FORMER South Korean national player Lee Sang Min sees Philippine basketball on the rise again.
After watching a couple of PBA games over the weekend, the Korean deadshot who beat the Philippines with a last-gasp three-pointer in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan said he believes Filipinos are once more gaining momentum in their quest to regain basketball supremacy in Asia.
It does help that interest in basketball in Korea and traditional power China is on a decline, he added.
“Basketball in China, Korea, and Taiwan is going a little bit down, not only in terms of popularity but also in the level of basketball. The sport here in the Philippines is very popular and the level is going up,” Lee told Spin.ph through interpreter Scott Rim.
“I think that should be exploited by the Filipinos in their bid to regain dominance in the region,” he said.
For so long one of the cage powers in Asia, South Korea has recently been beset with the slow turnover of players in its national team, according to Lee.
At the moment, half of the Korean national team is already aged 30 and above, with power forward Moon Tae Jong the oldest in the roster at 39.
Just like China, South Korea is also undergoing a transition period in its national basketball team, something which the Philippines should take advantage of, stressed Lee.
“The Philippines is getting close to the championship of Fiba Asia and they can become the champion team of Asia. With how they play, they keep getting better and better,” said the now-retired Korean gunner.
“Philippine basketball has improved a lot,” he added.
Lee admitted the Philippines is now a big concern for South Korea especially in the coming Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in September.
“We’re almost the same. You beat us the last time,” he said, recalling the 86-79 conquest of Gilas Pilipinas of the South Koreans during the semifinals of the 2013 Fiba-Asia Men’s tournament held in Manila.
“The Filipinos are very impressive and they play at the top level, skill-wise,” Lee addedd.
The latest Fiba rankings show that the Philippines is inching closer to South Korea, which is ranked 28th compared to the 31st for the Filipinos.
Although the Philippines has been on a rise under the Gilas program, it has met new road blocks in Middle East teams like Iran, which has beaten them both in the 2013 Fiba-Asia championships and the Asian Games.
Here's a video of interview with Lee Sang Min:
Having been part of the PBA crowd for three straight days from Friday to Sunday, Lee, 42, also can’t help but envy the Filipinos’ passion for the sport.
“I am so jealous at the popularity of basketball here in the Philippines, popularity of basketball in Korea is going down,” he said.
“And since you (Filipinos) are very passionate fans of basketball, please support the South Korean team,” he added.
Lee said he was impressed by some players he saw in action over the weekend, mentioning the likes of Calvin Abueva, Joseph Yeo, and Marc Pingris among those who caught his attention.
“You have a lot of great talents here (in the PBA),” he said, while pointing to Abueva, RR Garcia, Pingris and Terrence Romeo.
“They are very athletic and their ability to create is just astonishing. I also like that Joseph Yeo guy, he plays like a Korean,” said Lee of the Barako Bull star guard.
Lee, who now coaches in the Korean Basketball League, visited the country for the second time in less than a month to scout American imports for the Samsung Thunder team in the KBL.
Filipino coach Ariel Vanguardia disclosed Lee and his coaching staff are also open to hiring Filipino players and coaches to their team.
“Open daw sila, kasi namangha talaga sila sa passion ng mga Pinoy sa basketball. Nag enjoy sila sa mga napanuod nilang games sa PBA,” said Vanguardia, the current ABL (Asean Basketball League) Coach of the Year.
“Natutuwa siya kasi karamihan ng mga larong nakita niya mga come from behind at dikit ang laban,” he added.