EASL coverage, the first drink that was lacking… Still looking forward to the future

There are not many cases of going abroad during the regular season. Even if I have taken a comma for NBA coverage or our national team game, it is even rarer to see KBL teams play abroad during the KBL season. Thanks to the East Asian Super League (EASL), which has undergone drastic changes due to Corona 19, I had that unfamiliar experience. From March 1st to 5th, Champions Week was held in Utsunomiya and Okinawa, Japan. Defending champions SK and KGC represented KBL in this week, which can be called a miniature version of EASL.

※This article was published in the April issue of Jump Ball, a professional basketball magazine.

EASL includes KBL (SK, KGC), B.League (Utsunomiya Brex, Ryukyu Golden Kings), P.League (Taipei Fubon Braves), PBA (San Miguel Beerman, TNT Troping Giga) champions and runners-up, and the sole As a team, the Bay Area Dragons played. Except for China, all the league’s strong players who play basketball in East Asia have scrambled. It was originally planned to be played as a home-and-away competition divided into two divisions, but the plan was revised and it was held as a short-term tournament. I summarized the things I felt while following the competition.

Long-distance travel
“I played 20 days and 10 days to come here (Japan).” These were the words KGC Secretary General Kim Seong-gi uttered with a long sigh after boarding a bus heading to Utsunomiya from Narita Airport in Japan. Since I am also in charge of an organization, there were many things to be done before the business trip. Of course, the end of the month of fear overlapped, so I stayed up all night for a week before the business trip. Maybe it wasn’t like this. The staff of the club were busy coordinating the itinerary, lodging, and training schedules of the players, and the players were exhausted trying to digest the league schedule in their own way. When I finally arrived in Japan, I thought, ‘I’m here,’ and it seems that the secretariat was the same. “Originally, as soon as I returned home after playing this tournament, I was going to play in Daegu. The schedule was too tight, so I asked Korea Gas Corporation to change it to February 26 (Sunday), and it was fortunate that they readily accepted it.” Director Kim said. It means that he could have played the game the day after he returned home.

The journey to Japan was difficult(?). Han Seung-hee and Byun Jun-hyeong, who were not written, had to report to the Military Manpower Administration before leaving the country, but they found out late and everyone was busy even on the day of departure. In order to enter Japan, I had to go through the procedure through the app, but this also took a long time, and it took close to 50 minutes to breathe Japanese air after getting off the plane. The day we arrived in Japan was February 27th (Monday). Now that I have to cover the tournament in Japan for a week, it was like a ‘start’, but strangely, when I got on the bus, I thought ‘the mission is over’. I took a bus from Narita to Utsunomiya, but it took another 2 hours to get to the Tobu Hotel. Why is the tournament held in Utsunomiya among many, many cities? This is because it is the home of Utsunomiya Brex, the winning team in the 2021-2022 season B.League. The home of the Ryukyu Golden Kings (runner-up team) in the finals was Okinawa, and Okinawa Arena, which has a relatively large gym, was selected as the final battleground. In Utsunomiya, KGC was scheduled to play one preliminary match and SK to play two preliminary matches. If it was Home & Away as originally planned, it would be a city where KGC would never come. However, due to Corona 19 and various business reasons, the long-term plan for Home & Away was changed and reorganized into a small 5-day tournament, and KGC also headed to Utsunomiya.

As I moved, I had a thought. Right now you only have to do one long trip, but what if you do this regularly throughout the season? I thought that the fatigue would be considerable if I had to go through a monthly schedule of not just crossing the border by plane, having to go through different immigration procedures for each country, and running at least 1-2 hours longer even after getting off. This issue continued to be mentioned among the tournament officials, club secretariat, coaching staff, and players until the end of this tournament. Opponent teams visiting Korea in the future will have to travel from Incheon International Airport to Anyang, Jamsil, etc. after entering Korea, play one game and return, but the distance and fatigue will be considerable. In the case of Super 8 or Terrific 12 held in Macau, there was no such concern because it was a pre-season tournament, but the organizers and participating teams should prepare well by finding the best route in this area and conducting field trips. It was amazing to see the Euroleague and Eurocup participating teams who have been doing this for a while.

Of course, the regular season schedule is not as tight as the KBL or B.League. It is unclear how the EASL league will operate in the future. There were also rumors that a Chinese CBA team would participate, and in this case, KBL will have to pay more attention to scheduling. Crossing borders is never simple. One interesting thing is that foreign players rather complained of less fatigue, but Omari Spellman, who had experience in the G League, and Daryl Monroe, who had a lot of experience in overseas leagues, joked to the club officials, “This level of movement has always happened in any league.” is the backstory.

