“The most important thing is faith,” says KU coach Kim Tae-hyung

Currently, the KBL and WKBL have a total of 39 coaches assisting the head coach of each team. Some of these coaches are former star players, while others were somewhat under the radar during their playing days. In this column, we’ll introduce you to some of these coaches who weren’t the most glamorous players, but have made it to the top. In the June issue, we turn our attention to the university level. Kim Tae-hyung of Korea University is the main character. Kim turned pro in 2011 and spent most of his career playing in the D-League. After retiring in 2019, he was called by head coach Joo Hee-jung to join KU as a power analyst, and in 2020, he was promoted to coach and has been working on player development ever since. We talked to Coach Kim Tae-hyung about his passion for coaching.

This article was originally published in the June issue of Jump Ball, a specialized basketball magazine.

When did you start playing basketball?
I was in the fourth grade of elementary school, and my older sister was playing basketball at Sunil Girls’ High School. I often went to the gym with her, and I was the fastest runner in the whole school. The coach at Sunil Girls’ High School saw me and introduced me to Yeonga Elementary School, so I took a test and joined the basketball team.

You were considered a promising player at Myungji, what kind of player were you?
I was a scorer. If I was a little cocky, I could hold the ball and score without thinking about it. I was so confident in my scoring ability that I would purposely practice assists when I went to competitions to improve myself. I would always look out for my teammates’ chances rather than my own. I think I improved a lot in high school.

After I went to Sungkyunkwan University, I went through a slump.
I was confused about my identity and didn’t know what to do on the court. At that time, Sungkyunkwan University was very good at recruiting players. Kim Il-jung, Kim Min-seop, and other promising players rejected offers from Korea University and Yonsei University to go to Sungkyunkwan University. But everyone had strong personalities and we couldn’t get along, and coach Cho Sung-tae didn’t like me very much. So I focused more on defense to survive. I think I was confident in my physical strength, so I played both offense and defense.

You were selected by Incheon Electroland (now Daegu Korea Gas) with the 7th pick in the second round of the 2011 KBL Rookie Draft and then traded to Seoul Samsung.
I was disappointed with my draft position, but looking back, I don’t think it was that bad. I had a lot of friends who were doing well, like Oh Se-geun and Kim Sun-hyung, and there were some good players in the third round. I never started in college, but I still got 35 minutes of playing time because I stepped in when others couldn’t. I think I was drafted for exactly what I showed.

You started 29 games in your rookie season, the most of your career.
At the beginning of the season, I didn’t play at all, but then Samsung lost 13 games in a row. Afterward, I had a one-on-one meeting with Kim Sang-jun and the coach, and I told him that I was more worried about not playing than the team, and he said, “If I play you in the next game, are you confident that you can do well?” I said yes, and he let me play. I remember playing against (Seoul) SK, and I blocked (Kim) Sun-hyung well, and then I scored an important goal in overtime, and the team won. Since then, I’ve been playing little by little.

In the 2016-2017 season, you won the D-League MVP award.
At that time, the Samsung team was so good. (Kim) Tae-sul, coach Joo Hee-jung, (Im) Dong-seob, (Kim) Jun-il, and even Ra-gan-ah. (Lee) Shi-joon couldn’t play. The D-League was so competitive at that time, and it felt like Hyundai Mobis was down to just (Ham) Ji-hoon and (Yang) Dong-geun. If I had a D-League game on Monday, I didn’t even go out to train, I just trained, and later on, I became obsessive, and I think it paid off.

In the 2018-2019 season, I won the championship with Hyundai Mobis, but I didn’t play a single game due to an ankle injury.
I had a bad ankle from the offseason, so I had to have surgery, but I kept working out nonstop. I injured my ankle during team training, and the swelling was really bad, but I kept working out. Eventually, I had an MRI, and they told me that I had no ligaments at all, so I had to have surgery right away. I think it means a lot to have a championship ring, and even though I didn’t get to play, it’s still a good memory, because Hyundai Mobis gives you discounts on cars if you win (laughs).

After the 2018-2019 season, you announced your retirement from active play. Was it a big disappointment?
Not only me, but any athlete has a lot of regrets when they quit. It was indescribable, but Coach Joo Hee-jung called me right away, and as I was coaching the players, my regrets disappeared a little bit. I’m trying to put my regrets and passion into coaching.

