Story:Korean Alert: How 2011 Changed the Bear

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Korean Alert: How 2011 Changed the Bear
Written by Anonymous13423

Korean Alert: How 2011 Changed the Bear by Scott Masterson

I had the pleasure of conducting an exclusive interview with local Korean sensation and current FBA draft candidate Lee Jin-Sung (Black Bear, F) a few days ago. Despite being hyped in his native country, he had failed to make it to the Top 24 despite a stellar showing at the Combine, with even calling him a snub. Still, I felt that one of the reasons that he wasn't noticed as much was because of his lack of a more compelling character unlike some of the players who had made the Top 24. So despite the fact that I found him intriguing enough for an interview, I was rather worried that I wouldn't have anything to find when I met him in his agent's house in Pasadena, CA.

What I found pleasantly surprised me.

I noticed, however, that Jin-Sung seemed a little tired at getting some questions asked. He did have another interview with veteran reporter Patrick Suarez at the Combine, so while I conducted the interview before that was published, I imagine that there were often overlaps between the questions. Luckily, however, we were able to get a breakthrough.

"Mr. Lee, do you think you could tell us about the moment you remember the most in basketball, good or bad?" I asked.

He asked me for a minute, and went back into one of the rooms before emerging with something in his paw. I knew that he had won some college championships and a league title from his days in Korea, but what he was holding wasn't a trophy or a medal. Upon closer inspection, I was able to find out that it was a face mask, one commonly worn by athletes who suffer from facial injuries. I noticed that his particular mask was colored dark red.

He sat down again and said, "Three years ago. I was at the U-21 World Basketball Championship when it happened..."


The 2011 U-21 World Basketball Championship held in Los Angeles was not as publicized within Korea as much as some other sports like soccer and baseball were. However, basketball still had a somewhat loyal following within Korea, and quite a few furs were excited to see how the youngsters would fare in the tournament. With the rise of talented youngsters from all over the country, Lee being one of their best players, Korea had finally managed to win qualification for the first time in decades after reaching the finals in the Asian Championships. They had to start from the qualifying rounds because they had lost to an Indian team with the likes of Mathiyazagan Balsubramaniam (Malabar Giant Squirrel, F), Bali Mahi (Peacock, G), and Shubhra Rajni (Indian Elephant, C) at said finals, but they had qualified nonetheless.

And much to the delight of the Korean fans, they had steamrollered through the qualifiers. Korea only had the final game against the Netherlands left, and despite both teams at 4-0 and having secured qualification for the main group rounds (there were six teams fighting for two final spots), it was shaping up to be much more than simply a "bragging rights" game. Jin-Sung had alternated between playing as small forward and power forward throughout the qualifying rounds depending on the height and/or talent of the opposite team's bigfurs, and given that the Netherlands boasted an amazing prospect in Christiaan Hengst (Friedan Horse, C) at the pivot position, it was somewhat inevitable for the bear to fill in at the power forward spot again.

While the combination of Lee and 6' 9 center Park Han-Min (Tiger, C/F) tried hard to attack and defend the inside from the Dutch team, Hengst had seemed infallible for the first quarter. The horse had been making and a lot of superb plays around the rim, including a perfect block at a well-timed lay-up that Lee had attempted, and a dunk that he made by soaring over Park's reach. As a result, Korea was often forced out to the middle or the outside, and their scoring had suffered as a result.

"He was unstoppable at first," admitted the bear. "We literally had to throw our bodies at him to even get a chance from the inside, and even then the shots were hard to get in."

But where there was a will, there was also a way.

It started with a good and-one play by Lee on Hengst early into the second quarter. So far, this was only the horse's first personal foul, and neither side really thought much of it at first.

But then he started getting another foul. And another. And another. Hengst seemed to play very inconsistently after collecting an overwhelming number of fouls, and eventually, he was substituted out for another Dutch player.

"I don't know why it was that exact moment he started showing cracks, but it kept going, and... I don't think he really knew what to do," recalled Jin-Sung. "But we did."

