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[Basketball] Coach Still High on Rattled Team`s Prospects

[Basketball] Coach Still High on Rattled Team`s Prospects

Posted January. 02, 2009 03:00,   


Prior to the opening game of the Korea Basketball League season in October last year, the Jeonju KCC Egis was in an upbeat mood.

With the three-time league champion having the twin tower combination of veteran center Seo Jang-hoon and the league’s tallest player Ha Seung-jin (7-feet-3 or 2.21 meters), who played in the NBA of the United States, Egis Coach Huh Jae was brimming with confidence.

His team’s performance, however, has been a different story with the start of this season’s second half yesterday. The 6-feet-9 Seo (2.07 meters) clashed with Huh over playing time and was traded to the Incheon ET Black Slammers last month.

Ha is also out of action with a toe injury. With both Seo and Ha out of the lineup, KCC Egis lost its eighth straight Christmas Day, its longest losing streak since it dropped 10 straight in the 2006-07 season.

Coach Huh Jae in Daegu talked to The Dong-A Ilbo while preparing for a road game with the Daegu Orions.

“Everything we sweated for was for nothing,” he said, putting a cigarette in his mouth. He said he smokes three packs of cigarettes a day and avoids answering his phone.

“I’ve refrained from answering calls from my reporter acquaintances. I don’t want my interviews to be exaggerated or fancied in some way. Most of all, I’m afraid that my words will sound like excuses or defense for my situation.”

Many experts had predicted KCC to win the title this season, but now think differently. They said the combination of Seo and Ha in the low post was a wrong idea since they could be overcome with speed.

Others said Huh was too obsessed with height.

“Since I recruited Seo to my team, I never imagined picking Ha in the first round of the league draft. If another team got the chance as I did, it would do the same,” he said.

“The two players could’ve formed the perfect combination in helping each other. I regret I wasn’t good at developing such harmony and cooperation.”

Huh spent all of last summer taking advantage of their height in plays, but said his efforts were in vain.

“The average height of our team has fallen behind others. It will take more than three months for even one of the best teams to achieve player harmony in games. But we have less than three months left in this season. I think we should more focus on speed-centered patterns,” he said.

“I think I still have many things to learn about coaching.”

Huh, who starred as a point guard in his playing days, always carries a notebook in practice. He showed writings on game strategies and skills.

“I usually write a report while reviewing a recent game to reflect on our training. Filing just one takes three to four hours,” he said.

In contrast to his image of having strong charisma and toughness, seeing his meticulous and careful side proved surprising.

“I shouldn’t rely on my experience and recollection from the past when I led my team. I began to write and collect such files since my debut as a head coach,” he said.

Huh was a wonderful technician as a player, earning the nickname “basketball president.” His brilliant playing career played a crucial part in his hiring as head coach, though he had no coaching experience.

Critics say, however, that his attitude makes his players uncomfortable and uneasy in games.

“I never criticize players for failing to make a shot. Making one requires natural talent and luck. But if I think a player didn’t do his best on defense and allowed a score to our opponent, I will harp on them for that. Misunderstanding can occur in the process,” he said.

“I still have long way to go as a leader. Some people ask me which season was more difficult: the 2006-07 season when our team was last or this season. I find little difference between them. Every coach who fails to lead will feel the same way.”

In his first season as coach in 2005-06, his team finished fifth in the standings and advanced to the playoffs. The next season, however, KCC was the league’s cellar dweller.

Last season, the team was second in the standings but its poor performance this season is expected to KCC out of the playoffs.

“It may sound strange, but I am still confident,” Huh said.

“How can a coach lead a team if he lacks spirit? All I need is for the players to do their best in games, The rest is my responsibility, including the results of our performance.”