16 dream stadiums that accommodate more than 10,000 people in Japan, increasing basketball enthusiasm in Japan by attracting international competitions, growing the basketball business to 60 billion yen (about 541.4 billion won), and making basketball the number one sport in which they want to work. Many of them have already come up with detailed action plans and are about to realize them soon.
In contrast, Korea does not have any immediate plans for next year. Naturalized player Ra Gun-ah has announced her retirement from the national team. Coach Choo Il-seung’s contract period at the Asian Games has expired as the last one. For now, the preliminary round for the Asian Cup 2025 will start in February next year. Team Korea, which belongs to Group A with Australia, Thailand and Indonesia, is scheduled to play an away game against Australia on Feb. 22. However, the coach position remains vacant.
Rumor has it that three professional basketball-turned-leaders will apply for the men’s national team coach competition. On the contrary, pessimistic assessments are being made on the field, saying, “No matter who takes the helm, nothing will change in Korean basketball.”
Despite the “Hangzhou disaster,” Korea has no plans at all to explain why it suffered a crushing defeat at the Asian Games and how it will change its system in the future. There are rumors that it lost because of someone.