Thursday, December 21, 2006

Post Asian Games observation Part II


Part II of my short observation of the Doha Asian Games men's basketball:


SOUTH KOREA: The fifth place is probably a good result for other countries, but not for Korea, which won the gold medal four years ago in Pusan and has always been China's biggest rival. Basically the finish will be seen as a humiliation for Koreans, who have been always proud of their basketball.

It looks to me that Korean basketball is in an awkward situation that doesn't know where it wants to go. Does it want to go big, with the inside presence of 7-3 Ha Seung Jin? Does it want to keep its shooting-the-lights-out old style as a team that stresses its quickness?

Korea knows very well that if it wants to beat China, it needs to go big and improve its height in every position. But once they do that, they probably have to say goodbye to the old style and start playing a whole new brand of basketball.

Which explains why Korean basketball, in my eyes, is in a crossroad. Plus, for the past two years it has been in a transition period after a couple of veterans, such as Lee Sang Min, Hur Jae and Moon Kyung Eun, among others, retired from the national team.

On the other hand, maybe I'm over-concerned. If Korea's opponent in the quarterfinal was not China, it might as well went to the semifinals, even the title game.

Anyway, Korean did not play well in the tournament. A upset loss to Jordan and the fourth place finish in the prelim were why it had to meet China in the quarterfinal.

205cm center Kim Joo Sung was still Korea's best player, leading the team with 15 points and 5.3 boards per game. Ha Seung Jin played a lot of minutes but finished with only 9.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and an embarrassing 37% free-throw percentage, making him opponents' best target to foul.

Two weird scenes here. Bang Sung Yoon (10.5p) exploded for 42 points in one game (dropping 12 threes!) but did not score at all in the other three games he played. Lee Kyu Sup only appeared in two games.

Yang Dong Geun averaged for 10.3 points per game while point guard Kim Seung Hyun averaged for 10 points plus 5.8 assists. In my opinion, Kim -- once dubbed as the most talented point guard prospect in Korea -- dominated the ball a little bit too much.

Korea does not need to worry about talents. Korean basketball will always produce talented players. But it will have a lot of work to do after the Asian Games. First off, it has to figure out where it wants to go in the future. Secondly, its national team program probably needs to be re-organized.

And it seems to me that Korean shooters are not as good as before. Korea needs height desperately in order to beat China, but it has to keep good shooters on the team as well.


JAPAN: Japan only finished for 6th place but new head coach Kimikazu Suzuki made a successful national team debut after replacing Croatian coach Zeljko Pavlecivic.

Suzuki successfully mixed the old with the young in the tournament. His philosophy is drastically different than the former coach, who opted to go for a youth movement. Suzuki, head coach of JBL's Aisin Seahorses, brought back three Aisin veterans Takehimo Orimo, Kenichi Sako and Eric McArthur and was not disappointed.

36 years-old shooting guard Orimo led the team with 11.9 points. Sako's (5.0p) experience has been valuable throughout the tournament when the team needed him. McArthur only lasted one game though.

Younger players also showed tremendous improvement after the World Championship, including 23 years-old Ryota Sakurai (194cm, 10.4p) and 21 years-old Kosuke Takeuchi (205cm, 9.6p+8.4rb).

25 years-old PG Shinsuki Kashiwagi (181cm, 8p+3a) was the unsung hero for the team with his hustle, penetration and directing the half-court offense. Tomoo Amino (196cm, ) another player from Aisin, had 7.5 points per game.

Will Japan replace its youth movement with the mix of veterans and youngsters? It's a question to be answered. In the long run, I believe it's better for Japan to keep its youth movement going instead of relying too much on veterans because Pavlicevic had worked with the young guys for a couple of years.


KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakhstan is probably my favorite team in the entire tournament because of their potential and balance. It was really unfortunate for them to lose to Jordan in the quarterfinal. After all, the Kazkahs were 25 seconds away from the final four.

But they collapsed and eventually lost in overtime due to their youth and inexperience. It was a very hard lesson to learn.

Under the tutledge of head coach Alexey Yeropkin and assistant Vitaliy Strebkov, both former NT players, Kazakhstan has been the most improved team in Asia in the last two years. And believe me, it will be the most dangerous team in Asia within a short time.

With three of its starters under the age of 20, Kazakhstan plays like a seasoned team most of the times. It's always organized and fundementally sound. Its outside shooting is very underrated while the inside players always hit the boards.

18 years-old leading scorer Anton Ponomarev (208cm, 17.4p+9rb) will be a player to watch even for NBA scouts. He needs to develope his upper-body strength and gain experience to go to the next level though.

Rustam Yargaliyev (16.1p) and Yegor Biryulin (7p) were both born in 1986 and will be national team long-stays in the future. Other notable players include: 198cm Mikhail Yevstigneyev (12.3p+6.6rb, 1984, ) Yevgeniy Issakov (10.1p+7.5rb, 1982, 201cm, ) and veteran Dmitriy Korovnikov (11.7p, 198cm, 1976).


TAIWAN: See previous reports about the disappointing team. Maybe I am too harsh on my national team, but honestly, talking about the team is a waste of my time.


LEBANON: Lebanon was a team that did not want to play in Doha. And it was the reason of its disappointing finish. Their hearts were not in the game.

By saying that, Fadi El Khatib was still one of the most explosive scorers in Asia by averaging 23.8 points in four games. Joseph Vogel averaged for 19.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Lebanon basically played a two-man game(El Khatib-Vogel) in the tournament and that was it.


SYRIA: Did I mention two-man game? How about a one-man show? Michael Madanly (191cm, 1981) was the only player Syria could count on, averaging for 27.7 points, 7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals per game.