In fact, with Hengst powerless to stop the Korean offense and straight into foul trouble, the Dutch youngsters had great trouble in terms of defending without him. And with Jin-Sung now back in his usual small forward slot without the imposing presence of the horse, it was time for a scoring spree. The Koreans got quickly back into the game, getting ten points over the Dutch in the second quarter alone and then some more at the start of the third quarter.

"And then... that happened. Yeah."

It was now late into the third quarter, and Hengst was again back in the game. Korean shooting guard Kim Dae-Hyun (Crow, G) had shot a three from the corner, but it had bounced off the rim, and both Lee and Hengst had been waiting to leap for the rebound. Maybe Hengst was a little careless, maybe he was angry, maybe it was both, but somehow in the physical altercation, Hengst's elbow had found its way straight onto Lee's muzzle as he tried to grab the ball as he descended from his leap...

"...and the next thing I know, I'm lying on the ground in pain with I-don't-know-what's-been-broken," said Jin-Sung. "Where it actually was didn't really matter, though."

And he was right. Just like when Hengst's neutralization had left the Dutch team in ruins for a while, what had been something of a close game had turned into a blowout against Korea after Lee had left that game and threw Korea's gameplan out of whack, with the Dutch team outscoring the Koreans by twelve points overall. And if that wasn't bad enough, Korea had also probably lost one of their key players for the main group rounds in the championship.

At least, that was what the Koreans thought for a few hours.

"It turned out that it was only a broken nose; I couldn't have been more relieved than I was then." said Jin-Sung. "The doctor said that I'd have to sit out the first game no matter what, though."

He had two choices; He could either have given up on the rest of the tournament and focused on healing his nose for the next three to four weeks, or he could wear a protective mask, play on, and hope that his nose wouldn't get hurt again in the process.

"I knew that I'd have to take a risk, but at the same time, I'd be getting to face against some of the best young players in basketball," said Jin-Sung. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you know? You don't get that chance every day. So I told the doctor to get this mask ready."

Despite the best efforts of their ace players Lee and Hengst, the main rounds did prove to be a little too much for both Korea and the Netherlands, with both teams only getting one win out of their first four matches against the other teams. By some stroke of fate, they were slated to go against each other again in the final match of the group stages, and while neither team could really hope to advance to the quarterfinals at this point, both teams were dead set on getting a win to avoid the dreaded last place in their group.

The game was also noted for the confrontation between Lee and Hengst; while the initial animosity had somewhat cooled down after Hengst had given Lee an apology, there was still some bad blood remaining between the two, and which one of the two would win over the other was a key point concerning the game.

"I was really looking forward to getting one back on him then," he said.

And he did that all right. Jin-Sung turned out to be the MVP of the match, netting 31 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and even a superb block against Hengst that not everyone might have seen coming. While Hengst also put up good numbers of his own by managing 23 points and 11 rebounds, he couldn't save the Dutch team alone as they lost by seven points against the Koreans.

"Even though we didn't go anywhere close to winning the championship, I still think that it's one of the moments that I remember the most when I look back at myself so far," said Jin-Sung, holding the face mask.

"What's your current thoughts on Hengst as of now?" I asked, deciding to move along to some follow-up questions.

"I've actually played against him in a couple of scrimmages back at the Combine, and he's as good as I remembered him three years ago! I think he's probably less angrier, maybe? At least I'd hope so."

"Assuming that you both get on a team this season, are you looking forward to playing either against or with him in the FBA?"

He said, "I think it would give me that extra motivation to play better against him, that's for sure. With him... I'm not looking forward as much, to be honest, but I'm sure it would be a good experience."

I had one final question to ask him. "Mr. Lee, how do you think that the U-21 competition three years ago has affected you, positively or negatively?"

"Well..." He thought about it for a moment, then said, "I think the most important thing is that it gave me confidence and motivation to challenge for the FBA. At the time, I knew that people around me considered me to be a good player, but I had no idea of finding out whether I could still hold up against the best youngsters in the world. But after being there, after playing against them, after seeing guys like Moby move on to do amazing jobs at the FBA, I started thinking that I could do it as well if I tried hard enough; if I challenged. I've always dreamed of playing in the FBA, but that was about the time when I started thinking that it was a dream that actually could come true.

"And I don't plan on giving up on that dream now."

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