“Coach Joo Hee-jung is a blessing once in my life”
Coach Kim Tae-hyung came out of retirement to join KU because of a strong request from Coach Joo Hee-jung. Joo and Tae-hyung became close friends during their time at Samsung, where they trained together every day. Joo recognized his potential as a coach and brought him on board. Kim Tae-hyung assisted Joo Hee-jung last year and helped KU win all of its competitions.

After retiring, he joined KU as a power analyst.
At first, I said no, but then I came to Korea University after the season and taught the players once, and I really enjoyed it, so I came to power analysis.

In 2020, you were promoted to coach.
I was very grateful, but at the same time, I was scared, because there was a lot of talk around me because I wasn’t from KU. I still have the idea that I have to do better because everybody is the enemy, so I’m teaching the players with the mindset that I have to work harder.

Was there any opposition to you not being from Korea University?
At first, they didn’t like it, but now I’m grateful that they think it’s good. I think I need to work harder.

When did you first dream of becoming a coach?
I’ve had the idea since I was in high school, and as a senior, I realized that teaching was a good fit. Even as a pro, I sometimes gave advice to the juniors, and thankfully they listened. (Lee) Dong-yup told me that I should definitely become a leader, and I think the director looked at me well at that time and called me.

It must have been trial and error at first?
I don’t think the players didn’t listen to me, but nowadays, college students don’t know the basics. They don’t have a lot of repetition because they don’t have a lot of training, and when you have a certain amount of training, your body reacts automatically in certain situations, and nowadays, they don’t react automatically, so their movements are late.

What does it mean to you to be coached by Kim Tae-hyung?
I think it’s a blessing in disguise, because I didn’t have a lot of luck as a basketball player. I’ve been working with coach Joo Hee-jung since I was a player, and we’ve been training hard together. I’m very grateful to her, and I feel like I need to work harder. I’m very stubborn, but I don’t think I could have worked with anyone else if it wasn’t for her.

Last year, KU won all the competitions.
I think the outside world expected that, but in fact, the coach, Kim Tae-hong, and I had a really hard time because we had different members in the college league, MBC boat, and regular tournaments. (Yeo) Jun-seok went to the U.S., (Kim) Tae-wan and (Lee) Doo-won went to the pros, and it’s not easy to do well when you have three changes in a year. There are bound to be gaps, but it felt good to win, especially when we won the MBC boat, which many people were worried about because Jun-seok was missing.

“I think it’s right to do my best at this moment”
Korea University continues to be one of the strongest teams in the College League this year. Seniors Moon Jung-hyun and Park Mubin anchor the team, while Moon Yoo-hyun has already established himself as a mainstay despite being a freshman. As a result, the team is sitting atop the standings after opening with nine straight wins (as of May 15). With eternal rival Yonsei showing some shaky form due to injuries to Lee Ju-young and Lee Chae-hyung, the team will be looking to make another run at the top. Coach Kim Tae-hyung is still working with his players to make KU a better team.

What do you think is the secret behind KU’s dominance this year?
There’s no denying that we have a lot of good players, it’s just a matter of how well you integrate them, and I think we’re doing a good job of that right now. When freshmen come in, they have a big illusion, they think they’re good at basketball, and I try to catch them up quickly, and I think we’re getting good results because they realize that they have to work harder and improve to play.

Sophomores Moon Jung-hyun and Park Mubin seem to be doing a good job of centering the team.
I’m grateful to them because their mental strength and responsibility have improved. I didn’t praise (Park) Mubin and (Moon) Jung-hyun on purpose because I was afraid that they would become arrogant because everyone said they were good, but this year I’m praising them little by little. If they do well, I want to buy them a meal, because my children are beautiful, but the players give me another joy.

Among the freshmen, Moon Yoo-hyun’s performance stands out the most.
When I first came to KU, I noticed that my ball possession time was too long. In high school, you always have to be the offensive player, but KU has a lot of players who can attack. I pointed this out to him and said, “Look out for your teammates.” When I let my teammates live while I have offensive power, they play well. At the same time, I make the defense excited, so I think there is a synergy in many ways.

I think we have to overcome our age group to win the championship 메이저놀이터.
We’ve been preparing in the meantime, and the key is how to stop Yoo Yoo-sang, and last year we tied him up, so I think we’ll have to go with a similar defense this year. With Lee Joo-young and Lee Chae-hyung out with injuries, we have less to prepare for. We don’t think Yonsei is the enemy, because we think we can fight on par with a professional team if we stay focused and play well. The enemy is inside, so we’re confident and believe in the players.

Since the players are college students, do you have to keep them mentally grounded?
I try to communicate with them and see what they’re thinking, and then I try to get them to change their minds.

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