“It was an honor.”
The South Korean men’s national basketball team, which continues to strengthen under the leadership of head coach Chu Il-seung, played a scrimmage against the Armed Forces Athletic Corps on Friday at the Jincheon Athletic Village Improvement Center.
The team focused on improving their organization by experimenting with different lineups. Forward Yang Jae-min started alongside Heo Hoon, Moon Jung-hyun, Lee Dae-heon, and Ha Yoon-ki.
Yang was regarded as a big forward prospect, having excelled in the youth national team alongside Lee Jung-hyun, Shin Min-seok, and Lee Hyun-jung. As a member of the Golden Generation, he won the U16 Asian Basketball Championship and reached the quarterfinals of the U17 World Basketball Championship.
Since then, unlike most players his age, Yang has continued to challenge himself by knocking on doors overseas. Starting with Spain, he challenged himself to play in the NCAA despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2020, he signed with a Japanese team, becoming the first Korean to play B-League.
Head coach Chu Il-seung, a “master of forward basketball,” noticed Yang Jae-min and added him to the roster for this year’s reinforcement training. With Chu’s call, Yang was included in the national team’s training roster for the first time in his life, and he will be training in Jincheon. Yang is the only overseas leaguer in the squad currently undergoing strengthening training.
“It’s been about two weeks since I was called up. I’ve been working out with my brothers, and it’s been five or six years since I’ve been in a group like this in Korea, so it’s nice to feel the emotions I’ve had since I was a kid again. My brothers are all representatives of the KBL, so I have a lot to look up to in terms of life and on the court, so I’m staying positive and thinking about what I need to learn,” he said.
“I was really honored when I was told that I made the roster, and as I usually say in interviews and tell people around me, making the national basketball team is a dream and a source of pride. I’ve always been proud to be a Korean basketball player while living in Japan and abroad, so when I heard the news, I was really honored and grateful. I promised myself that I would do my best and make a contribution to the team,” he said, expressing his pride in the Taegeuk mark.
Yang Jae-min moved to Utsunomiya Brex last season for his third season in the B.League. He impressed early in the season as a key player for the team, but after an injury, his playing time dwindled. After the season ended, Yang found a new home with the Sendai 89ers.
“Looking back, it wasn’t an easy season to handle, but I wanted to be responsible as a professional player, so I worked really hard on my mind control to finish the season with my best. I practiced a lot and tried to learn as much as I could in training so that I wouldn’t fall behind in terms of technique. It was a tough time,” he recalls.
It’s not easy for the style of basketball he played in his club team to be completely compatible with the national team. However, Yang explained that Chu’s emphasis on defense is similar to the direction he pursued in Japan.
“His emphasis on defense is very similar to the system I learned in Japan. I’ve learned a lot over the past three years, so I feel like it’s relatively easy to understand how to defend the helpside, how to react to opposing players when defending the ball handler, and how to play cooperative defense. On offense, it’s different because Japan was more dependent on two foreign players, but in the national team, it’s more Korean players, so we have to play basketball with five people moving around, so it will be easier to integrate if we breathe more.”
The 6-foot-5 forward is a long forward with a great shooting touch. If he can integrate well into the national team, he can play a role in the forward game that Chu Il-seung is looking for 안전놀이터.
“I don’t think my style of basketball changes much depending on the team,” Yang said. As a forward, I have height and can physically hold up inside, so on defense, I will have to run hard so that I can have a wide range of activities. On offense, I’m confident in my outside shot and have been practicing a lot. I have a lot of older brothers who are strong in the offensive part, so I will try to space them well and shoot aggressively when I get the chance, and the coach emphasizes offensive rebounding a lot, which is something I can do well, so I will participate as much as possible,” he explained his role on the team.
When asked about the team atmosphere, he said, “My older brothers and I didn’t really have much contact with each other and didn’t have many opportunities to play together, but my friends who are the same age as (Ha) Yoon-ki and (Lee) Woo-seok have been playing together every year since we were very young, so we were very close. My older brothers are not too far apart in age, so they are easy to get along with.”
In particular, Yang Jae-min learned the importance of taking care of his body from his roommate Heo Hoon and other seniors.
“My roommate is (Heo) Hoon’s older brother, and we get along well, and we go to the sauna together every day, so I have a lot to learn from him in terms of taking care of my body. Even though it’s a short time, he came to the national team, trained with his brothers, and stayed with them, so I think he has a great mindset and thoughts about his body, so I’m trying to learn from him.”
As Yang continues to cool down, he is looking forward to the upcoming exhibition matches against Japan at Jamsil Student Gymnasium on April 22 and 23. As the only B.Leagueer on the national team, there will be a lot of attention on Yang Jae-min.
“On the one hand, there might be pressure, and the weight of the game against Japan might be very heavy. And I played in the B.League, and the Japanese national team players are players I’ve seen about four times every season for almost three years. I know them, they know me, and we know each other’s styles. I’m trying to pass on a lot of that to my brothers,” he said before the game against Korea.
Yang will need to survive the fierce competition within the program to make the final roster for the pre-Olympic qualifiers and the Hangzhou Asian Games. For now, Yang is focused on winning the trial against Japan.
“The ultimate goal is of course to qualify for the Asian Games and have the team perform well,” Yang said. But I also think it’s a chance for us to compete against good players and review what we’ve learned overseas. The most important thing is to play the upcoming exhibition match against Japan as a member of the Korean national team, not as a teammate, so I want to focus on winning and think about how I can help the team rather than personal goals.”