It’s been a long time since I went to Japan. Come to think of it, the last time he went to Japan was to cover KGC and DB’s battery training. It was a very short schedule. Since then, due to Corona 19, Japan has been considered a place that cannot be seen even if you look at it for a while. The players also said in unison that they do not know when the last time was. As planned, everyone planned to go to Japan for field training in the fall of 2022, but even then, many clubs withdrew due to ongoing issues such as Corona 19 and self-isolation. We weren’t alone. Filipino and Taiwanese reporters who visited the site also made similar comments. Maybe that’s why the greetings of ‘I haven’t seen you in a long time’ continued in the press box and backstage. Coincidentally, right after EASL ended, the WBC was scheduled to be held. In Taiwanese sports daily newspapers, there is almost no concept of ‘in charge of basketball’. That’s why there were reporters who went to baseball after watching basketball ‘while they were here’. A reporter from a Taiwanese daily newspaper asked, “How was our team’s performance when viewed calmly?” and “Do you think we will be competitive in the future?” It also helped me to understand the unique foreign player system of the P.League.

Quite a few Filipino reporters came, but commentator Quinito Henson said, “I don’t have high expectations given the level of foreign players, league schedule, and injuries. Everyone will have a chance, so we have to open the lid,” he said. While preparing for the tournament, I also got in touch with Giorgio Gandolfi, who compiles the newsletter for EASL. He is the editor-in-chief of ‘Assist’, the official FIBA ​​magazine, and has published several books on basketball tactics. He is one of the few existing basketball journalists to have published a strategy book, so I’ve been watching him for nearly 10 years, and contacting him directly and even hearing that “congratulations to both teams for making it to the finals” made me feel like I was on a cloud.

As with basketball, there was no direct interaction with each other, but just watching each other’s basketball style up close was meaningful. In particular, there were many good reviews on the passwork of KBL teams, movements without the ball, and movements that broke the local defense. Even before leaving the country, I was not sure about two foreign players playing at the same time, but the interaction between Omari Spellman and Darryl Monroe, Jamil Warney and Leon Williams seems to have made the KBL teams’ teamwork better. In particular, coach Brian Gojian, who led the South Bay Dragons, gave me a thumbs up when I met him in the hallway, saying, “You showed a very good movement.” I didn’t even run, but hearing the praise from the veteran coach who coached the Olympic stage made me shrug my shoulders for no reason. ‘Exchange’ doesn’t just happen on the court. If EASL goes home & away as planned, I think the young marketing practitioners from federations and clubs should also accompany them. Each club has its own culture and marketing methods. This is because it is a good opportunity to see what KBL does better and what to benchmark.

Impressive Okinawa Arena
On the day we arrived at Okinawa, KBL President Kim Hee-ok said, “B.League President Shinji Shimada kept emphasizing that we must visit this gym. I plan to visit it this time, as I boasted so much that it was really well made.” When I actually went to the gym, I could see why he boasted so much. Almost everyone in the party exclaimed “Wow” as soon as they saw the coat for the first time. Completed in March 2021, the gym is the home stadium of the Ryukyu Golden Kings. Like a state-of-the-art stadium, it is well equipped with a large electronic display board and suites. The suite room, which can accommodate more than 10,000 people, gave the feeling of being in a luxury hotel from the corridor, and the view was quite good.

The most impressive were three. The first is the lighting, focused on the court like the NBA. Yang Hee-jong couldn’t hide his envy, saying, “It’s like a light that can only be focused on the players playing the game.” Personally, I thought of my parents’ jumping ball the most, and I thought that it would be so delicious to take pictures if photo reporters came here. Second is the bathroom. Last January, while on a business trip to Los Angeles, he visited the offices of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were preparing for ‘independence’. Since September 2021, they have been building a new home stadium, Intuit Dome, in the Inglewood area, and it is expected to be available from the 2024-2025 season. Clippers employees said that this stadium was the long-cherished project of owner Steve Ballmer. As the existing Crypto.com Arena is used by several clubs, including the LA Lakers, the Clippers are said to have always been behind in the decision. It is clear that he has a good position, but the schedule assignment was not good and he was at a disadvantage when adjusting it.

