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Lee gets the leeway to play ball Lee’s way

Apr 24,2019
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Lee Dae-sung of the Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus dribbles the ball during Game 5 of the KBL Playoffs against Incheon ET Land Elephants on April 21. [NEWS1]
With the Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus’ playoff victory in the Korean Basketball League (KBL), Lee Dae-sung can finally play basketball his way.

By leading the Phoebus to a 92-84 win during Game 5 of the KBL playoffs, Lee was named Playoff MVP. Throughout the championship series, Lee averaged 16.2 points while picking up 3.6 assists in five games.

Also, by winning the playoffs, the Phoebus picked up its seventh title in the club’s history.

Having played in the United States before settling in the KBL, Lee has a reputation for tending to be more of an individual player than a team player. At times, Lee tried to make dunk shots and was criticized by head coach Yoo Jae-hak.

Despite the criticism, Lee asked Yoo to allow him more freedom on the court.

Prior to the playoffs, Yoo told Lee that if the Phoebus wins the title, he’ll grant Lee a free pass, allowing him to do whatever he wants during a game. Although Yoo had always strongly emphasized teamwork, he is slowly recognizing that he needs to let Lee be Lee.

“More than the MVP, I like the free pass better,” Lee said right after the Phoebus won the playoffs. “Because the free pass means the head coach believes in me more.”

Lee’s basketball career is different from the majority of players in the KBL. Unlike the regular path of going to college and making a KBL debut, Lee attempted to play in the United States twice before finally settling in the KBL.

Lee’s first attempt was while in college. In his junior year, he played for Brigham Young University (BYU)-Hawaii, an NCAA Division II team, instead of Chung-Ang University.

After a year at BYU-Hawaii, Lee returned to Korea and made his KBL debut with the Phoebus in 2013. After fulfilling his military duty with the Sangmu military basketball team, Lee, once again attempted to make it in the United States.

In October 2017, Lee joined the Erie BayHawks of the NBA G League, the NBA’s minor league.

By joining the team, Lee became the third Korean player to ever play in the G League.

Yet Lee was quickly released and returned to the Phoebus after averaging a disappointing 2.5 points per game in 11 games.

When Lee first joined the Phoebus, his aggressiveness and selfishness did not go down well with the rest of the team. Yet under Yoo, Lee eventually blended in.

“Although my annual income in the G League was 20 million won [$17,500], I wanted the challenge more than the money,” Lee said. “I learned a lot.”

To prove that his time in the United States wasn’t wasted, Lee worked harder than others and took care of himself physically.

“[To build muscle], Dae-sung gave up delicious food and only eats about 20-30 eggs and chicken breast [per day],” Yoo said. “He’s become a good example to other players.”

Lee’s performance has also affected the KBL’s popularity in a positive way.

Men’s basketball hasn’t been the most popular sport in Korea, but looking at the ticket sales throughout the playoffs, the fans might be returning to the court. For the first time in four years, the KBL playoffs exceeded 100,000 fans.

BY PARK RIN [kang.yoorim@joognang.co.kr]