The South Korean women’s national basketball team has been training at the Jincheon Athletic Center for the past 15 days ahead of the 2023 Asia Cup in Sydney, Australia, in June.
Initially, the Asia Cup was not a major event in the year of the Asian Games or the Olympics. Although it is the most prestigious competition in Asia for basketball, even the Basketball World Cup, which has the biggest status in the world, is not recognized as valuable compared to the Asian Games and the Olympic Games in Korea.
Therefore, in years when the Asia Cup and the Asian Games were held back-to-back, the national team would focus more on the Asian Games.
But things have changed. The Asia Cup is now an Olympic qualifier. Teams need to perform at the Asia Cup to qualify for the final 16-team Olympic qualifier. On top of that, the Asia Cup also features the Oceania nations of Australia and New Zealand.
It’s a tough competition. Most of the players are coming off a break and need more time to get fit, while the call-up period is not as long as in previous years, so the clock is ticking.
“I’m worried about the physical condition of the players because most of them are coming back from vacation after the season,” said Jeong Sun-min, head coach of the Korean Women’s National Basketball Team. We need to get in shape first. As a coach, I want to rush things, but it’s still a building phase, so we need players to come up without injuries. The focus is on the Asia Cup and the overall picture will be clearer after the Latvia trial in early June.”
The national team is younger than usual. Park Hye-jin (Woori Bank) was also not included in the roster due to plantar fasciitis.
“The lack of experience is undeniable,” said Jung Sun-min. The absence of (Park) Hye-jin means that we have one less card to rely on in a lot of highs and lows. However, we have (Kim) Dan-bi, who is the captain, and Kang Seul, who is a young player, and (Park) Ji-soo and (Park) Ji-hyun, who have enough national team experience, so I think we can make it work,” he said.
On the guard position, where Park Hye-jin is missing, he said, “I think Park Ji-hyun and Lee So-hee will do a little more, and Lee Kyung-eun will coordinate when it’s important. Ahn Hye-ji is also there, and Shin Ji-hyun should see both the 1-2. It will be my job to utilize the players by distributing their time appropriately.”
With the average age of the players dropping, the training atmosphere is energized.
“It’s true that there is less stability,” says Jung. But because they are young, they are energetic and lively. They have their shortcomings, but they are willing to work hard without looking at them. As a result, the atmosphere is bright, and we are smiling and training positively.”
He has even higher expectations for the younger players: “Lee So-hee will have time to play in the 2-3 position as a backup to Kang Seul or alongside Kang Seul메이저놀이터. Lee Hae-ran will also get more playing time as she takes on her own role in the No. 4 or No. 3 positions.”
While all 12 players are training together, the most veteran players, Lee Kyung-eun and captain Kim Dan-bi, are slowly picking up the pace.
“Lee Kyung-eun is a player with a chronic knee injury, so she needs to be managed,” says Jung. Kim Dan-bi joined the team on vacation after finishing the season, so her body is not ready at all. There’s nothing particularly bad or sore, but it’s hard for her because she started training all of a sudden. She told herself that she wanted to focus on the Asia Cup and get in shape, so she’s pacing herself.”
The task at hand is the Asia Cup quarterfinals. In order to qualify for the 33rd Olympic Games in Paris next July, the team needs to finish in the top four at the Asia Cup, which features Asian powerhouses such as China and Japan alongside Australia and New Zealand.
“The match against New Zealand is probably the most important,” says Chung. New Zealand is said to be going through a generation change, but they haven’t played in international competitions in recent years, so it’s frustrating that we can’t get any data or game videos. They are already in Australia for training and practice matches. “We’re the only team in the tournament that hasn’t announced its roster yet, so it’s important for us to build our team rather than study other teams,” he said.
The team is not yet thinking about the next Asian Games.
“We will start preparing for the Asian Games in mid-August. The players will be in much better shape than now because they will be training with their teams after the Asia Cup. This time, the Park Shinja Cup will be a little more competitive as an international tournament, so the national team players will also return to their teams during that time. At this point, we are not thinking too much about the Asian Games and are focusing on the Asia Cup.”