So, it was the Intweet Dome that was conceived, and it is known that the owner of Ballmer paid for the land purchase cost necessary for construction through so-called ‘real money’. The important thing is not this. The Intweet Dome, conceived by Ballmer’s owner, is expected to be registered as the stadium with the most toilets among gyms in the world. He didn’t want people to have to wait in line to use the bathroom. Even if you go to Madison Square Garden or Crypto.com Arena right now, it takes a lot of time to wait for the bathroom at halftime. Okinawa Arena had toilets suitable for accommodating 10,000 people. I was able to use it anywhere without waiting, and it was spacious and clean, so I thought I could sit down and go. The last is the club supply store. The club goods shop located on the first floor was large enough to compare with any other NBA club and had a variety of products. The expensive jersey costing more than 200,000 won made their mouths wide open, but despite this, fans who visited the gym drew attention that they were wearing Golden Kings uniforms. As expected, there were a lot of staff, so I was able to purchase items without standing in a long line. It was also impressive that only credit cards could be used. In the lounge for fans, tables made from recycled backboards drew attention. The FIBA ​​Basketball World Cup will be held here in August. The Basketball World Cup will be held in Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and I thought that a facility like this would be enough to stand out.

different environments
In order for EASL to grow to the size of the Euroleague or Eurocup, each league will need to understand each other’s environment. That ‘environment’ will include a variety of things, such as the culture and temperament of the country, the way business is conducted, and the popularity and base of basketball. I heard that even in the early days of the Euroleague, there were many difficulties due to different ways of handling work. How confusing it must have been since the event involved so many countries at the same time, including Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia. This is the reason why practitioners were sent to the NBA secretariat and clubs to learn how to operate and respond to media and benchmark them. There must have been a lot of pain that we don’t know until we make a rule that can be used in common and follow it. In July 2009, Maurizio Gherardini, who used to be the head of the operation team at Treviso, Benetton, Italy, contributed a column after working as an assistant general manager for the Toronto Raptors. At the time, he said, “There is no ‘improvisation’ in everything in the NBA. Everything is thoroughly prepared in advance. As I worked, I was amazed every day at how accurate, detailed, and solidly structured the guidelines shared by each club were.”

EASL still cannot be compared to the Euroleague, let alone the NBA. This is because the first year has now passed, and even that started as a half-time competition due to COVID-19 and various issues. Nevertheless, what the practitioners were concerned about was ‘harmony’ and ‘cooperation’. It is not easy to get along because they speak different languages ​​and have learned different ways of doing business in different cultures. The interests of the clubs surrounding this must also be coordinated. For example, it is necessary to understand such parts as “they are inflexible”, “that country is too relaxed”, and “why is that country always in such a hurry?” A year or two will not be enough for this to take hold. This is because it is not enough time to create a ‘culture’ in an organization. However, ‘basketball exchange’ has already been a part that each league in Asia needed from 15 to 20 years ago. We confirmed that the Asian quota system alone can be fun, so we need to build up in earnest. Everyone should think of it as a long-term investment and remove variables and anxiety factors.

The best example of harmony
I think the Bay Area Dragons are the team that can best describe the results of the aforementioned ‘harmony’. An hour before KGC defeated SK to lift the trophy, the Bay Area Dragons defeated the Ryukyu Golden Kings 90-70 to finish third in the tournament. At the press conference after the game, the competition for questions was so fierce that it was frustrating that I didn’t get the order to ask questions. I chased it to the hallway and finally asked director Brian Gojian. The theme was ‘harmony’. This team had different nationalities as well as coaches (Australia) and coaches (Philippines, USA). Players gathered from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Australia, the United States and Canada. Andrew Nicholson, who played for the KBL, was Canadian, and Miles Powell was American. Their hometown is Hong Kong, but since there was no professional league, they participated in the Philippine Commissioner’s Cup as ‘guests’ and developed their organizational power. And the runner-up was a valuable achievement.

When I asked coach Ko Ji-an, “Diverse nationalities mean that each other’s behavioral habits and the way they treat basketball are different, how did you approach it?”, he let out a deep sigh. “At first it was really uncomfortable. Everyone has their own characteristics. Facial expression and behavior are all different. Some countries are accustomed to revealing their feelings, while others are not. You know what? By the time we got together, it was also a time when the world was buzzing with racism and religious issues. We also bumped into each other often. But I told the players. When you get on the court, leave everything behind. Let’s just talk about ‘basketball’. It was difficult at first, but it changed little by little as we understood each other. that’s basketball There are parts that don’t match each other, but we became one while playing the game. I think it was a great process.” These are the words of director Ko Ji-an. He said that EASL gave him an opportunity to grow once more. “The loss in the first match has become a medicine. It just keeps getting better. I learned a lot playing against other league teams. It was a tournament where I could learn as a basketball person regardless of winning or losing, regardless of coaching. Most of the people who still participated in EASL would find this process awkward. But the world is getting closer and closer. Exchanges like this are very common in Europe. Asia will have to get used to it eventually.”

desperate measures
From the organizers’ point of view, it was a contest that had twists and turns, and from the outside, it was a last resort. The EASL side, which had to hold a tournament in order to take even one step, managed to create a schedule, but from the outside, there were many parts that were not 100% ready. It is a tournament in which 8 teams are divided into 2 groups, but each team played only 2 games, and the team that will advance to the final was determined by the number of points rather than the winning percentage, so it took a lot of effort. Even after winning first place, they couldn’t be relieved, so they had to widen the score until the end. From the fans’ point of view, it could have been fun because the firepower was maintained, but the players would have had a hard time due to the tight schedule. KGC, which defeated San Miguel of the Philippines 142-87, was such an example. This competition was held during the season. Most of the participating teams ran concurrently with the season schedule, and even the FIBA ​​World Cup qualifiers were held right before, so the national players had a busier schedule. (Korea did not play due to a FIBA ​​penalty.) The Taiwanese Fubon Braves seemed more tired as they arrived the day before the game, a day later than KGC. They also played a back-to-back match on the weekend right before their departure, and to make matters worse, it was not easy to digest the schedule because one of their main players was injured. On the other hand, in the opening game of the Philippine TNT Tropang Giga, former MVP runner Payardo injured his knee and quickly gave up the tournament. If the blueprint for EASL is followed, this probably won’t happen again. That is, if they settle down as Home & Away as planned. Nevertheless, you will have to understand the hidden elements such as the FIBA ​​World Cup break and national holidays and vacation seasons.

With two foreign players participating,
the KBL teams received good reviews beyond expectations. As a league that emphasizes defense, organized defense attracted the attention of other league leaders. At the same time, in attack, he also received favorable reviews for his movement without the ball and his passwork. It would be hard to deny that it was smoother when two foreign players played at the same time. Since the beginning of KBL, two foreign players have been running at the same time. From the 2019-2020 season, the quota was gradually reduced, and from the 2019-2020 season, it was settled with 2 players and 1 player. In the first place, the Spellman-Monroe lineup gathered expectations from the time it was formed (?). Personally, I was looking forward to Monroe’s game management. In the TBT (The Basketball Tournament) held in the United States in the summer of 2022, Monroe showed an amazing BQ, playing the role of leading guard and attacking the low post at the same time. Coach Sang-shik Kim called the two players before the start of the tournament and announced that “this tournament will be played almost full-time.” The two players were also looking forward to playing together, and they seemed to enjoy each other as the game actually went well. Rather, I was told not to replace it. 안전놀이터

Thanks to this, Oh Se-geun was able to not overdo it throughout the tournament. Coach Sang-sik Kim also thought of saving as much as possible in preparation for the postseason. SK was also able to save Choi Boo-kyung thanks to the Warney-Williams combination. Thanks to Williams doing the dirty work and aiming for a second chance, Warney was able to focus more on scoring. He averaged 24.3 points over three games. The reaction from the fans wasn’t bad either. However, one should not be addicted to the benefits (?) that come from employing two foreign players at the same time. We need to think about the purpose of steadily reducing the proportion of foreign players in the first place. Rather, I think it would be desirable to leave this as a charm unique to EASL.

Seonhyung Kim, Junhyung Byun, and Abando
The international stage is also a good way to promote our brand abroad. Unlike the popularity of basketball in Korea, the number of basketball viewers in big markets such as the Philippines and China is enormous. SK and KGC’s two domestic aces, Kim Seon-hyung and Byun Jun-hyung, boasted a lot of popularity abroad. Lens Abando, who was famous as a national representative even before coming to KBL, was flooded with questions from reporters in the Philippines. In the case of the EASL winning video uploaded on the KGC YouTube channel, a total of 25,000 views were recorded, of which 54.3% were Filipino viewers. Although not as prominent as KGC, DB also has an increasing number of Filipino viewers for videos featuring Albano in the thumbnail. It will be able to make the club more known to them and attract a lot of influx. As we are freed from the fatigue of Corona 19, such as the no-mask era again, it would be helpful to have an opportunity to be together on site. Currently, KBL is too inconvenient and closed for foreigners to access. If there is an opportunity to be exposed throughout the season rather than a one-week tournament, it will be an opportunity to promote the club brand and players abroad. Of course, for this, the platform to be exposed must be established.

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